I’m having a small solo exhibition at the Young Gallery in Salisbury where I’m showing eleven silverpoint drawings and sixteen sketchbooks. The work is on display in two, large, museum cabinets.
In one cabinet is a line of silverpoint portraits based on photo booth images of my Mum. They were most likely done for bus passes. The photos I’ve drawn from are the mistimed and unflattering ones which were never used. I like them because they capture familiar facial expressions and the hints of personality which better posed photographs would not have caught.
The photographs are starting points; the drawings are not straightforward copies. They slowly emerge out of the painstaking drawing process of repeated loss and revision. The works are scratched away and redrawn so that the results are traces of time as much as they are drawings of people.
I’ve also included handwriting, which too is a kind of drawing. The texts are made up of lines of remembered speech and familiar stories repeatedly rewritten and altered in each retelling. Some phrases and words become more prominent over time but complete sentences are hard to see and the presence of all is fragile, like a memory.
These drawings condense moments in time into traces of touch. They take time to do and the sense of time is subtly replayed whenever someone spends time to look at them.
A note about silverpoint drawings:
Silverpoint drawings are made by drawing a point of silver wire across a prepared surface onto which tiny traces of metal are deposited. These traces are extremely subtle; pressing the point harder will not make the line any darker or its presence any stronger. The lines are permanent but they can be scratched away (think of mark left by a key dragging across an emulsion-painted wall and you get a rough idea of the medium’s qualities). The delicacy of silverpoint makes it an appropriate medium for an art about presence, trace and memory.
These two silverpoint drawings are of people posing in fancy dress somewhere in Margate. One drawing is of people in the 1930s and the other is of people in the 2010s.
Both are currently on display at the Young Gallery in Salisbury in a small solo exhibition running alongside an exhibition of British 20th century paintings chosen from the Arts Council collection by the curator Peter Riley. I’m showing eleven silverpoint works and sixteen sketchbooks.
‘Margate Creatives, 2010s’ is based on a Facebook post from a Margate-themed party, held a few years ago at The Lido, Cliftonville, Margate. It shows two women in fancy dress. One is dressed as an estate agents’ sign and the other is dressed as a local businessman. Margate is currently experiencing the mixed blessings of ‘cultural regeneration’.
‘Margate Imperialists, 1930s’ is a group portrait based on a small postcard photograph found at an antique fair. The people in this drawing might be dressed for an Empire Day event or something similar. Here we see cliched depictions of working class, ethnic and foreign ‘types’ surrounding a young woman dressed as Britannia. Any similarities between anyone in this drawing and anyone currently living in Margate or Cliftonville are coincidental.
The choices of costume in both of these images are interesting and they both express something about the social attitudes of their times and places.
I’ll be having an exhibition at The Young Gallery, Salisbury, from 9th June until the 25th August. My work will be displayed in two very large display cabinets alongside an exhibition of paintings by British 20th figurative artists which will include works by Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Patrick Caulfield, Lucian Freud, Howard Hodgkin, Ken Kiff, Leon Kossoff, Euan Uglow, David Hockney and Francis Bacon. My work will augment the main exhibition but will be, in effect, a small solo show.
As the deadline for hanging the work draws closer I have to make some decisions regarding what I’d like to show and why. At the moment I’m thinking along the lines of showing a number of sketchbooks, some framed silverpoint drawings and some recent unframed silverpoint drawings.
The image for this blog post is of three of these recent pieces.
These works are about the size of A5 and are drawn with silver on gesso on board. They’re based on found photographs of people photographed in Germany I the 1930s and 1940s. I’ve been finding the photographs separately and at different times in a junk shop in Cliftonville, Margate. I don’t know who the people in the pictures are or how their portraits made their way to Margate. I suspect that some of the people might have known each other. I can’t possibly know this for certain but I think it’s quite likely that some of the photographs came to the shop as part of a bundle, or a collection.
What we can tell about someone from the way they look? If they were alive in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s they would have had direct experience of life during the Nazi era of German history. How does knowing that my drawings are of German people living in that period of time affect our thoughts about what kinds of people they were? What became of them?
My drawings of these people are not simply copies of photographs but I have tried to be loyal to what I can make of their images. Perhaps I’m saying: “Here are people being still somewhere”. They were present in the moment captured by the camera image, and by drawing them I make them present as works of art, here and now. They are connected with Margate (my home town) by the fact that their images were found in Margate, but I wonder if there are other connections too. Who knows?
This drawing is a work in progress. If it reaches a conclusion it might take part in a show I’ll be having at the Young Gallery, in Salisbury, which begins on the 9th June. It is one of an ongoing series of drawings of unknown (unknown to me) people who were photographed in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s.
What can we tell about a person from how they appear to us? The repeated point of reference with each of these drawings are photographs found in a Margate second hand shop. I wonder what became of these people? I wonder what draws me to pay this careful and time-consuming attention to these traces of small moments in strangers’ lives? Why do I want to resurrect them through drawing?
I have about four weeks until I hang my work for a show at The Young Gallery, in Salisbury. This show has been on my mind for months but I’ve yet to settle on definite plan as to what to show and how to show it.
My work will be shown alongside an exhibition of work from the Arts Council collection of figurative painters. The main exhibition is called ‘20th century Figurative Art – Arts Council Collection’ and will include work by Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Patrick Caulfield, Lucian Freud, Howard Hodgkin, Ken Kiff, Leon Kossoff, Euan Uglow, David Hockney and Francis Bacon. My work will be shown in large glass cabinets and will be a solo show. It runs from the second week in June until the 25th August.
I don’t want to show you what I’m working on right this moment because it’s top secret, hush, hush.
So instead, here’s a picture of an ongoing metalpoint drawing which I continue to work on from time to time and which is part of a larger project about people seen in old photographs found in a Margate second hand shop.
There is a Margate connection with all of these drawings: some are definitely drawings of people who were in Margate at some point in time but others may never have been here and only their images ever found their way to The Isle of Thanet. For some reason or other their images were eventually placed in a junk shop in Cliftonville from where they came into my hands. Now I’m drawing them and wondering what connections there might be between me and them.
The photograph which this particular silverpoint drawing is based upon is an old photograph which was probably taken in Germany in the 1930s or 1940s. At some point in time it had been torn in half but then so carefully glued back together again that it wasn’t obvious at first that it had been torn in two. I want to find a way to get the fact of its partial destruction and its careful fixing into the stuff of the drawing itself – it’s an interesting artistic problem.
This silverpoint drawing is presently on show in St Ives, Cornwall, as part of Anima-Mundi’s ‘Mixed Winter 17’ exhibition. It’s a drawing about people and about a moment in time in Margate (a seaside town in the south east of England).
The drawing is about the size of an A1 sheet of paper but it’s drawn with silver on thick layers of gesso on board (silverpoint). The work is based on a small postcard image found at an antique fair. Here we see a group of mostly young adults, and a few children, dressed in a variety of fancy dress costumes depicting a mix of social and ethnic ‘types’. There is ‘A Margate Landlady’, a ‘Red Indian’, men dressed as women, people ‘blacked up’, various ‘foreigners’ and even someone dressed-up as a member of the Klu Klux Klan (make of those details what you will). The presence of ‘Britannia’, in the centre of the group, makes me think they are at an Empire Day event.
This is a drawing about people and about a place and a moment in time. It might bring to mind thoughts around identity, self-expression, ‘otherness’ and about taste. These people look thrilled to be in costume and playing with identities. A few years later came The War. Their choices of costume bring into focus thoughts about British Imperialism and about attitudes to class and to foreigners and so forth. This drawing is also about a group of people expressing themselves and about people looking happy in each other’s company and they looking towards us.
The act of drawing someone’s image is a kind of meditation of their presence beyond their appearance. More accurately it’s a meditation on what I imagine is their personality as given to me via a small photographic image. It’s a drawing and I’m glad it’s being seen in St Ives right now.
This drawing was recently on show in the ING Discerning Eye Drawing Bursary exhibition. The medium is silver on gesso on board (metalpoint/silverpoint). It’s one of an occasional on-going series of drawings based on photo booth images.
Photo booth images capture little moments of time which only the automatically timed camera shots ever witnessed; the sitter is usually alone, waiting for that moment to become a fixed image. The older types of photo booths gave the sitter four chances, four moments, to make a portrait good enough (or not too awful) to be used for, say, a bus pass or a membership card. Sometimes the moments were mistimed. The mistimed images would be unflattering but, perhaps, more interesting than the properly posed ones. This drawing is based an unused photo booth image of my mum.
The drawing is based on a photograph but it isn’t simply a copy of it. It has been repeatedly redrawn, sanded-away and scratched-into again and again. The image emerges out of this process of loss and finding. Below the drawing of the face is a block of hand-written text. The text is made up of multiple re-writings of lines of remembered speech and familiar stories. Each time the stories are re-written they are different and each re-writing both obscures and reinforces parts of earlier versions. Some repeated words are visibly more present and some fragments of sentences can be glimpsed but the there is never a single version which can be followed through to its end – just fragments and hints of what was present.
The hand-writing is a kind of drawing. Lines of words written on top or beside drawings can flatten pictorial depth but the over-laying of lines of words can evoke a sense of spatial depth – they can conjure a sense of rhythm and of movement. The closer the viewer looks the more the work disintegrates into scratches and lines and traces of movement. Drawings – hand-made drawings – are traces of presence and movement and time (life).
None of these drawings can ever really be said to be finished; there is no end-point with these works – they are simply left as they are to be whatever they are. I sometimes rework old drawings but this one is safe from that fate as someone else owns it. This was one of four drawings recently on show at The Mall Galleries, in London, as part of the ING Discerning Eye Drawing Bursary exhibition. The other artists were: Alexandra Blum, Susannah Douglas, Craig Jefferson, Max Naylor, Daksha Patel and Eithne Twomey.