The artists below all make work which both creates and denies three dimensions at the same time. Take a look at their websites and then make notes about these artists, your response to their work and how their work relates to what you’ve been learning in this project.
Angela Eames states in Drawing Now (TRACEY 2007) that she considers drawing to be a visual thought process and uses it to explore potential, and the implications this has for technology. She is interested in rethinking the position of the viewer and the viewed.
All Eames’s drawings are created using technology. The objects she depicts do not exist. They are a result of investigation into and reinterpretation of photographic evidence she gathers. I found the following quote taken from the Bath Academy of Art website, one of the places where she studied, a helpful insight into her working methods and motives.
My drawings whether in time, space, sound or silence have a single factor in common. They are constructed (i.e. drawn) within the computing environment. They might end up on paper – they might not. They might end up as imagery viewed on video or as printout but they did not at any time and do not now exist in reality. They are simulacra or copies of things that have no original. In the current drawings I am using recorded photographic evidence of human form, close-up photographs of parts of the body, images that are unrecognisable to the uninquisitive eye. Current drawings explore potential and present the visual outcomes of stratagems carried out within the complex and arguably infinite computing environment. They are extensions of my physically orientated visual thoughts and notions.”
On her website Eames says that her use of computers can be seen as defiance as she sways between fear and contempt of the possibilities of technology and downright practical analysis. ‘My priority is drawing… We’ll all suffer if technology is allowed to develop devoid of association with human thinking and needs.’
Making it up charcoal / ink, graphite, biro, charcoal (inkjet prints on canvas on stretcher 2004)
I first came across this work in Drawing Now which is on the OCA reading list and it caught my attention because it features what look like perfume bottles and I make perfume. I didn’t really understand what Eames was aiming to achieve until I did the research above. Of course none of the four inkjet prints on canvas were originally drawn with the materials described above, they were all created digitally but capture some of the essence of the different drawing materials in a computerised and very precise sort of way. This I think is one of the things Eames is trying to say – the too perfect world of computers does not capture and may not be compatible with the way human beings work and think and the way material objects such as drawing tools behave when they are in our physical hands.
The words inscribed on the top of the perfume bottle caps seem to support this – “As you go along making it up” and “Divergent thinking” . Human beings unlike computers are not preprogramed, we make things up as we go along and we go off on unplanned tangents.
Each of the four images in the set depicts a perfume bottle shown from a different perspective: top down, a slightly impossible looking top to side view, bottom up and bottom to side. Eames is telling us that technology sees things differently, sometimes in ways that we cannot.. The background to each of the images is made up of the marks made by the drawing material (ink, graphite, etc) and these are reflected in the glass of the bottle. They are the very controlled, neat marks of preprogramed technology… a world apart from the expressive marks of Rembrandt and Van Gogh.
I had very little emotional reaction to these drawings when I first saw them but now that I’ve begun to understand them I feel differently. It makes me think that this whole OCA module Investigating Drawing has a parallel with this work of art. Unlike computers we students are able to go off at tangents and follow trails that may not have been planned and make all kinds of discoveries that we could not predict – unlike computers which do exactly what we tell them to do. It’s the point of what we are doing now… opening up to allow ourselves to see in new ways and make unexpected discoveries.
How the work relates to what we have been attempting in this project
Eames’s work is certainly three dimensional but she takes her objects on journeys to explore different ways of seeing. Sometimes, as in Making it up the three dimensions don’t seem quite possible and our sense of an object in front of a background is challenged because the object and the background are covered with the same marks.
In Barrier / Palisade – Eames creates an increasing sense of depth in her series of images by overlaying hedges, trees and fences and then she pulls it back to near but not quite two dimensions by converting the objects to knitted textures. The overall image becomes flat and two dimensional but the knitted texture is three dimensional. It’s intriguing.
It interested me reading about how Eames uses scraps of photographic evidence (such as the photos in Planet and has started a train of thought about how with my parallel project I could use scraps of documentary evidence to illustrate the impact of the Irish famine (census documents, parish records, passenger tickets for the migratory voyages). There are also traces left on the land – the furrows where potatoes used to be planted, the ruined remains of stone hovels and no doubt much more.
Born 1963 Belgium
My initial reaction to Borremans’ work is that it makes me feel uneasy and it disturbs me. It feels cold, detached, controlling and manipulative. And also puzzling in its intent and motivation. The biographical statement on the Zeno-X website did little to enlighten me:
“The films, paintings, and drawings by Belgian artist Michaël Borremans overwhelm the viewer through the use of deceleration, precision and vortex. His seductive works contain timeless images of inner drive and external force, of the latent pressure involved in being human.”
I often find the artist’s own words are much more informative than this kind of ‘gallery speak’ and I found a short write up of Borremans in a book, Drawing People by Robert Malbert, which opened the door for me. “Borremans describes his experience of the world in ominous terms. ‘It’s a cold and strange place. I don’t know, I find it in everything; in contact with other people; in politics; in economics. I feel we’re living on a time bomb. I’m always surprised nothing worse happens, as I’m anticipating it, and eventually it will happen… That’s why I’m into drawing… I’ve been drawing all my life. I can’t live without drawing. It’s my way of dealing with reality. It’s a kind of escape: when I feel uncomfortable in certain situations, I create my own reality.’”
And in so doing Borremans transfers his discomfort on to the viewer. In his paintings and drawings there is a sense of disaster that may have already happened, is in the process of happening or is very soon to happen.
Borremans has a huge body of work so it can be quite difficult to find a way in. His mostly figure paintings echo old masters such as Velazquez and van Dyke in their precision but there is usually something going on that subverts the image. The portrait may be painted from unusual perspectives such as the back or in a prone position and he may exaggerate a particular feature, e.g. The Ear 2011 and The Beak 2010.
In The Pendant 2009, a woman is painted from the back and her tresses of dark hair are pulled up above her head… suggesting perhaps a hangman’s noose. She wears mourning black.
For me the most accessible way to explore the website was through the exhibitions where works are grouped together under a theme. So I took a closer look at his 2008 Painted Fruit exhibition.
The images all share an artificial gloss as if to say that what we see is not reality, some unpleasant blemishes or scars or decay may be hidden. This could be a metaphor for our age in which products do always match up to the packaging and politicians put a gloss on unpleasant truths through spin. And perhaps also social media selfies where heavily manipulated selfies may cover anxiety and insecurity. This exhibition seems to be about getting beneath the surface of what we see.
- In Mombakkes, 2007-2008 a male visage is covered by a plastic mask painted with Pierrot like rosy cheeks, dark eyes and bright lips. What is hidden behind?
- The Glaze, 2007, a painting of a shiny porcelain figure, seems to tell us that without the glaze this might be just a piece of rough cast pottery.
- In Colombine, 2008 the sitter has a passive, unmoving, unemotional expression that looks fixed in place by a plastic mask (one eye is slightly obscured by a dab of paint. Her dress appears splashed with blood. I wondered if this was a reference to the Columbine massacre in 1999 but I don’t think so. Another painting – Terror identified, love unlimited, Columbine, was produced in 1998 a year before the massacre although the title could tempt one to make a connection.
- In Untitled, 2008, a figure lies on her back, she looks lifeless, her face is covered with a transparent plastic mask on which round red, doll like cheeks are painted to hide her pallor.
How the work relates to what we have been attempting in this project
Borreman’s paintings are technically very skilled and he’s an expert at depicting three dimensions. He sometimes adopts unusual viewpoints by painting the back of his figures or placing them in a prone position and occasionally he creates an illusion of the lower half of the body being missing or submerged.
However, I believe that he aims to impose another dimension, an emotional rather than physical one, that makes us question what we are seeing and look beyond the glossy painted surface to a different, unvarnished reality behind. We see this in the painted masks in his Painted Fruit exhibition and in The Pendant where the hair pulled upwards makes us think of hangman’s noose. It’s why I feel unsettled and disturbed by his paintings.
Jim Shaw (b. 1952, American) finds inspiration for his artworks in comic books, pulp novels, rock albums, protest posters, thrift store paintings and advertisements. His collection of found artworks has been the subject of exhibitions too. He also uses his own life and his unconscious, as a source of artistic creativity. Shaw’s paintings and installations sometimes feature friends, world events and alternate realities and often unfold in long narrative cycles with cross-references and repetitions. His ongoing narrative project Oism is an attempt to create his own religion with a history and associated iconography.
On the whole Shaw’s work leaves me luke warm although I did perk up when I read that he had been into the 1970s band Yes as I was too. I was also interested to read that his work has some parallels with album art in that it complements the music without trying to illustrate it. In a video interview with Laurence Sellers, Chief Curator of the Baltic Centre, Shaw describes his Rinse Cycle exhibition as a prog rock opera in four parts inspired by Yes’s Tales from Topographic Oceans and The Ring Cycle (presumably Wagner’s)… weird!
I’m find it hard to get a grip on Shaw’s work no doubt in part because I don’t get many of the American pop culture references. However, I do appreciate that he cleverly weaves together reality, myth, fiction, pop culture and found objects (including old theatre sets) with his imagination to create a very personal way of seeing that is multi-layered and complex and stuffed full of bursting energy. It’s just firing on too many cylinders at once for me and leaves me overwhelmed and maybe underwhelmed too.
I may not be alone. I found a Guardian article that discussed Shaw’s 2012, Rinse Cycle exhibition at the Baltic Centre. It and opens by saying: “From a giant eyeball to a venomous version of the stars and stripes, Shaw’s first UK retrospective is eye-popping in its scope – but just a bit childish, finds Adrian Searle.”
The “venomous version of the stars and stripes” is a reference to Shaw’s mixed media picture Left Behind 2010. It’s made up of multiple layers (a mix of paint and collage?) including a street scene with trees and buildings, faces of past US presidents (creating the stars), a large pale yellow plastic sun (?). All this is overlaid by the horizontal red stripes of several enormous hissing snakes. I guess it’s a none too subtle dig at American politics but I can’t go any further than that in attempting to interpret it.
How the work relates to what we have been attempting in this project
Shaw’s work can sometimes be dramatically three dimensional with that exaggerated comic book look and at other times flat with a strong reliance on line and outline… often different styles are mixed together reflecting the way he gathers diverse source materials together. Shaw uses layers to create dimensions within his paintings. A recent work Untitled 2017 layers several two-dimensional drawings on top of each other differentiating each layer with colour. This is effective and I could learn from this.
In his installations he takes layering a step further and pieces are typically made of a backdrop painting surrounded by other ‘layers’, perhaps cutouts or three-dimensional objects or additional canvases. XXXL Painting, 2013 is an example of this approach.
Although I don’t feel much rapport with Shaw’s work, I do think there is something to be learnt from his use of layering and I should experiment with this in my parallel project – it ties in with my thoughts about using scraps of documentary evidence to illustrate the Irish Famine.