This is a very small (about 5 cm x 6.7cm) silverpoint drawing of ‘the lifeboat man’ statue which stands on the seafront on one end of Margate Sands (next to the Victorian shelter which has started to be called ‘the TS Eliot shelter’ by some). The Lifeboat man looks out to sea towards the site of the 1897 ‘Friend to all Nations’ surfboat disaster. It’s a familiar local landmark and it’s something I’ve looked at and half looked at countless times. But my drawing isn’t specifically about that event; it’s more a drawing about my feelings about that point along the seafront. It’s just a drawing.
The lifeboatman is the obvious central figure but behind the figure you can glimpse the Arlington House tower block (Margate’s ‘sky scraper’) and on the bottom left of the drawing you can see the top of the art deco fin of the Dreamland Cinema tower. These features occupy the picture space as if they too were figures (which they are in a way). I was careful to draw a separation between the figure of the Lifeboatman and Arlington House and the figure is drawn so that it can be seen as being part of the pictorial space and/or as a separate figure. A lot of ideas come into play as I draw and these all have an influence on the way my drawings take shape. Sometimes these ideas are sensed by the viewer and sometimes there are not: it doesn’t matter; it’s not an illustration of a view but more an attempt to create a kind of psychological souvenir of a particular place.
The statue was placed there over a hundred years ago (it’s been moved a short distance from its original setting but it still looks out towards the same point in the sea), Dreamland cinema was built a generation later and Arlington House a generation after that. They all presently share the same moment in time but only the statue was there when TS Eliot was here (he is known to have stayed in Margate for a time when he was working on his poem, ‘The Wasteland’). The drawing is fragmented by the unevenness of its surface and by lines of words which have been repeatedly re-written across its surface. The picture, then, is never a singular image of a view but a drawing which hints at other versions and other visions. The words scribed onto and into the surface of the drawing happen to be from that section of TS Eliot’s poem which mention Margate and which, according to recent local tradition, was partly written in the Victorian shelter just by the side of the statue (next to the modern public toilet block which has the word: ‘TOILETS’ impressed into its concrete walls.
All views include elements of the past mixed with the present. The details in this drawing bring various moments of time in company with each other in one little place. But this is a lot to write about such a humble little drawing and it is only a drawing after all. Then again, drawings are never just drawings anymore than poems are just pleasing lines of words or souvenirs just bits of bric-a-brac.
When I draw I like to use processes which bring unpredictability into the play. This drawing has been repeatedly redrawn and its surface has been repeated sanded back, scribbled over and written over (both in silverpoint and also with etching needles which scratch into and fragment the drawing’s surface). It’s a lot of work to put into such a little drawing. I’m never really sure what it is I’m really trying to draw.
This drawing was done for its own sake but it might lead on to other things. It has reawakened some a half-ideas I have to create panoramic drawings of Margate made up of various small drawings. We’ll see.