Reflection on Assignment 1 & self-assessment against course criteria

Reflection on Assignment 1 (approx 500 words)

This is the first time I have fully enjoyed the whole process of working on an OCA assignment. I felt liberated up by the notion, reinforced several times during the course so far, that seemingly randomly selected, sometimes unpromising objects can become the source of successful drawings when approached with an open mind and experimentation.

This was further reinforced by a talk by Grayson Perry that I went to in Colchester in December in which he said he doesn’t always know what the outcome is going to be when he starts to draw. He might wake up in the morning and feel like doing something red, for example. He also said that sometimes he doesn’t attach a profound meaning to what he is working on… sometimes that might come later and sometimes it is provided by other people – in which case he grabs it!

I never thought for a moment that the two 1950s dolls were unpromising as subject matter.  I bought them in a junk shop a while back because I knew they would be interesting to draw and all kinds of symbolism might be attached to them. Nonetheless, I could not have guessed at the outcomes that would result from simply drawing and experimenting without a preconceived idea of the end result.

And, big bonus, if you don’t know what the end result is going to be, you can’t beat yourself up about not achieving it. Instead you can be open to unexpected outcomes. Another Grayson Perry comment I noted was about how artists are often too judgmental about their work because of preconceived ideas and that coming back to work later he often thinks, heh that wasn’t so bad after all.

I found the research into Prunella Clough, Elizabeth Blackadder and Matisse eye-opening -and thought consciously about space as an integral part of my compositions (particularly in Untitled 1 where I deliberately left the background mostly empty so viewers could create their own context). I also found myself thinking about edges and how I might instill energy into the whole of the image.

I submitted three finished drawings for this assignment and a fairly wide range of experiments in the my sketchbook.

Making a decision about which drawings to develop was difficult but I aimed to show different approaches to seeing and drawing. I felt fulfilled by this assignment because it released a lot of ideas and potential for further work.

Despite recognising that they were essential to my development, I had become weary of the prescribed nature of the exercises at level one. I feel that this more experimental approach with the freedom to choose subject matter and how we use our time and energy suits me at this stage of my learning journey.

I would have liked to have worked my way through Part 1 more quickly as it is important to maintain momentum but I had several health and family issues to deal with which  sapped my time and energy. The next six months is looking brighter. In any case, this course strengthens and revives me because learning and applying that learning to my personal practice is something that makes me happy.

Self-assessment against course criteria

Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.

This course is encouraging me to experiment and try out different materials and techniques which I welcome. It is demonstrating that it is possible to see in different ways and that it is not necessary to be totally literal in my translation of what I see into my drawings. I have learnt some valuable new design and compositional skills and I can see a definite improvement in my work in this respect as I was weak on composition.

Quality of outcome – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.

I believe that by not having such a fixed view of the outcome I am aiming for, I am starting to be more experimental and delving deeper into my study of objects / subjects. I feel I have applied new knowledge in a discerning way and that I present work coherently. I have  communicated my ideas but I confess that I have consciously tried to put most of my energy into seeing and drawing  rather than words. The words sometimes come more easily to me than the practice.

Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.

This course is unlocking all these things for me which is exciting.  While I thought that my personal voice was beginning to develop, I sense I am changing direction both in terms of my artistic output and my working methods.

Context reflection – research, critical thinking (learning logs and, at second and third level, critical reviews and essays).

I enjoy the research and reflection in my learning log and feel that I am reasonably competent in these areas. Creative  Arts Today was my last level one module and this is likely to have been good preparation for the critical review and essays. I have discovered that the forums are a great place for seeking support, particularly for the critical review, and have received advice from other students and pointers towards useful resources. I am aware that I need to develop more confidence in analysis and expression of my personal views. My critical thinking skills improve as my understanding of art history, movements and individual artists expands.

Advertisements

Assignment 1 – Preparatory drawings

I started by photographing the two broken 1950s dolls in a variety of different arrangements, taking care to capture some strong reflected light and shadows.

Then I drew in my sketchbook and on scraps of paper using a variety of different materials.

Graphite and ink sketches

Watercolour pencil drawing of the upright doll without arms

Experimenting with threshold in Photoshop and transfer printing

Drawing onto marbled paper

A while back I experimented with marbling inks which were a present from my niece Alice. I kept the results as I thought they would make an interesting surface to draw on.

Last of my prep sketches

Also see

Deciding on subject matter

Final drawings

Alexey Menschikov – photographer and street artist

Alexey Menschikov is a young artist and photographer from Russia. Like many street artists, information on him is hard is sparse. Hisart builds on things that catch his attention  on the streets, like cracks on the pavement and paint chips on a wall and he integrates these into his art.

He is most well known for his street art but it is his photography that captivates me. His black and white photos use shadow, repetition, line and negative space to create mesmerizing images. His subjects include birds, cats, dogs, insects and people. There is definitely something to be learnt from his clever compositions but I’ve no idea at this point in time how he works.

You can see some of Alexey’s photographs in a Pinterest Board I have created:

And you can view some of his street art here:
Subtle Street Art by Alexey Menschikov

He also has a Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/menshchikow

 

 

 

Contextual focus point: Prunella Clough

(1919–99) British painter

Born in London in 1919 Prunella Clough was an innovative and pioneering painter and printmaker who developed a unique and highly individual style. Throughout a career which began in the 1940s she was fascinated by urban and industrial landscapes and detritus. Her paintings evolved during her lifetime into an abstract distillation of her subject matter.

The archive held by Tate Modern (London) includes a collection of photographs and notebooks. Her photos captured elements that she had seen and others might easily miss but her paintings were not a direct translation of these. Instead she used her photos and written notes, which described what she saw and how she felt, and interpreted them into a new visual language of her own. It was unusual, at the time, for a woman to be taking inspiration from what was widely viewed as a man’s world of manual labour and industry and her working method was highly individual.

Clough’s work demonstrated a new way of seeing but despite a considerable contribution to modernism and the development of abstract art, she was a very private person and never became a household name. She was as prolific in her output in the years leading up to her death, aged 80 in 1999, as she was in earlier years. After a lifetime of painting, her achievements were finally recognised when she won the prestigious Jerwood Prize for Painting in 1999 shortly before her death.

In the 40s and early 50s she was associated with the Neo-Romantics, a term applied to the imaginative and often abstract landscape based painting of Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and others in the late 30s and 40s.

Clough’s early work (from the 40s onwards) focused on labourers in industrial settings (fishermen, lorry drivers, builders, factory workers) using an angular, graphic style and limited colour range. These early paintings combine elements of the Neo-Romantic spirit of place and Social Realism’s attention to the everyday conditions of the working class and the poor.

Her abstract and figurative paintings share a common purpose which she expressed in 1949 when she wrote: “Whatever the theme it is the nature and structure of an object – that, and seeing it as if it were strange and unfamiliar, which is my chief concern.”

In the 50s and 60s Clough moved to a less figurative style as she began to focus more on urban scenes. She travelled visiting cooling towers, steel smelters, derelict factories and scrapyards reflecting the growing urbanisation and industrialisation of Britain. She took inspiration from the shapes and colours of the industrial structures and scenes she encountered.

As her individual style developed, she used found objects such as hairdryers, wire mesh and rusting scrap as a basis for her explorations of paint and form. She declared that “a gasometer is as good as a garden, indeed probably better, as one paints what one knows”.

By the 60s her paintings and prints had evolved to pure abstraction using a very restrained range of colours. They give very little away except a sense of perfect harmony and balance in terms of colour, form and composition. There is something calm and meditative in these paintings.

In the 1980s Clough created a series of abstracted paintings featuring light industrial objects such as gates, fences and wire. She also became absorbed by shadows cast by people and objects on walls and pavements (there are many photographs of these in the Tate archive).

In the latter decades of her career, Clough made a number of works that reference scraps of urban debris found on the streets of London, such as plastic bags, discarded gloves, and oil stains. In1989 she exhibited these paintings in a show entitled Prunella Clough: Recent Paintings, 1980-1989 at  Annely Juda Fine Art Gallery in London. The show was a critical and financial success and gained her wider recognition.

Later in life she turned her attention to found plastic including colourful objects such as buckets and toys that might be found on a market stall.

A chronological look at some of Clough’s paintings
A chronological look at a selection of Clough’s paintings is enlightening because it reveals the evolution of her personal style and her journey to pure abstraction through explorations of shape, form, scale, layering, composition and colour. We can see that as confidence in her individual methods and approach develops she becomes a master of composition, filling the picture plane with a distilled energy and making excellent use of negative space.

Trawlnet  (1946) Inspired by workers at Lowestoft in Suffolk, this painting has a Neo Romantic feel as well as hints of Social Realism in the depiction of fishermen attending to their nets on the beach. Clough had a staunch belief in the dignity and value of labour.

Deserted Gravel Pit (1946) This scene of abandonment is reminiscent of the work of Graham Sutherland. Here we see a simplification of a largely lifeless landscape depicted in a muted grey, ochre and brown with just one small glimmer of green.

Lowestoft Harbour (1951)  This is one of the most notable paintings in her series of fishermen The influence of Picasso can be seen in the blocky line work in this painting but Clough preferred a more subtle colour palette of grey with touches of ochre and rusty brown.

Landscape with cable (1957) A fully abstracted landscape consisting of geometric shapes and employing a muted palette gently lifted by subtle accents of pale blue.

Cooling Tower (1958) Clough travelled the UK seeking out industrial landscapes and studying their shape and form. In this painting the colour range is severely limited to a very pale grey and the lightest of browns. The monolithic tower dominates while delicately painted industrial detritus surrounds.

Electrical Landscape  (1960) The faint oval shapes in the vertical band at the centre of the painting recall electricity pylons. The limited colour range is characteristic of her work. She has created texture by scraping areas of paint.

By the Canal (1976) Here we see Clough’s fence motif in this minimalist industrial landscape.

Broken Gates (1982) Another of Clough’s favoured motifs – a tangle of broken gates.

Wire and Demolition (1982) Clough became ever more focused on micro elements of the landscape in the form of discarded waste. Tangled wire became another of her motifs.

Perforated fragment (1985) No doubt a found fragment but, typically, Clough is giving nothing away.

Toy Pack Sword  (1988)  Plastic detritus, a market stall sword? Clough is perhaps now painting the market stall items and plastic objects that fascinated her later in life. More vivid, vibrant colours are being used.

Household Goods (1989) The market stall as the source of objects that may later be discarded, broken and become waste?

False Flower (1993) – A discarded object that resembled a flower? The Tate descriptions say much about the painting technique but do not attempt to interpret the image. The archivists were working directly with Clough when this painting was first documented… she may have not wished to interpret her own paintings preferring to leave it to the viewer.

Accessories (1996) I find Clough’s later paintings increasingly difficult to analyse but perhaps that’s because they are meant to be felt rather than rationalised.

Samples (1997) As above.

Brief biography
Prunella Clough was born in London in 1919 and studied at the Chelsea School of Art and Camberwell School of Art. Her first solo exhibition was at the Leger Gallery, London, in 1947. Her aunt was the architect and furniture designer Eileen Gray; a pioneer of the modern movement.

The Whitechapel Gallery in East London staged an early retrospective in 1960 – a landmark for a female painter – but for the last 40 years of her life she kept a low profile, avoiding interviews.

A retrospective of her work was held at the Camden Arts Centre and Oriel 37, Newton Powys in 1996 and a major exhibition was held at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge in 1998. She won the Jerwood Prize for Painting in 1999 shortly before her death in the same year.

A retrospective of her work was held at Tate Britain London in 2007 which also toured to Norwich and Kendal.

Clough’s work is in many public collections including the Tate and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London

References
The Tate website, Prunella Clough Archive
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/prunella-clough-921 (accessed 30/11/17))

Clough, Prunella (1919–99), A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art, 2015

Art and Artists, National Galleries Scotland website https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/438/electrical-landscape-1960 (accessed 30/11/17)

Spencer, Catherine, A tour through the wastelands: don’t miss Prunella Clough at Osborne Samuel, Apollo magazine, 12 May 2015
https://www.apollo-magazine.com/a-tour-through-the-wastelands-dont-miss-prunella-clough-at-osborne-samuel/ (accessed 30/11/17)

Prunella Clough at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings,  Government Art Collection – http://www.gac.culture.gov.uk/jerwood.html (accessed 30/11/17)

Gayford, Martin, The painting prize that got it right, The Telegraph, 22/09/99
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/4718483/The-painting-prize-that-got-it-right.html (accessed 1/12/17)

The Tate website – Art terms
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/n/neo-romanticism (accessed 01/12/17)

Wikipedia – Social Realism
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_realism (accessed 01/12/17)

Wikipedia – Prunella Clough
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prunella_Clough (accessed 01/12/17)

Nationwide choice: Prunella Clough, The Times (London, England) 04/08/01
News: p30.

Sketchbook experiments – Wexford scenes

Last time I was doing some printing, I’d started to clean up when I thought I’d press a few pieces of paper into what was left of rolled out black ink as the results might provide a background for a drawing.

Sketch 1, The Graveyard, is I think reasonably successful. The background print has provided a random element and added some extra to the drawing. I felt the marks in the printed background had some relationship with the patterns made by erosion and lichen on the tombstones.

Sketch 2, I liked this rock because it reminded me of the prow of a ship and got me thinking about all the people who immigrated in the Great Famine in Ireland in the 1840s. I also liked different textures where the smooth pristine sand met the craggy rock. My underlying print resembled a mountain  but unfortunately I overdid the drawing over and virtually obliterated the print. Later I washed off some of the ink with a tiny quantity of very dilute bleach and drew into the picture again. This created a more successful sketch that does capture some of the mood of what I saw on the beach.

I would use these techniques again but be much more careful to let the underlying print contribute.

 

 

 

Project 3: Changing scale (2) Tomato stalks and stone

 

My subject matter; a stone with interesting contour lines and ripple like patterns and a vine tomato stalks.

I enjoyed the changing scale exercise so much that I had another go.  I selected a stone with pleasing contour lines and marks, and some vine tomato stalks. Using a dipping pen and ink I drew the stalks and then the contours of the stone. The markings on the stone resembled ripples of water so I wondered if the stalks could become underwater plants. When I stepped back I wasn’t happy; I’d created an over complicated drawing with no particular focus. I chucked it to one side.

 

Initial ink drawing which I discarded

A few days later I came back to my drawing (right) and, with nothing to lose, I painted on a very dilute bleach solution which broke up the solid colour. I then reinstated the stalks and  drew over areas with a white chalk pen (a useful thing to have) to create areas of reflected, diffused light. I still had a messy over complicated drawing but it had started to resemble  rippling water (see below).

 

The ink drawing I photographed in close up. Ink (Quink), Brusho ink, drawing pen, chalk pen.

I got my camera out  and started to play with zooming into particular areas. My drawing started to look much more interesting.  I tilted the camera and positioned it at the same level as my drawing; this had the effect of elongating the foreground and scrunching up the background. Now my drawing was becoming exciting and looking like the surface of an icy, glacial stream.

Reflection
This outcome truly surprised me; there is no way I could have predicted where this was going. An unpromising initial drawing went through a metamorphosis to become something  striking that actually did follow through my initial thoughts about patterns on water. This certainly reinforces for me the OCA message that experiment and an open mind are vital for personal development.   I’ve also had a reminder that it’s worth reviewing work that initially feels unpromising with a fresh eye and renewed energy.

I’ve taken my drawing and photographed it in an experimental way to create images that have, I believe, some depth and intrigue about them. My next challenge has to be to take some of these photos and recreate them as drawings… This has the potential to be the subject of my first assignment.

Project 3: Changing scale (1) Dolls, oyster shells etc

I so enjoyed this exercise. I started with two small broken dolls, some oyster shells , a bit of mesh ribbon and a honey dipper. I’ve ended up with giant, rather wicked looking twins in an alien landscape and a great god-like hand striking the earth with a stake (very William Blake).

Reflection

A very valuable exercise. It tells me to look widely for subjects to draw and experiment with scale and to not be afraid to let the imagination run riot. I started to feel some kind of story was unfolding with this drawing. I did not set up the objects as a still life, instead I held them in my hand so I could see the detail and drew with the other and made up the composition as I went along.

The  oyster shells with all their layers and contours make great rocks and mountains. The mesh ribbon forms very interesting marks and I could incorporate these into many things as background or objects in their own right. When I drew the honey dipper I thought it might become a tower but  it gained a hand at the top and took on a life of its own. I’m sure I’ll be drawing the broken dolls again; they might be a good visual metaphor for the cruelty of war and the loss of innocent lives. The one doll’s fixed eyes looking the other way are odd but they contribute to the narrative as they say something else is happening that we cannot see.

I ended up with a more powerful drawings after cropping; the drama is more focused; the edges are more interesting and the colour better balanced.