Site of … 2004-2009, graphite, emulsion, tissue, gesso, varnish on board (13.5cm x 57cm)
From about 2002 until about 2009 I worked on a lot of panoramic ‘views’ of Margate. These drawings took the view of Margate (as seen from the high and low tide lines) as their starting point. The pieces were drawn into and written over and obscured with paint and sanded (or paint-stripped) back again. Most of the work never made it to any kind of completion (most were either destroyed in the process or were abandoned).
My 2004 solo exhibition, at Archeus in London, was mostly comprised of this kind of work. At about this time I had a lot of conversations, about my work, with the philosopher and academic Iain MacKenzie. I think his description of my work at that time is very good and so, rather than repeat some of the things I’ve written in previous blog posts, I’ll share the essay that he wrote for my 2004 solo show at Archeus Fine Art (Albemarle Street, London). By the way, the essay is also interesting in that it was written at a stage in Margate’s ‘culture led regeneration’ (or is it gentrification?), before Turner Contemporary was built.
Margate seen from the high tide line. 2007 graphite, ink, emulsion, varnish on paper (4.5cm x 20.5cm)
‘Roy Eastland: Art on a Line’ by Dr Iain MacKenzie 2004
Roy Eastland’s Art is an art of the line and in his artwork the line serves a multitude of purposes. His views of Margate take the line of the seashore as their predominant point of perspective, coaxing the gaze of holiday-makers and residents alike away from the vista of the open sea back to the Georgian geometry of the sea-front façade. The transformation of the sight-lines associated with this, the original, sea-side town brings a change of perspective that charts the changing nature of Margate itself. Margate is no longer the hotspot for Victorians seeking revitalisation and purification by the waters, nor can it claim to be the ‘East-End-of-London-by-the-sea’ that defined it through the first half of the twentieth century. Margate is looking at itself, at how it can redefine itself in a rapidly changing local, national and international environment. Eastland’s art not only reflects on this period of change it expresses it in every line of its scratched surfaces and taut execution.
Lines in Eastland’s art do more than create new perspectives of space. They are also a way of incorporating an historical dimension into the work. Technically, this occurs in the careful layering of different stages of the work, each layer marking the previous one and leaving a trace in the one that follows. The result is an art of memory, trace and recollection in two senses. First, the artworks contain, within themselves, the traces or their own production to the point where it no longer makes sense to demarcate in Eastland’s art the process of production from the point of completion. Each artwork is complete in itself only by virtue of being a product in perpetual process, a feature that binds the different artworks themselves into a unified but open- ended and on-going artistic project. Secondly, Eastland’s art is thematically guided by the complexities of memory and recollection in that it represents the conjunction of past, present and future as an on-going process of deconstruction, reconstruction and , pure and simple, construction. Moments of intensity from the past (the passing of a Zeppelin over the Clock Tower) seamlessly blend together with significant events in the present (the fire that left a gaping void in the sea-front façade) to create a new Margate, Margate with a new future.
But lines are also the basis for writing and it is no coincidence that an artist of the line chooses to mark each layer of the artwork with text. Fragments of text are drawn from overheard conversations, family reminiscences, maps and thoughts to create interpretive resonances and dissonances within the work itself that put paid to any easy or overly simplistic attempt to express what Margate is becoming. Iconic names stand out amongst the text: the Nayland Rock Hotel, site of Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall’s wedding banquet in 1990 and now a holding centre for ‘asylum seekers’; The Droit House, once the home of the Harbour commission now housing the displays that announce the building of the Turner Contemporary art gallery: and, perhaps most of all, Dreamland, the once famous but now derelict amusement park whose name itself captures the mix of landscape and imagination so important to Eastland’s approach to art itself. Indeed, the language of Eastland’s art is at its most evocative and expressive when it uses simple descriptions and names of markers of intense change.
And yet, for Eastland, the line is not simply a compositional, processual or representational device, it is also a way of creating a relationship of intensity between the work itself and the viewer. As well as seeing the lines of his work as a means to redirect our gaze, or the traces of a layered process of production, or the representation of people’s movements along the sea-front façade (those who are dead, living and not yet born), the sheer intensity of the deep scars that punctuate the vistas he produces direct the viewer beyond the superficial rhetoric of ‘art-appreciation’ towards a process of reflection on art and life, The repeated reworking of lines through the depth of the surfaces he creates full-stops in the rhythms of the text and images that unsettle any attempted harmonisation of the artwork with the viewer’s expectations of both Margate and ‘Margate-art’. When the artwork itself is so deeply scored with the trajectories and movements of life any understanding of the work as art must express these trajectories and movements in itself. The result is an artwork with life that creates a moment to reflect upon one’s own life as a work of art. Indeed, it no coincidence that his life-drawings capture this dynamism in its purest form as each drawn and re-drawn human curves brings depth and movement into the often shallow and lifeless practice of portraiture. Eastland’s art, we might say, is an art of the line that gives a new impetus to the line of life that runs through us all; as individuals, as communities, as people with a past, present and future.
In this way, Eastland’s art does not refer to a critical tradition of aesthetics based on refining the regimes of judgement; the modern Kantian tradition of art criticism is simply inappropriate for grasping the intricacies of an art of the line as sophisticated as Eastland’s. Rather, his art calls upon new and emergent vocabularies of aesthetics that decentre the process of judgement and bring categories and affect to the fore. His art is less a matter of taste as judgements and more a materialisation of taste as sensation. It brings to mind Deleuze and Guattari’s definition of art as that creates a ‘bloc of sensations’ such that the work of art is ‘a being of sensation and nothing else: it exists in itself’ (What is Philosophy?, Verso, 1994, p164). On this criterion, Eastland’s art is not to be simply appreciated or judged as art (or not). Instead, it composes sensations in the artwork itself that change our experience of the subject of his art (Margate becomes a Dream Land) which in turn transform the subjects who view his art through intense affects of dislocation and punctuation) in ways that resist prescription and dogmatism (by bringing the potential for change and chance into the process of production and, crucially, of perception). All of which can be said to bring the sensation of chaos into being, but it is a chaos that is composed, organised and, therefore, truly transformative of settled habits of opinion. As Deleuze and Guattari summarise it: ‘the artist brings back from the chaos varieties that no longer constitute a representation of the sensory… but set up a being of the sensory, a being of sensation on…[a] plane of composition that is able to restore the infinite’ (What is Philosophy?, p202/3). Margate is not simply whatever we assume it to be and Eastland’s art manifests this intense critical gesture by creating a new sense of the infinite possibilities within this sea-side town coming to terms with the fact that it is always on the move. Eastland’s art expresses this in every movement of its being: the infinite as a line into the future composed by an exemplary artist of the line.
Iain MacKenzie lives in Margate and is the author of The Idea of Pure Critique (Continuum, 2004).