Kentridge is a South African draughtsman, filmmaker and sculptor. He often creates drawings which are the basis of his animated films and address issues of South African politics “through the lives of three characters: a greedy property developer, his neglected wife and her poet lover.” (Falconer 2000)
This work by William Kentridge is an etching, aquatint and drypoint on paper. We see a naked man lying on his right hand side on what looks like a table. The man and table are in monochrome but the background is red with smudges of black. His head is leaning on his right arm with his right hand rested on the top of his head. His head is facing downwards so we see his left profile and his eye is shut. His right leg is bent back and his right leg is resting on top of it with his left foot hanging over the edge of the table. The artwork is quite large, nearly 2m wide and 1m high, and this must make it nearly life size for the viewer.
The artist has used contoured hatching lines to show form, e.g. around his stomach and the bottom of his right thigh. In other places there are lines, which appear to be scratches and run horizontally or at a slight diagonal across the whole form of the man’s body. There are other strange marks around the man’s wrist, around his cheek and in other places. The man’s left foot, which faces out towards the viewer, is blackened and quite similar to the table / bench that he rests on.
The image makes me feel that this man has been subjected to some sort of abuse or trauma. I don’t think he could be dead as I doubt this pose could be held by a dead body but he has a deathly pallor. The table/ bench he is resting on seems uncomfortable and precarious and with his right foot leaning over he may topple off it at anytime.
One of Kentridge’s themes is people’s desire to forget unpleasant realities, in his own case the desire of white South African’s to forget the abuses of black South African’s, and his sleeping figures represent people’s state of blissful ignorance (Manchester 2000).
As part of the Art Festival I went on a guided walk around the monuments on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill and then to the Burns monument on Regent’s Road. Inside the monument there was a specially commissioned sculpture by Jonathan Owen and we had the chance to meet the artist and learn a little about his work.
Jonathan Owen is a sculptor who takes other fixed art pieces, such as stone statues or photographs and erases part of them to unfix them and change them into something new (Pollack 2016).
His piece in the Burns monument was a one and a half metre’s marble statue, which had been carved in the 19th century into a classical nymph statue. Owen had then carved into it around the upper torso and neck area so that there were chain link type carvings. This meant that the head part was not supported upright anymore and the head leaned down in an unnatural and uncomfortable fashion. It gave me the feeling that the character was beaten or defeated.
Untitled, 2016, Jonathan Owen
Untitled, 2016, Jonathan Owen
Untitled, 2016, Jonathan Owen
Untitled, 2016, Jonathan Owen
Untitled, 2016, Jonathan Owen
The story of the monument was that the little room inside originally held a statue of Burns but at some point people were worried about pollution from the gasworks (long since gone) destroying it so it was moved and is now in the very ornate lobby of the National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street.
For me, most of the appeal was in going inside the Burns Monument, which I have walked past so many times and I like the idea of a hidden statue inside it.
Afterwards I walked over to the small exhibition of Owen’s work at the Ingleby Gallery on Regent Terrace. I really liked Owen’s erasure drawings. These are found book photographs where he has carefully erased elements of the pictures to make something new. Sort of art by subtraction. My favourite was a still from High Noon where the gunfighting cowboys were erased leaving only the main street, buildings and puffs of smoke from their guns.
Since visiting the gallery I came across a photoshop tutorial on how you could take a photo of a tourist attraction but remove all evidence of the tourists: you simply took a whole series of photos from the same viewpoint and then when they were put together with the program the fleeting images of passing tourists, squirrels or whatever were effectively eliminated leaving a photo only of the constant presences such as the monument. How sad!
Dame Paula Rego (1935-) is a Portuguese-born British artist “who is particularly known for her paintings and prints based on storybooks. … Rego’s style has evolved from abstract towards representational, and she has favoured pastels over oils for much of her career. Her work often reflects feminism, coloured by folk-themes from her native Portugal.”1
In an interview with the Guardian, she talked about her way of working and said:
“Creative block is agonising when it happens. My husband, the artist Victor Willing, really helped me. When I couldn’t think what to do next, he told me just to start by reading a story and illustrating it. That was very helpful. Before that, he once tried to help me by setting up a blue ceramic bowl with oranges in it. (Vic liked Matisse). That didn’t work; I didn’t know what to do with it because it didn’t have a story.” 2
I thought that was very interesting and something I could consider when creating my next still life.
Although her work often depicts imaginary characters, she collects or purpose-makes dolls to act as stand-in characters, and then she moves them around to find a composition which she feels tells a story.3
In assignment one, I had wanted to create an imaginary setting and I tried to mock it up but I did not spend much time on this and so I found it quite hard to draw the setting. This comment was a reminder of this and next time I would pay more attention to creating it.
My tutor recommended that I look at the line work within the etchings and print works of Rego’s and I looked at a selection on the Tate modern website and then focused on the following pieces: Moth, 1996, and Burning Straw,1996.
In Moth, 1996, 4, Rego depicts a girl lying half in and half out of a traditional wooden chest with one hand reached out to the lid. She may be about to close the lid with herself in the chest or has just opened the chest so that she is coming out of it. Seated on the right, on the lip of the chest is a small doll-like figure, which seems on the point of moving away from the chest.
The girl’s face is languid but the atmosphere feels threatening because she is half in a wooden box and the life-like doll is slightly disturbing. And to the left there is a dark panel which seems to lead to some unseen place, which adds some tension to the scene.
The highlights are on the girl’s right leg and forearm and face. Light shines on the top diagonal of the scene and the bottom left diagonal is in shadow.
By using a mixture of line and tints, the artist has been able to create a wide variety of tones. For example the front leg which has the lightest tone is nearly the untouched white of the paper background and the white dress is in its lightest parts is made up of the white paper background with short loose hatching to suggest folds and some light washes of tint to show the shadows in the folds of the dress. The dark wooden chest is created by a mix of hatching and a darker wash and the deeper shadows are made by cross-hatching. The line quality (thickness) varies and the artist uses thicker lines around the contours of the girl’s right arm and right leg, which makes them appear more in focus to the viewer and creates perspective. There is quite a strong contrast between the darkest tones and lightest ones, which creates an interesting image.
In Straw Burning, 5, Rego has used a similar set of techniques to Moth. However, there is perhaps a greater amount of cross-hatching, especially in the folds of the dress and this seems to suggest that the dress is being pulled sharply away from her by the bird-like monster standing behind her. Line has been used expressively to suggest the texture of the fur of the goat head and the rats. A range of darker and mid-tone washes have been used to suggest a fiery or forest background. The ground in the foreground has a flat uniform mid-tone wash and this help to create a contrast between the dark creatures and light insects and the woman’s bridal veil.
I think my next step is to experiment now using a similar set of techniques.
My first try at this!
I set up some old toys in a box in a similar pose to Rego’s engraving “Moth” and then drew them in my A3 sketch pad, using first a pencil to block in the shapes and then a 0.3 black drawing pen. Finally, I used some washes of watercolour to add more value to the tone in some parts.
The drawing pen is quite unforgiving and I feel I really need to expand my repertoire of marks – here I have used mainly hatching and cross-hatching. Perhaps I should try this again but use a dip pen and see what happens? The paper was too light for the wash and after a little investigation on the internet I realised I probably needed to be using a “wet in wet” method to stop hard outlines for the areas of tone, for example for the part to the right of the doll’s head. In Paula Rego’s engraving, the tint provides a nice flat uniform tone and doesn’t distract but here the overlaying wash onto dry watercolour creates new patterns and outlines where they are not wanted.
I tried again. This time I put down some washes first and then drew with ink and a dip pen. I thought I was working hard at trying to vary my line but at the end realised that there was really very little difference between this and the first. Not so bold after all!
Today I had a look around the William Gillies and John Maxwell exhibition at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh, which is part of this year’s Art Festival. There were some beautiful watercolour ink drawings by John Maxwell which I really liked. Unfortunately I can’t find any examples of them online in the directories and there was no exhibition catalogue but they were quite dark and jewel-like with a mixture of diffused ink lines, where he had drawn in ink first and then washed over in watercolour and harder ink lines, where he drawn them after the watercolour washes had dried. So, I am going to have a go at that and try to loosen up!
Update 2 – Well, it’s starting to get laughable. I keep trying to change my way of drawing but I just seem to be copying the first one regardless. I guess it’s time to move on and get on with getting out of the house and creating quick sketches where I am forced to give up control a bit!
When we were on holiday in Barcelona this July, I had the chance to go around the Fundació Joan Miró, which is a beautiful gallery. It was twenty-five years since I had last gone around it and I was quite surprised at how different it seemed after all that time. For starters, the gallery was surrounded by other buildings which is maybe not so surprising really as the BarcelonaOlympics had happened in between my visits. The other thing was my favourite paintings had been the bright, more child-like Miró paintings but on this visit I was far more taken with some of his other work.
I could see the influence of Japanese painting on pieces such as ‘El Dia’ (The Day), 1974, Miró had visited the country twice in 1966 and 1969(1), and Jackson Pollock’s work, whom he met in New York in 1947.(1)
I really liked ‘Focs artificials I,II,III’ (Fireworks I,II,III), Joan Miró, 1974. These were three very large panels arranged next to each other.
My photograph doesn’t do the paintings justice and they had a beautiful Japanese or Chinese feel to them, as if they were showing wild grasses moving in the wind. They seemed both random and also very deliberate at the same time and I liked the little touches of coloured paint in the very Miró trademark palette.
Details from Joan Miro, ‘Focs Artificials I,II,III’ (Fireworks I,II,III), 1974, at Fundacio Joan Miro, own photos, July 2016
Two other pieces that I found very interesting were Joan Miró, ‘Cabell perseguit per 2 planetes’ (Hair pursued by 2 planets), 1968, and ‘Gota d’aigua damunt la neu rosa’ (Drop of Water on the Rose coloured snow), 1968. To me they seem to have depth, an interesting composition, variety of line and a sense of a story whilst being made up of so little really.
I have been trying to work on showing the tone in this exercise. However, now I have finished I realised I was supposed to also show a variety in types of marks and this is quite limited in those! I might have another go at this.
Preliminary sketch and observations following from research:
My final version for Assignment One:
Why I picked the objects for this task and my reflections:
I chose the three bird figurines because they belonged to my late mother. She was a keen bird-watcher and on the top of her display cabinet, in pride of place, she had a large set of bird ornaments, which she liked to arrange carefully. She passed away in December of last year and the feelings of grief have been something I have been trying to come to terms with in these last months.
Doing some research into still life painting, I was intrigued by the idea of the ‘vanitas’ theme of 16th and 17th century still life art, where still life paintings were meant to show the vanity of human life . I was also captivated by the beauty and simplicity of Giorgio Morandi’s work and how he used everyday objects which he had painted in a flat matte colour. So, I experimented with wrapping the bird figurines in masking tape and settled on a little group of just three of them.
I struggled a bit on how to set them; I had seen Paul Cezanne’s Still Life with Teapot at the National Museum Cardiff and really liked the way the table cloth and wall in that painting were as interesting and integral to the painting as the objects and I wanted to somehow include that idea. I went back to the exercise on expressive mark making and looked at my drawings on grief and then tried to use those ideas. My idea was of the objects sitting in a dark, shuttered shaft leading to a viewpoint out of sight for the viewer. I tried to mock that up on a table using cardboard but it really only existed in my imagination.
I used A1 slightly tinted paper, graphite pencils and a white pencil for the drawing.
At the end, I felt that my drawing showed the feeling that I wanted to express and I felt satisfied with the concept. I don’t think technically it is a very good drawing but I am reluctant to work on it any more at this stage as I feel I would probably diminish it.
My review of my work using the assessment criteria.
Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills (35%)
Something that has been new for me is using tone and identifying and showing the different values of tone in my drawing. The concept for my drawing was very simple but actually this made it far more complicated in getting the tones right and I don’t think I have been very successful in that. Also my mock up for the setting was not complete and that meant that the shadows don’t feel authentic in the painting. Next time I would pay more attention to that part.
As far as the composition goes, the bottom left bird is placed in the centre corner, which catches your eye. You then tend to see the central bird, which is pointing up, and then your eye bounces around a little as there isn’t much else to look at. In someways that gives it a lonely feeling but perhaps if I’d had a darker, textured roof then that would have allowed the eye to travel round more. A friend had suggested placing another object above the birds to the right but I found it very hard to give up on this one idea, which I felt quite fixated by and there did not seem to be anything meaningful that should be there. Maybe the answer would be to use the light at the end of the shaft as the other focal point?
Ultimately, it made me realise just how much technique and design and compositional skills I still have to master if I want to be able to present my own ideas.
Quality of outcome – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas (20%)
If content is the actual drawing, then I think this finished piece is lacking in that as it has a lot of technical flaws and compositional errors, as outlined above. However, I think I have shown a development in my ideas towards my finished concept, which I am proud of as this is the first time I have ever done that.
Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice (25%)
There is some demonstration of creativity and experimentation as I have taken ideas from a few different sources and used them to make something new. However, I suspect that I am just starting out with this and I need to put in a lot more work and time and thought into this to develop it into something more interesting.
Context reflection – research, critical thinking (learning logs and, at second and third level, critical reviews and essays) (20%)
I enjoyed researching ideas and using my gallery visits to find something that resonated with me. On reflection I probably need to explore using some of the art databases recommended by the OCA to help me find source information.
Assignment one is a still life of some objects with a personal meaning, which should show our drawing skills so far and link with the experimental mark making we made at the start of the unit. I have chosen some of the bird figurines, which had belonged to my mother. She passed away in December and they represent a sense of loss for me.
These are some photos of my sketch book with initial drawings and research and ideas. Any feedback very gratefully received!