Category Archives: Reflections

Thoughts and observations

Print

Friday was a good day. The kind of day, where you know it will be two days recovery before you’re right again, but you don’t care. I got into the print workshop and spent 3 hours solid experimenting with the oil based ink.
I hadn’t expected to do any on Friday so it was a bonus, a treat. I spent some of the time preparing pieces of perspex that I had scrounged from the bins in the 3D workshop. This whole final project will be made from scraps I can ‘beg, steal and borrow’…well beg mainly. I had a good day, the day before, picking up some materials I could use. Things are looking more possible at the moment.
I want a range of colours to represent the sea, from deep ocean to tidal river.

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I played with blues and greens & a touch of yellow. I experimented with thin layers of rolled out ink & thick impastos for surface texture too. I employed the inked pallette knife too; to remove unwanted thick slubs of dried up ink and to add thick streaks of fresh ink at neccessary intervals. Very satisfying.
I then turned to mono-printing, to produce some sketches of possible ideas for the form that the sea will take. I had imagined a large piece of ocean becoming a meandering river, representing a journey of identity. I also wanted to use up the large blobs of ink I had pasted on the bench.

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I improvised some flowing lines based on earlier sketches in my sketchbook. This part of the final piece will also have text that flows from left to right, on both sides. This will encourage the viewer to walk around the piece to ‘read’ it.

Quite early on I found myself adding the elliptical forms, nestled within the meanders. Could these embryonic forms represent me & my growth as a person? As an artist? or are they visual representations of a state of mind? Are they experiences? Life changing and/or life affirming? Does giving birth to these experiences mean they become part of the overall journey or are they tangents that pull strength from me and my journey? and yet are incorporated within it.
Is the journey/narrative therefore less smooth, less linear? Is it more of a tangled mess of  experience? with some threads untangling to continue on their journey.

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I particularly like the images where I added turps to the ink and let it pool and spread in its own unpredictable ways.

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I enjoy the automatic markmaking that this type of printing allows. The unpredictability is inspiring and allows the mind to free itself from its preconceived ideas. I found the process medititative and it was more so once others left the print room. These prints were created in isolation but are now revealed to the masses for their feedback.
Tell me what you see in the ink spots…
Tell me what you feel as you see the ink spots…
Tell me what the ink spots make you think of…
Tell me where the ink spots take you.

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Filed under Reflections, Sketchbook

New Suitcase project ‘Odisseia’

The time has come to put together the latest suitcase project.

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It starts with a found readymade cardboard suitcase, probably from late 1950-60s. I had a great time in the workshop, using a jigsaw to cut out three profiles of landscape, out of 4mm clear perspex (plexiglass).

These three profiles represent firstly the lower foothills of Funchal, in Madeira, at the front, secondly the steep mountains and deep ravines, and thirdly the high plateaus of the interior. The perspex retains its protective film until the very last moment, hence looking white in preparation photos.

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With some assistance from the technician, I made a wooden stand to hold up the perspex sheets. Its made of a piece of MDF with thin strips of ply added on top to create the grooves to insert the perspex.
I wanted 5/8″ between the sheets to allow room to read some of the text and for light to play between them.

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The grooves had to be 6mm to allow enough space to cover/bind the wooden stand in leather later. Hence they are not standing as upright as they will later.

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Then came the insertion of the sky photo with the concrete poem I wrote called ‘What am I?’ ( I will post the texts separately).
I took a photo of sky in Madeira, that I took last summer, and using Photoshop, added the text, floating in and out of the clouds. I used the colours of the clouds and surrounding blue sky to colour the text.

The whole poem is made up of many questions, that refer to my identity, that question who I am and where I’m from. The poem sets the scene with the piece within the case signifying partial answers to these questions. But the intention is that the whole piece leaves the viewer with far more questions than answers.

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I had to leave the image in the case lid for several days so that the photo paper could settle and take shape. It is technically thicker than ideal to paste into the lid shape.
I would have preferred an endpaper type thickness but it would not have given me the high sheen that photo paper provides.
The curves of the suitcase also proved far more difficult to manage than I expected. They, alongside the flimsy construction gave me quite a headache during the assembly process.

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I then moved onto the interior of the case. I had already decided that I liked the blackboard effect to signify the deep, dark Atlantic Ocean, that surrounds the island of Madeira.
I was still worrying about how to add the slate that I liked to the scene, it came much later in the process.
I used black gouache in the case, I love the velvety blackness of the paint and how it sucks in all the light nearby.

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Returning to the wooden stand, I decided to consolidate it before binding it in leather. I lined it in Kraft paper to even out the texture, hold it firm, pad out some of the space in the grooves and make an even surface to adhere the leather too. It was very satisfying getting back to more traditional bookbinding techniques and materials. I was extremely pleased with the result. (But somehow forgot to photograph it, Damn!)
I then used the suede side of some dark racing green skiver leather that I’ve had knocking about the workshop for years. The leather has been dyed with a mixture of green and black so it is very dark, but I preferred the raw underside where the green and black is less even, more blotchy. I felt it was a perfect way to represent the land and tie in with the black ‘sea’ inside the case, as well as the printed coloured pieces of perspex I had experimented with earlier in the project.

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The above image shows that I wrapped a single piece of leather around the whole thing, leaving one side longer so that it could dissappear beneath the slate ‘waves/shoreline’.

The text, some seen on above image, took several days to perfect. My original idea had been to handwrite the text and screen print it onto the perspex. I had also considered getting it laser etched. Both time and financial resources meant I had to think of other ways of adding text, using only my resources at home, namely an A4 printer.

The text used is called ‘My History’ and it is the history of the island as known by me, picked up from a variety of sources, not all reliable and many very biased, full of opinion, researched throughout my life as well as recently for this project.

I had to consider various ways of applying the text at home. One of my student colleagues suggested decals and so off I went to pursue this idea. I firstly explored the water decal, familiar to us all as the water applied tattoo transfer from childhood. If its good enough for Grayson Perry I thought, it might just do the trick for me.

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I printed the text in black and originally played with a mixture of fonts, ascenders and descenders. It was quite pleasing but didn’t work so well when transferred to the perspex. The text had to be cut out very close or a slightly milky haze was visible around the text. This would be prohibitively time consuming and would be much more difficult to align across the width of the perspex. I also thought the black text looked a bit obvious and perhaps a little cheap. It wasn’t quite the look I was after. I decided that I wanted the text to emulate and signify the historic heyday of Madeira, the 18-19th centuries when its wine was most well travelled and appreciated over and above most others. I wanted the text to suggest the brown oak gall ink that we all recognise as the neat standard handwriting of the day, very italic, slanting, loopy text with a flourish.
Wet decals weren’t the answer. I switched to using static window cling which I could also print at home A4 and proved easier to print off larger areas. The A4 format was slightly limiting though as I had to arrange text into columns, to suggest a densely packed 18th century newspaper. I removed paragraph formatting to preserve space and cost much like the papers did at that time. Each row had to be lined up in each column to allow the eye to travel across and make the piece cohesive.

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Returning to the idea of slate, I found it difficult to acquire the correct size of slate to cover the whole bottom of the case. I acquired several old roof tiles, they were correct width but too short at the ends. I still very much wanted the slate to signify the colours of the deep ocean. However I had to amend my plan. I broke the edges off of the roof tiles and created the thinner sliver, shown in the photos above. This represents the waves hitting the shoreline but can also look like the grey, black stony shore.
The paper boats were folded out of double sided printed images of maps and documents concerning the island of Madeira and its neighbouring islands. I also used a very fine brown ink pen to handwrite my poem ‘The Land -À Terra’. I wrote 1-2 stanzas on each boat, once folded. I used the most common childhood type boat style as it is the most similar to the old fashioned fishing vessels used on Madeira and which to this day bring in fresh fish to the islands markets. The sepia and washed out colours of the boats suggest the colours in Andrew Pickens prints, one of which sits on my mantlepiece and which inspired this whole piece of work. I feel pleased with what I have achieved and the skills I have acquired during this project and look forward to developing the theme even further in my final project, which results in an exhibition this summer 2015.

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Filed under My Portfolio, Reflections

Out of the Box

This being the year that sees a major Joseph Cornell retrospective exhibition at The Royal Academy, I shall be looking at other Assemblage artists that are inspiring me to produce boxes of stuff.
This post is about the ‘Out of the Box’ exhibition at The NoFormat Gallery in Woolwich, in SE London, that was on Nov-Dec 2014.
The exhibition was curated by graphic/Assemblage artist Tom Buchanan.

I spent several hours at this exhibition, enjoying the total immersion into ‘Box Art’, as it was marketed. Traditionally, this kind of work has been called ‘Assemblage’ with a tradition, within Fine Arts, spanning the C20th till the present day. In the earlier part of the Century, Surrealists, in particular Dada artists, often used this method of assembling, often everyday, objects into humourous or political artworks, as a form of ‘anti-art’. One such artist, Joseph Cornell, collected ephemeral objects and paper and combined them with photographs or magazine clippings, into small glass-fronted vitrine-like containers. These have become known as his ‘Shadow Boxes’. Cornell continued to make art over the next few decades. An exhibition at MoMA in 1961, ‘The Art of Assemblage’ saw 14 of his artworks being displayed.

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In the 1960s, other artists were influenced by the exhibition at MoMA. These included the Fluxus movement of artists. They put art in containers/boxes, often using found objects/ephemera that had been developed by the artists or given new meanings. These ‘Fluxkits‘ required the recipient to interact with the works inside the box/case, to read the book, watch the film, touch the objects, put on a show/event etc.

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The work in the ‘Out of the Box’ exhibition owes much to these artistic precursors. The diversity of objects, forms and methodology used to produce this huge array of art is testimony to the legacy of these art movements in the C20th and today.

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These ‘assemblage’ boxes also put me in mind of Contemporary Book Arts too.
Some pieces were more obviously of the ‘altered’ book art form, such as Rachel Smith’s ‘Pride & Prejudice ‘, shown below.

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But many other pieces are like visual poetry, like visual flash fiction, with clear narratives that change with each viewer.

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The above Assemblage is called ‘A Box of Deights’ by Glenn Anderson. The box is packed full of found objects (objet trouvé) and ephemera. It is hard to know how much has been found and how much the artist has made especially for this piece. Is this a window into the artist’s mind, his life, his soul, ? Or just a window into his studio?
Either way there is a definite narrative in the piece and we as audience can ‘read’ into it what we will.

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Another British assemblage artist is Frank Jennings. He had several pieces in the show, some shown above. He calls his boxes of art ‘Deceptive Receptacles‘ and has made approximately 400 over the last 40 years.

Tom Buchanan, the curator of the ‘Out of the Box’ show, is hoping to write a book to document this unique collection of Assemblage ‘Box Art’ in the near future, and I for one will definitely be buying it!

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Filed under Artists, Book Art, Reflections, Reviews: exhibitions, fairs, shows...