So much has happened since my last blog! Work at UCA continues to be a mixture of research in the library and using the Perspective Engine to look at grids with my peripheral vision. Generally I have been very busy but also my wife has been very unwell after surgery so I have spent many hours at the hospital. I entered the Chatham Dockyard Art competition and had one of three little prints selected - that was on show February–March. Why they only accepted one of the prints I don't know as they were very small but that's what happens sometimes! I went round the dockyard several times looking for inspiration but wanted to avoid the traditional paintings of boats and buildings. It occurred to me that I was trying to somehow summarise the essence of the Dockyard so worked on a series of small digital prints looking at the substance of the dockyard: metal, brick and wood. Later I added another three prints to the series: glass, paper and water and exhibited the complete set of six digital prints at a joint show at Cranbrook Library, Kent with others from Sevenoaks Visual Art Forum (ends 15 April).
In addition, I produced a set of six digital prints shown at a reception in London in February organised by the Employer's Forum on Disability, a new venture for me as the prints examined the language of disability. The prints look at Braille and BSL finger spelling (both quoting from the Equality Act 2010) plus words such as 'wheelchair-bound', 'invalid', 'disabled-toilet' and what the word 'access' means (or doesn't mean). At the reception the prints were well received (I even sold two) which for a new venture was encouraging!
As for the residency, well, I lost three or four weeks because exams and seminars etc. were being held in the studio so I retired to the library. Studio space seems to have been resolved now and I have a well-lit, quiet space to work and think in! Recently I have been looking at how our heads rotate and how our eyes rotate in our heads while our head is rotating, if you follow! Parallax also interests me and I have been working on a number of drawings examining the effect of changes in the centre line of vision and how this may affect our perception of perspective.
The snow went and so I went to UCA! I arrived in time for a quick chat about cutting paper and a cup of hot chocolate. Before the talk, a meeting with Kate in the cafe where we discussed our expectations for the talks and how nervous we were! I find talking about my work difficult, because I want the work to talk for itself and because I find it somewhat nerve-racking to stand in front of an audience and reveal myself and my work to them (are they the same?) leaving myself wide open for criticism and awkward questions! You can see that a touch of nerves makes me pessimistic!
Sadly Kate's talk was hampered by her Powerpoint not working, it would not load up on the computer so she had to improvise her talk based on picking out photos from her folders. She showed photographs of cliffs, landscapes and buildings with parts vertically reflected, sometimes many times, to make them look like intricate carpet patterns or snake skins and some even have accidental 'eyes' within them.
My talk was a carefully prepared typed document along with a simple slide show of my work. My problem was that the digital projector changed all the colours and made some paintings look rather garish, that and not being able to read my typing in the dark (and I had even thought to bring a torch with me but it was not bright enough). The contrast between our talks was unequivocal; I think mine was probably too well defined, too precise and not as informal as it should have been. Perhaps that explains why there was not as many questions or comments as I had hoped?
I suppose the difficulty I have in talking about my work is because of its importance to me. Let me explain. Sometimes people ask me if I have music on while I am painting (a lot of painters I know do this) but I don't for two reasons: first, because I need to concentrate on what I am painting and second, because to me, music is very important and I never want to use it as audio-wallpaper or the all too common muzak of shops, shopping centres and lifts! It is like someone buying a painting because they like the frame or because the colours match their sofa, what they are buying is 'framed wallpaper' and the painting doesn't matter!
So you see, for me, music is too important to use that way and my painting is too important to be discussed without a lot of preparation to describe its theoretical basis and methodology. And so, when giving a talk about my work I try to balance precision with informality, usually without success! I probably sound like a pretentious chump but there it is, that's how I am! This all reminds me of a comment years ago in the time of Soviet Albania when there was a national conference on comedy, a state official said 'comedy is a very serious matter'!
Also present at the talks was Nicola, an archivist at Canterbury Cathedral and so when all was finished we had lunch and went to the cathedral. Everyone knew her so every member of staff we came across wanted to chat and they were all so welcoming and excited too that I might somehow be able to develop a project based on the cathedral archives. We wandered around everywhere that was possible to wander, it is certainly a fascinating building with some architectural quirks that I was not aware of before. Looking up the nave I noticed that the end pillars were leaning outwards and in other places some of the windows also leaned outwards. I wonder if this was deliberate or the ravages of time?
All over the cathedral there were vistas through windows, arches, doorways and from one part to another. We also had a look inside one of the Norman rooms that Becket would have known, with decoration painted on the ceiling and walls. It's amazing to think that he would have walked into the same room! As for looking at the perspective, there is certainly scope for some useful photographs and sketches that could be used to test the ideas of curved perspective; lots of strong verticals ripe for bending! We also went to the archive room and I got my ticket for further visits, I hope we can find some plans of the buildings and other archives that will inspire creativity…
Next week I hope to look at peripheral vision and draw on a curved drawing board!
Today was going to be very interesting and useful. First, sorting out the talk that I and the other AA2A artist, Kate Graham, will be giving next Tuesday, then a visit to the Cathedral to look around and discuss projects involving the archives and then some work on perspective. Instead I couldn't even get out the front door because of all the snow and UCA was closed today!
Everything is now re-scheduled for next Tuesday but I will not be able to show any perspectival distortions in my talk, just a general introduction to what I hope to do. I also hoped to go up to the Gauguin exhibition at Tate Modern on Saturday but even that is not looking so hopeful - it is still snowing here!
So only a short blog today! But I wonder, is anyone reading this? Am I talking to myself? Answers on a postcard (or preferably a ten pound note!)
Next time the talk and the Cathedral.
During the week I received an email from the library to say two books I wanted to look at have come in. The first was 'Space, geometry and aesthetics through Kant and towards Deleuze' by Peg Rawes and the second 'The mind's eye' by Oliver Sacks. Being eager to start looking at my Perception Engine I zoomed up to the studio only to find a seminar or something running next door in the Project Room so mindful of not disturbing them I retired to the library to look at the newly arrived books.
The book by Peg Rawes was interesting but not especially relevant to what I am doing so after looking through it I returned it to the librarian. The book by Oliver sacks, however, was very relevant and recorded examples of people who had brain damage or disease and how that affected them. For example, there are those with alexia, an inability to read brought on, in these descriptions, by a stroke. Sacks has the ability to write about these people as people, not simply as medical cases and talks about their lives as a whole. What is amazing is that with alexia the person cannot read but can write, although they then cannot read what they have just written. Another group of people described are those with visual agnosia, that is, they are unable to recognise faces, even the faces of people they have known for many years (including their spouse) which can be acutely embarrassing.
These accounts underline the complexity of our vision and that it is not simply an optical function. What we see depends not only on retinal stimulation but also on the neurophysiology of parts of our brain and our experiences, our culture, our environment, etc. all combined into what we think the world should like. Putting too much emphasis on the optical function is the mistake Panofsky (Perspective as Symbolic Form) seems to make when he reasons that the eye perceives straight lines as convex curves because the retina is itself curved (the eye ball being spherical). Leonardo da Vinci also thought that but he lived a few hundred years before retinal function and neurophysiology could be studied in depth so we can forgive him! Thinking about all this gave me an idea for some experiments, but more of that another time!
As well as the ink-jet prints I also wanted to draw on my Perception Engine (I will post a photo sometime so you know what I am talking about). I ventured to part of the University I had not been to before – the Art Store. It is an Aladdin's cave of rolls of paper, canvas and other large items at what appear to be quite reasonable prices. I bought a 1.5 m by 1 m piece of drawing paper. But how to cut up into sheets the right size? The only place I had seen large trimmers and cutting mats was the Media Resource Centre with the large format ink-jet printers so a quick visit to Terry and he kindly agreed to do the cutting when he had a minute.
Meanwhile back at the studio, or rather Project Room the seminar was still going on and I discovered it would run all afternoon. Since setting up my equipment would be rather noisy I felt I had to abandon the idea of working in the studio and headed back to the library and then home.
The day after last week's visit to UCA I was up in London at a meeting of Sync SE (a training course for leadership in the arts) where I met someone who, it turned out, is an archivist at Canterbury Cathedral. She was very interested in what I am trying to do at UCA and suggested a visit to the Cathedral might be a good idea. It will be very interesting to look at historical architectural drawings that developed ideas of perspectival manipulation to enhance the appearance of the building. So next week will include a visit to the Cathedral, weather permitting (snow is forecast...)
PS I had my free drink, hot chocolate, with lunch! Now I start a new card.
Arriving at UCA via my new route I found the accessible parking places were all taken. Four places: one with a fork lift truck and a pallet of bags, one with a Royal Mail delivery van, one with a car that's often parked there and one with a car with its driver still sitting in it. Thankfully the driver saw me and moved his car so I could park. Accessible parking is often the first space to disappear under management whims and delivery drivers feel they have a right to use any empty space they come across. Obviously they think normal life does not apply to them (their work is more important than anyone else's) or is it a touch of omniscience? They fondly believe that in exactly the time they are abusing the space they know that no-one else will want to use it? It's OK, I have had my little rant, I will calm down now!
Going around the UCA building I get a sense of the diversity of the different spaces. Some are very busy and the air is full of a sense of purpose and dynamism whilst others exude a sense of quiet concentration. It's the difference between a shop in the sales and a doctor's waiting room. Although I am a painter and printmaker and have a good visual memory, I find that smell is extremely powerful in evoking a sense of past and place. I have noticed four distinct smells at UCA that in just a few weeks have become evocative.
The first is the library. Going along the aisles between the shelves there is the smell of old paper, a lovely 'libraryish' odour that should be bottled. Then there is the cafe with its cooking and coffee all mixed up and the lift with its faint aroma of the rubber lined walls and floor (you know, the slight bobbly stuff popular in the 80s that came in bright colours). And finally there is the atrium near the lift. Here there has been an installation comprising piles of vegetables (carrots, onions, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, that sort of thing) and all left there to rot. It is showing, if I remember correctly, how all people, whether rich or poor all die and rot, we are all the same in death; decaying vegetables as a metaphor for equatability? Although come to think of it, some very rich have had their dead bodies preserved in freezers waiting for some future jump start so they can function as living museum artifacts. The atrium is filled with with the scent of vegetable death. It's a good idea to remind us of our common humanity but I know some folk who would be horrified at the waste of food.
Since first seeing it I have been thinking more about that installation and installations in general. I am a painter and printmaker so am used to making an image and hanging it on the wall. I have never constructed an installation and so far have never had the desire to do this, perhaps painting/printmaking is all I can cope with. But during the week I heard on Radio 4's 'Today' an interview with Mark Leckey (Turner Prize winner 2008) and Jennifer Higgie (editor Frieze magazine). They were discussing the recent debate at the Institute of Contemporary Art about whether traditional painting has a future. Leckey said that painting is dying and agreed it should be banned for a year. He suggested that the trouble with painting is that it is a physical blockage, it is a singular act making a singular object but the world is multitudinous, made by swarms. Higgie countered by suggesting that we are bombarded by moving images and paintings offer the opportunity to slow down and no, painting is not dead.
How do I react to this? Why do I paint, which is an important question since that's why I am at UCA? I would say that I paint because it is a direct physical act and places me in immediate contact with the medium as I spread plastic colour around the canvas. My painting is an emotional response to the sensations I receive from a particular motif. And for me, that's something that arranging 'found' or bought artefacts cannot achieve. Sometime I would like to use clay to make some sculptures and again, it is a process whereby I would be in direct contact with the medium.
As well as the immediacy of painting I am also interested in the stability that a painting can achieve. Some paintings, such as the Impressionists, seemed to capture just a brief moment in time, like a photographic snap-shot. But in my work I aim to create a stability such that my paintings maintain validity through time. Does that sound pretentious? I am not saying that I produce my work so that it will hang in some important gallery as an amaranthine fixture but that it says something beyond the moment, beyond the present and they are not accidental, unfinished or meretricious.
The fact that painting has been around for several thousand years and is still going strongly is a testimony to its validity and relevance. Yes, some forms get into blind allays but painting always re-invents itself with fresh ideas and means of expression. Leckey advocates video over painting but in a world bombarded by moving images Higgie's point is important – we need time to stand and stare at a painting, we don't want even more video, especially if it is to replace painting.
Today was a day for little things. Getting some expenses sorted, discussing cost of the woodwork and getting the ink-jet prints. Next week I hope to fix the prints (about 100 cm wide and 32 cm high) inside the curve of the Perception Engine and see how the images are distorted; also to draw on the curved surface to assess my peripheral vision. I spent a very useful few hours in the library reading Panofsky (Perspective as Symbolic Form), I haven't finished the book yet but it seems to me he relies too heavily on the optics of vision and not so much on perception; but more of that next time!
PS My 'buy-nine-hot-drinks-and-get-one-free card' is now full so next time I can get a free drink!
The road to Canterbury is easy and normally takes about an hour, I say normally because traffic can get heavy on the motorway and the centre of Canterbury can grind to a halt. On my last trip everything went well, the sun was shining, the roads were not busy and I gently cruised along. Actually the sun was low in the sky and nearly blinded me the whole journey but it was much better than the hurricanes earlier in the week (OK, a slight exaggeration).
I mean it when I say I cruised, I find that thrashing it down there only brings forward my arrival by a few minutes and I arrive as if I've just completed a few laps round Silverstone, not so helpful for a day of creativity. And the drive down is a good time to plan the day. This time however I must have been thinking too hard because I went past the turn-off and suddenly realised I was in unknown territory! So a mild panic later and a quick thought that, no, I couldn't reach down and get my Satnav out of its bag, I pressed on hoping to see a useful sign. I did and took it only to find an absence of any further directions. Using my instinct, honed after many years of British roads where signposts learn to become invisible, I accidentally found the right road to turn around and go back up the dual carriageway.
A few miles later I turned off for Canterbury and began to notice that some of the buildings and roads looked familiar (another story for another day!) Soon I was at the entrance to UCA and realised that quite by accident I had found a much better route and my extended drive through the countryside had been worth it!
Why talk about journeys? Because they set the scene for the day. I remember years ago my father sometimes took three hours to drive to his work through road works that lasted ages. How he managed to work after that I don't know! Some years ago I had a residency at London Print Studio (a wonderful time), it usually took about an hour and a half to get there but on one occasion it took three hours to get there and three and a half to get back. Sitting in a car for six and a half hours in one day did not help my etchings! That's why I have a studio at my home and it means I can paint at whatever time I need to. When I was working on the recent London panorama (http:/
I went straight to the woodwork room to see if my perspective equipment was there but the room was locked. Since I couldn't do anything without seeing it I popped into the shop and bought some white tack (cheaper then blue) and then had an unofficial planning meeting with myself over some hot chocolate in the cafe (I now only need two more hot drinks to get one free!) I noticed that the cafe has special days: Thursday is 'Roast Dinner Day' and Friday is 'Fish and Chip Day', being there on a Wednesday is obviously culinarily very dull.
On my way back to woodwork I bumped into Peter who wanted a talk about fire safety. We had several forms to complete about where it is safer for me to spontaneously combust (don't misunderstand me, this is very serious) and I learned that the Uni safety folk do not like turps being used in studios with oil painting and no drinks or food are allowed in studios. Hmmmmmmm!!!! So where do people learn how to safely use these 'dangerous' chemicals? Presumably at home when painting window and door frames?
Back in the woodwork room there was my 'Perception Engine' I was going to call it a 'Perspective Engine' but it is more about how we see and how the world around us is distorted so 'Perception' is better? Simon kindly lifted it up to the studio where I very quietly had a little play with it. I say quietly because half the studio was being used for some kind of presentation/discussion. The studio is a large room, windows along one side and is dived into two by a thin wood wall. The other side of the wall (where the meeting was) is a Project Room used for projecting images onto a wall etc. when doing projects. After a quick measure up of the curved surface I went along to the Media Resource Room which also house the large format ink-jet printers and a very helpful Terry. Sadly I was there at the wrong time because they were re-calibrating a printer and could not print anything!
Without any prints I could not use the 'Perception Engine' and so went back to the studio to pack it up. I had designed it so the legs come off for storage and having pulled the legs off wrapped Sellotape around them to hold them together. But is was the wrong place to use Sellotape! Someone came out of the meeting next door and told me my Sellotape was drowning out the voice of the speaker... I left as quietly as I could, abandoning my Engine on the floor. Clearly the studio cannot be used when there is something going on next door!
What do you do if its nearly lunch time and all your plans are thwarted? Have lunch of course but I cannot tell you what I had otherwise my wife will find out (but the chips were very good!) While there, the MA students I had met the week before came in and gave me a friendly wave, at last, something to smile about!
Fortified by lunch I spent a happy time in the library reading about the neurophysiological development of the right hemisphere in relation to perception of perspective during the great awakening of the Greeks around 600 BC and during the Renaissance. I am not sure I agree and the author seems to think the Dark Ages were really dark and not quite bright as we now know. I will let you know how the argument develops if you are still awake!
A quick chat with Terry indicated that the prints were not going to happen that day. They were not urgent so I said next Wednesday would be fine. I hate it when someone says their work is urgent when it isn't, it means people pull out all the stops when they needn't. If they know your 'urgent' really is urgent then over time you get much better help and you're taken seriously. Back to the books and a useful discussion as to why Brunelleschi cut a small viewing hole through his perspective painting, you know, you looked through the hole at a mirror which reflected the painting and showed it in context of the real buildings. The hole meant you had to look at the painting at the correct viewing angle for the perspective and, importantly, reduced clues about the flatness of the painting and so helped the illusion. Clever! Perhaps I shall try that if I have time...
Sadly I had to completely abandon my Perception Engine because when I went back to the studio much later the meeting was still going. I drove home without any wrong turnings. Next week I hope to mount the prints on the Perception Engine and do some perceiving! I will also try and have a meeting with a man who knows about 3D software.
First port of call was the wood workshop to meet Ben, a technician. I had designed a piece of kit to allow me to sit in the middle of a curved surface and observe peripheral vision and curved distortions. He said 'no problem!' which was encouraging. I also had a useful chat with Terry who runs the large ink-jet printers and media resource centre. I will prepare some grids and images for wide format printing next time to begin the process of analysing space. During lunch I had a great time with a group of MA students who seemed very happy to talk, we discussed the Arts Council, commercial funding, using disused shop spaces for exhibitions and a load more. When I am painting I hope to invite students along to get to know them better. I put up a little notice on my locker with a picture of a bed, slippers, chairs, etc (from van Goghs 'Bedroom in Arles'), get it? Artist in 'Residence' - bed, chair... The rest of the day I was again in the library (how I have missed a good academic library) and found Panofsky's book on perspective. It is interesting how many people think of vision as an optical phenomenon with spherical distortions rather than the perception it really is!
In my own studio I have suspended painting because I must finish some writing on colour theory, it is rather overdue so I must cut out distractions but arts admin again creeps in. I am missing painting and am not sure how long I can hold off ...
When I arrived Beverley (the helpful and welcoming receptionist) had a message for me from Kate the other AA2A artist to say she was in and could we meet? The day worked out in a completely unexpected way. First a good long chat with Kate and we found that our projects had some common ground and then the two of us had a meeting with Peter and then watched an arts film (the Department show a film every Wednesday), very interesting and stimulating imagery. After lunch a happy time in the library, so happy that I stayed a lot longer than I planned but traffic on the way back wasn't too bad! The library is continually transformed by various sculptures that come and go.
After missing last week because of a meeting (which didn't happen for a silly reason and in the end, it was resolved through Skype) I was eager to get stuck in and spent the day sorting out the admin and reading and reading! I had a useful time plodding through the online catalogue for a few hours and found one useful reference looking at the psychology of perception. After lunch I went for a browse through the shelves and in five minutes found about three metres worth of books of direct relevance so I was greatly encouraged! I needed some encouragement because last week I had some bad news, my agent for the past few years had given up her agency and I felt very exposed. She has done some brilliant work getting me solo or joint exhibitions in London and elsewhere so I shall miss her. I must now completely rethink how I go about promoting myself.
This project came at just the right time. I have been working on colour theory for many years now but have had a desire to explore perspective and bring the two together. I have never been happy with linear perspective, especially how it can distort the image and does not invite the viewer into the painting - I hope to explain that as we go on! I also hope the project will get me out of any ruts I'm in and start me in new directions.
As an encouragement I have been allocated studio space, a locker and possibly a drawer and somewhere to store a canvas. I am feeling more at home!
The first day I felt somewhat bewildered, a quick tour of the whole building and meeting many technicians, all seemed really friendly and willing to help and my guide Peter (the AA2A liaison lecturer) was very open, friendly and encouraging. We discussed the interaction with students in the form of a formal presentation to them in November and an exhibition in April but mostly through dropping in on them in their studios and in the cafe! Looking in all the rooms I was amazed at the level of equipment and wonder of wonders, a library with books (unlike local authority libraries that don't know what a book is)! Got my car parking badge but will have to wait for next time to get my library card, ID card and computer log-in. I did manage to get a buy-nine-hot-drinks-and-get-one-free card from the cafe (don't laugh, it all helps!)
I plan to spend the first few weeks in the library and to get to know my way around. I don't know what direction my project will take or even if any of my ideas will work, but that's the exciting thing about having this opportunity - to have some time out and explore.