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Today’s soundtrack is Siouxsie and the Banshees. The one thing that lifts me out of just about anything is whacking on my music in my studio space, where time is forgotten about. I could hide with my music for days on end, just listening and moving around, thinking and doing my stuff. Bliss.
[If I could insert a video/audio file here it would be Siouxsie and the Banshees’ track Red Light followed by The Viletones’ Screaming Fist.]
Ovid’s Metamorphoses is pretty much central to a lot of what I am currently thinking about, what I have been churning around in my brain for about the last 4 years while working on my phD thesis. Actually, it pretty much underpinned a lot of my thinking through my Master’s thesis as well. And then I always had a fascination for all things mythological right through high school. I’m getting long in the tooth, so it’s safe to say I have a long enduring love for the poet and his masterpiece which has survived human history right up till now. He is always full of surprises, twists and new ways of thinking things. Clearly, I am not by any means the first who has thought this, and I am fascinated by the way in which his words and the stories we know from his lines have meant different things to different people over the centuries. And of course I just love the way in which these stories, various translations and different lines and verses evoke a range of vivid images.
The other day my research reading led me to Dryden’s translation of Metamorphoses, where he presents Ovid’s case against the consumption of flesh:
O Mortals! from your fellow’s blood abstain,
Nor taint your bodies with a food profane…
We, by destroying life, our life sustain,
And gorge the ungodly maw with meats obscene
Not so the golden age, who fed on fruit
Nor durst with bloody meats their mouths pollute.
– Dryden, Works, ed. Sir Walter Scott, vol.12 (Edinburgh, W. Paterson, 1882-1893)
Jumping off from yesterday’s post, I have uploaded a pretty terrible photo of a section of a postcard of an eighteenth-century Dutch floral painting by Jan van OS, held in the Art Gallery of South Australia collection. It’s taped to my studio wall and this small section of the original painting prompted my study in graphite on paper, enlarged to about 55 x 79 cm (outside the frame).
(Another terrible photograph!) At the risk of pointing out the obvious, this piece was produced during multiple sessions and required focused concentration over lengthy time periods. I also made my own changes and interpreted areas which were difficult to analyse on a smaller scale. Building up the image in graphite drew on a completely different set of techniques, and provided a completely different mental space to work and meditate through.
A couple of days ago, blog Pays Connu posted on a series of drawings which formed part of a learning/teaching exercise in figure drawing, where time is limited to 5 or 6 minutes per pose.
I well remember the adrenalin rush of trying to produce a resolved drawing in just 2 minutes when I was in art school. I loved the rush of getting it down lickety spit, without time for preconceived ideas, edits or intimidation of the blank surface. It all came down to snappy decisions, limited material and rapid focus. For me, these kinds of drawings capture a raw energy and movement which is not present in so many laboured, studious works. It is vital and immensely rewarding to invest solid time in sustained studies or projects, practising and honing skills and technique over and over again, becoming utterly lost for hours on end in the process of working and re-working, erasing and rebuilding. I love the process of working, but I also love the spontaneity and test of working really fast and on the spot.
Feliks Topolski painted as he drew, capturing the essence of action, emotion, trauma and suffering of those he saw around him during some of the worst moments of modern history. Witnessing the ravages of war and the political turbulence of his time first hand, he worked as he saw things unfold, rapidly banging it all down on whatever paper he had on hand, torn from books and found scraps. These drawings often ended up in published (and self-published)magazines, newspapers and chronicles. They became murals. He recorded things as they were, and his drawings capture forever the intensity of those lived moments and the people who endured them. Air Attack is just one example among countless drawings that does this. His use of the page, dynamic composition, and sheer economy of means explicitly communicates the terror and trauma of victims of war, demonstrating both artistic dexterity and the ability to capture the truth of human experience and suffering within a fleeting moment. Works like these transcend time and retain their currency, irrespective of politics and the historical moment in which they are made and viewed.
Drawing is not only the backbone of painting, for example, it is an extension of the artist’s physicality, and whatever is in the brain and heart comes out through the hand directly onto the surface. It is for this reason that it can be so unforgiving, and yet so revealing and brutally honest.
I find that while I love drawing by instinct with speed and limited materials, these works have a certain quality other pieces lack. They have more energy and dynamism, and appear more true of the time they were made in. Sometimes I love to draw with my sewing machine, and when I produce pieces like this, I never draft or plan it. I shove the card right under the needle and pull it around on impulse. I am rough and throw it all together as though time is running out (My mother is a very precise and clever quilter who would flip out if she saw how I treated my machine). I make decisions and additions as I go, but these works are always made in one sitting. I am well aware of how easy it would be to stuff things up and have to discard it and start all over again. But it doesn’t matter. Each piece I judge to be a successful work is almost an accident, spontaneous and made on the edge of screwing it up. I have found that each begins to take on a life of its own and become figures I somehow recognise.
Carolus Linnaeus sits lonely in a quiet corner of the Botanic Gardens. I decided he needed a little something to spruce up his blemished portrait. It took me two visits to install – the first time I waited for what seemed an eternity for chatting gardeners to disappear, and after coffee they still refused to move on! So I returned a week later….
Dearest Big and Little S,
You have each taught me so many things in your own special ways, and astonish me with your wisdom and insight when I am too caught up in the rush of trying to get things done and be everything to everyone at all times. You bring me back to earth and help me think outside my own mess. I can not explain how grateful I am for your love and presence in my life, and I hope you grow to remember your childhood as a time in which you were happy and felt the love I cannot describe for you.
Thank you for inspiring me and keeping me strong whenever I am uncertain of what comes next.
Love you a zillion times infinity times infinity forever xoxoxoxoxox