“365” – the final piece in my #BlackSquares365 project
Today is the last day of #BlackSquares365, my every-day-for-a-year serial art project. A couple of days ago Paul Newman, the brilliant graphite artist, suggested I finish with an envelope. I woke up early this morning and thought (quoting Roy Harper), “He’s right! He’s right: I’ve not done that one for ages! Little bugger.” Paul was alluding to two previous projects of mine: #Letter365 and The Binding Grid of Creative Connection.#Letter365 was my second year-long art project in which I created an artwork from scratch each day, sealed it in an envelope and sent it to the gallery. The envelopes were displayed as an installation and only opened if and after they were sold. The Binding Grid of Creative Connection was created whilst I was in residence at my solo show at Black Swan Arts, Black Squares, Black Lines & Black Magic. It was a celebration of the connections I had made on Twitter with other artists round the world. 72 artists contributed a total of more than 150 4” square artworks, their takes on the theme of the show. Paul contributed a drawing to The Binding Grid, in response to which I made an envelope along with a statement of possible contents. To this day Paul does not know if his drawing is/was in that envelope; he doesn’t know if I erased it.
So, today, I have reprised that work. Paul cleverly connected my previous black squares work with a previous serial art project. I can add in additional connections to previous work and long-standing inspirations and influences. In particular there is a reference to the last chapter of Richard Brautigan’s “Trout Fishing In America”, about which I made a small sculpture (involving Letraset, which I have started to use again in #BlackSquares365) when I was at art school, probably in 1973! The sealing wax was a feature of #Letter365 and I have reintroduced it here: it should have said “bee” (I’m a beekeeper) but I panicked when the wax started smoking (we have lots of new very sensitive smoke alarms at the studios now!) So, I have cleverly connected this piece to the work Paul was talking of and have rekindled in him, I hope, that terrible angst of not knowing the whereabouts or condition of his work. I thank Paul for giving me this opportunity and for all his support and help over many years.
So my final piece ends the series with some unknowns and who knows if it even meets the criteria I set out at the beginning, but I like it a lot and it’s a fitting end to a decent project in which I made some pretty good work, stretched myself but didn’t fret and found the discipline the easiest of all the time-based projects I have done.
“Double Erasure: Winter Field” Multiply erased graphite on Canaletto paper 495mm x 695mm
I was delighted a couple of years back to have this piece, “Double Erasure: Winter Field”, shortlisted for the Wells Art Contemporary Awards. That was at the historic Bishop’s Palace at Wells in Somerset. I am doubly delighted that it is now selected for the inaugural show, “Connections” at the stunning new Wells Maltings cultural hub in Wells-Next-The-Sea, Norfolk
It’s always great to be included in an exhibition but the reason I am especially pleased to be part of this show is my history with the North Norfolk Coast, particularly Holkham Bay which is just to the East of Wells-Next-The-Sea. Work about that beach and the landscape behind it sparked the idea of my Tidelines project (which I hope one day soon to fulfill) and was instrumental in me reconnecting to my art practice and subsequently committing to it as a full-time, professional engagement.
This piece is from my erasure and redaction work, rooted in the landscape and coastline, which explores how the traces of history and events are never completely obliterated but can still be read and forever influence the present. The marks are made and erased, made and erased, like the similar-yet-unique patterns in the sand are made and erased twice each day. This piece specifically relates to Holkham West Sands, the marshes behind and the Essex marshes where I grew up.
This Is Where The Party Ends Graphite, ink & Magic Tape on Snowdon cartridge paper 59cm x 84cm
I really like the energy of Bath’s FaB Festival and the Bath Open Art Prize that for me is at its heart, so I am hugely pleased to be included in a show which unashamedly includes work that is quirky and unusual. The show is on at 44AD from 25 May to 10 June 2018
I have been doing more erased drawings and feel there is plenty more that I want to explore in the area of partial deletion, redaction, becoming unseen. So I expect there will be a lot of eraser dust to deal with in the coming weeks. Featured below are a few pieces I have finished recently and am happy with. The first I have called “Double Erasure: Winter Field”. It continues the tidal theme of “Double Erasure – that soft spot in my heart” but connects back to some of my earliest field drawings.
“Double Erasure: Winter Field” Multiply erased graphite on Canaletto paper 495mm x 695mm
The second is a reprise of a piece I did for the secret sale to support Bridport Arts Centre but in larger format. That earlier one was called “We two erased black squares together clinging” so this one is “We two erased black squares together clinging too”
“We two erased black squares together clinging too” Erased pencil on Canaletto paper 302mm x 216mm
I have also been exploring the use of colour with erased drawings, using ink, watercolour and or Inktense pencils over the erased graphite, as can be seen in this detail from “Ashes and embers”
“Ashes and embers” Watercolour and ink on erased graphite on Saunders Waterford paper
The whole thing looks like this:
“Ashes and embers” Watercolour and ink on erased graphite on Saunders Waterford paper 381mm x 559mm
And another similar exploration:
“Otherwise unseen” Watercolour and ink on erased graphite on Saunders Waterford paper 381mm x 559mm
Tissue paper lain over the almost completed double erasure drawing (detail)
I am increasingly interested in the idea of veiling work so the viewer has to work harder to see what they are looking at and have used semi-opaque papers in collages to mute and soften images below. I am considering using etched and frosted glass in front of some pieces, in particular some black square ideas that are 3D or relief pieces. The image above was totally by chance when I covered the erasure drawing I was doing with tissue to protect it till I returned to make any final adjustments. I am certainly tempted to experiment with more veiling, maybe with silk voile or cotton muslin. Perhaps I should go the whole hog and use black perspex or something totally opaque like black-sprayed metal to cover work?
Last year the show I had in Ramsgate was called “The Seen and the Unseen”. That refered partly to #Letter365 being sold unseen but also to the fact that my work is designed to make the eye unsure of what it is actually seeing (amongst other invisible aspects). During the #Letter365 process I had a number of conversations with people who liked the idea of never opening the letters and Schrödinger’s Cat was mentioned on a number of the envelopes and in many conversations.
So much of my work has been inspired by the sea’s marks on the shore and the transient and uncontrollable nature of our existence. It could be said that much of my work is an attempt to freeze a record of those unseen forces at play in the littoral landscape and my mind and emotions. Perhaps my work should move towards even more conceptual and ephemeral work?
For now, I have this piece to finish off. I have not seen it for a few days and other issues may arise when I do, but the biggest question I had when I left it was “how much do I clean up the edges and how big a border”? Of course it still needs a signature, which will, of course, be erased!
How much cleaning up at the edges of this erased drawing should I do?
Erased black square 1 Pencil and eraser on Canaletto paper
It may seem odd that my work on black squares and my Tidelines theme are intimately linked but it is all a continuum. This latest phase – erasing and redrawing and erasing again for as many times as necessary to get the effect I want – mirrors the tide’s twice-daily erasing of the sand patterns and debris on the beach; rubbed out but leaving a trace of the history of previous times and tides. I am experimenting with various surfaces. These featured are on 300gsm Canaletto paper. It is thick enough not to buckle and stretch too much and robust enough to take repeated erasure yet still soft enough to hold the indentation of an HB pencil.
Detail of surface after repeated erasing and redrawing
I have chosen to use traditional pencils rather than a clutch pencil because it allows a greater degree of chaos to enter the mix. The sharpness wearing to bluntness and my reaction to it in the marks I make, plus the length of the pencil affecting my grip on it as it gets shorter, are important elements in the content of the works.
Erased black square 2
The piece I began today (detail below) is on a full sheet of Canaletto paper 500mm x 700mm on which I have created a semi-accurate ruled grid. I am using what I believe to be HB pencils that were liberated from conference rooms at various hotels 20 years ago – knew they would come in handy! I may have to buy some more as they are disappearing at an alarming rate. In future drawings I may use harder pencils depending on what the surface of chosen paper suggests. For the first layer I am trying to be pretty loose and not get into my usual rythmns and shapes. I am listening to Soft Machine and at times using my left hand. Once this “ground” has been established, with the general shape and form of the piece tentatively mapped in, I will be more controlled about the marks I make after each successive erasure.
First layer of marks (detail) on an as yet untitled erasure drawing