Drawings like little poems


Drawings can be like little poems; they can stand alone as intensely troubled-over, individual, works of art in their own right.

This tiny drawing is of a chalk stack at Botany Bay near to where I live.  The piece is about 5cm by 6.5cm in size and it is drawn with silver on gesso on card.  I might make a series of drawings of this stone.  We’ll see.  This work stands on its own but it shares themes in common with lots of my work: presence and the passing of time.

The tides and the weather are gradually eroding this chalk stack away to nothing at all.  In time it will no longer figure in anyone’s line of sight and its base will form part of a chalky reef covered by the sea at high tide.  For now it is here and this familiar – familiar to me at least – feature at the high tide line makes me think about time and about processes of change over the course of time and the drawing of it can stand for that.



Margate drawing

surfboat disaster 1897 Margate.  ...my people humble people who expect nothing... EASTLAND 2016This 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.

Panoramic drawings (2002-2009)


Site of … 2004-2009, graphite, emulsion, tissue, gesso, varnish on board (13.5cm x 57cm)

Site of...

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)

Margate seen from the high tide line. 2007. 4.5x20.5cm


‘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).

margate 2004

Arromanches drawings (2006-2009)

mulberry 2007-2009 NORMANDY

Here are some drawings from a series about Arromanches (a seaside town in Normandy which was the location of the Mulberry Harbour following on from the D-Day landings).

I worked on these small, mixed media (graphite, emulsion, ink and varnish), drawings between about 2006 and 2009. Their starting point was my memories of my dad’s memories of D-Day and of the Mulberry Harbour, at Arromanches, and about a few photographs and post cards of the town that he brought back with him as souvenirs.

One of the photographs was of a rough sea hitting the seafront (I presume this photograph was taken before the war) and this became a repeated point of reference for a number of drawings (I remember being told about the storm that wrecked the Mulberry harbour). The have been repeatedly re-worked and include writing as well as images.

‘Mulberry’, for example, is based on a postcard view of the town and the sea but my version includes my hand-written notes which locate various remembered details of events (memories of memories). As with a lot of my other work, this drawing was worked on over a long period of time and at some points in the process the words were more visible and at other times the image was the focus of the piece.

‘East Kent Daily Time Slip’ (scroll down the home page to find an image of it) is one of the drawings that were based on the view of a wave hitting the seafront. The title comes from my memory of my dad using East Kent Bus Company ‘time slips’ to make simple, schematic, drawings of things as he explained events and views. ‘East Kent Daily Time Slip’ was also the title of my solo exhibition at Marine Studios in Margate.

Various drawings from this body of work have been shown at various venues including: Marine Studios (Margate), Beaux Arts (Bath), Millennium (St Ives) and The Hastings Museum and Art Gallery.     

Arromanches storm (1) (graphite, ink, emulsion and varnish on card. 4.5 x 5.5 cm)

Margate postcard drawing

margate postcard drawing, Roy Eastland, 2011

“…will be seeing you soon”. 2011. graphite, acrylic gesso, varnish on board (8.5cm x 13.5cm)

This is a drawing from 2011. It’s one of a number of drawings based on one particular postcard sent from Margate about a year after the end of The Second World War. It’s party a sort of portrait of a wave but it’s also a portrait of a postcard.

The image on the original postcard shows waves colliding at the foot of the cliffs near Walpole Bay, in Cliftonville, Margate. The hand-written message on the card is letting someone know that that the weather was bad and that “the air here soon makes you feel a lot better”; the postmark says: “DON’T WASTE BREAD, OTHERS NEED IT”; and ‘Rita’ and ‘Eileen’ send their love.

Small, unimportant, things have the habit of hinting at the presence of bigger things. The postmark, for example, reminds us of the continued effects of the recently ended war on everyday life; the hand-written message gives us a glimpse of someone’s lived moments and lets us know that they were here; the image (a photograph taken in the 1920s) records a little moment of time when two waves collided and merged with each other against the foot of the chalk cliff.

This drawing (as is the case with most of my work) came into being through processes of repeated revision and redrawing. My hand-written transcriptions of the hand-written message and the words and lettering of the postmark were repeatedly scratched into the surface and then repeated drawn over. The piece evolved in its own, unpredictable, way as the drawing’s emphasis shifted between drawing the waves and cliff and drawing lines of words.

Nothing stays the same. The Jetty, seen in the distance, has long since been lost to the elements; the seemingly permanent chalk cliff-face is slowly being taken by the sea and the people whose names appear on the postcard are most likely dead by now. The one thing that remains the same is the habit that waves have of repeatedly doing what waves do.

This drawing is partly a portrait of a wave and partly a kind of meditation on the presence and the passing of time, of people, loss and change. But then again it’s just a drawing – a carefully made little thing that might, perhaps, create the effect of bringing to mind the presence of more important things.

I’ve worked on a lot of versions of this drawing but very few of them have reached a point where I’m happy to show them as works of art.  This one was shown at The Hastings Museum and Art Gallery as part of ‘Telling Stories: Hastings’ (2012). The exhibition was organised by the writer Cathryn Kemp with the purpose of bringing together artists from Margate and Hastings (both southern English seaside towns experiencing ‘cultural regeneration/gentrification’ – change).

Exhibition: ‘St Ives joins West Bay’

East Kent Daily Time Slip Arromanches storm 1944

‘East Kent Daily Time Slip’ is one of the series of small drawings relating to my memories of my dad’s memories of Normandy in 1944. There would always be a stock of ‘time slips’ on the mantelpiece along with ‘the biro’ (which was always there). Dad worked on the buses and ‘time slips’ were little sheets of paper printed with columns and with the words: ‘East Kent Daily Time Slip’ across the top. They were made for recording working hours on East Kent buses, but at home they were for writing notes and for drawing on. I got to know the view of Arromanches from the sea through seeing it being drawn (a straight biro-blue line for the sea; above it, another line which dipped in the middle to represent the cliffs and the town; and there was a building to the left with the pointed roofs, the water tower, something on the hill to the right, and the place to one side of the middle which had to be destroyed to make space for the tanks and trucks get through …and so on).

In common with the other drawings in this series, this drawing has been repeatedly re-worked. The central image is of a wave hitting the seafront at Arromanches. Its starting point was a tiny photograph of the storm-battered seafront which was, presumably, taken before the war. It was one of the souvenir pictures he brought back with him (along with a tiny photograph taken from the high ground to the East and a handful of pre-war postcards.

I’ve repeatedly re-drawn this picture to understand and imagine this place which I know through stories and memories of simple drawings done to show what it was like.

It will be on show, along with other, related, drawings, in: ‘St Ives joins West Bay’ at The Old Timberyard, West Bay in Dorset (from 24th May until the 8th June 2014). http://www.theoldtimberyard.com/

I’ve posted something about it on my facebook page as well: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Roy-Eastland/1495390357351370?ref=hl#!/pages/Roy-Eastland/1495390357351370

Margate postcard drawing

“…will be seeing you soon” 2011 graphite, gesso, varnish on board (8.5cm x 13.5cm)

“…will be seeing you soon” is one of an ongoing series of drawings based on a postcard, of a rough sea at Margate, which was sent from Margate to an address in London in May 1946.  This drawing is about the same size as the original postcard and it has been worked on at various times over the course of about three years (it is often the case that my drawings are worked on at various times over the course months or years).  The message reads: “Dear All, Having a good time although the weather could be a lot better. The air here soon makes you a feel a lot better. Will be seeing you soon. Love Rita & Eileen.  The post mark is dated: ‘Margate, Kent, 2pm, 30 may, 1946’ and it is stamped with the words: ‘DON’T WASTE BREAD OTHERS NEED IT’ in block capitals.

The hand-written message gives us a glimpse into other people’s experiences of life.  For example, the writer mentions that the air in Margate can make you “feel a lot better” and that the weather was bad during the time that ‘Rita and Eileen’ stayed in Margate … and so on.  The wording of the postmark (the appeal to people not to waste bread) and its date (one year after the end of The Second World War) brings the wider world into the picture and reminds us that each lived moment is part of a bigger, social and political, situation.

The image on the postcard shows us the moment when an incoming wave collided with a wave returning seaward after hitting the chalk cliffs.  This little event, repeated endlessly in its various forms throughout time, happened to be captured in a photograph one day in the early 1900s (certain details on The Jetty date the original photograph to around 1910).  Everything that is present in the postcard has gone; the people who wrote and received the card have gone, The Jetty was destroyed by a storm in the 1970s and the gradually-eroding cliffs are now protected by a sea wall (even so, these soft chalk cliffs continue to crumble and disappear over time).

These drawings, in common with most of my recent work, come into being through processes of repeated revision and redrawing. Transcriptions of the hand-written message and the words and lettering of the postmark are repeatedly inscribed and then repeatedly drawn over so that the presence of the words and the presence of the picture compete and merge.  Each new layer of redrawing influences the formation of the next.  Each drawing evolves in its own unpredictable way as the drawing’s emphasis shifts (at one time the focus might be on the pictorial elements, another time it will focus on to trying to understand the structure of the wave formation, the next it might centre on the hand-written text, and so on).

These drawings can be seen as portraits of a wave.  They also hint at the presence of people in a particular place in time. They use an ordinary postcard sent from an old East Kent seaside town to play with the idea that ordinary, unimportant, human moments are interesting or wonderful and can be re-sent out into the world as careful works of art.