AN ILLUSTRATED TALK THAT WAS GIVEN BY BARRIE DALE AT WEST OX ARTS 19 FEB 2015
My aim here is to toss a few thoughts into the ring to provoke discussion; I don't claim to be an authority on anything, and I certainly don't want to offend anybody. I'm going to talk about where Art began; where Art has gone in the last 150 years; and where artists might need to take it next.
Linked with OVER & OUT in September, Charlie Fothergill inspired us in her talk about Art Journals ...
When looking up art journals on blogs or social media it’s easy to be impressed, overwhelmed and even uninspired by the offerings of what an ‘art journal’ should look like. Instead, I looked at 5 modern artists from the past 100 years who approach something resembling an ‘art journal’ from a variety of angles, to see what I could learn from their techniques, and to assess how influential journaling was personally to these artists.
While we refuse to organize the confusions within us we will never have an objective understanding of what is happening outside. Anaïs Nin
Anaïs Nin (1903 – 1977) reminded us how journals are a powerful way of committing to paper and organising our messy interior worlds. She kept journals from the age of 11 (which is when I started keeping them!) for over 60 years. She was disillusioned with the limitations of mainstream publishing and decided to hand letterpress her own books, On Writing, which particularly emphasise the importance of diaries. Presenting them in this unique and outside-the-box way which refused to be pinned down by the limitations of the publishing market introduces diaries as a form which is expressive, individual and pushing the boundaries of art and writing.
>> Read more on the Brainpickings blog here and here.
I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality. Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954)’s diaries are also a powerful means of self-expression, but far from the meditative organised process of letterpress they are a vivid and painterly cathartic outlet for Frida’s tempestuous life. She spent many years in hospitals and in a horizontal, bed-ridden state after childhood polio and then a devastating bus accident, which rendered her lonely, helpless and inactive. Images such as ‘Feet what do I need them for / If I have wings to fly’ 1953, depicting a severed leg surrounded by a wash of blood red, reflect direct experience of having one of her feet amputated but also have an unexpected reference to freedom beyond the physical body, brought about through the liberating act of painting. She denied being classed as a Surrealist especially in reference to painting her dreams as the world she illustrated was far too personal and individual. Being presented with these colourful, angsty, emotional, direct & unplanned works from Frida’s art journals is to see a physical outward expression of a chaotic interior world, in order that we might better understand her personal journey.
>> Read more in the translated diaries of Frida Kahlo.
My work is real, not illusory or conceptual. It is about real stones, real time, real walks. I use the world as I find it. Richard Long
Richard Long (1945 - ) relates to his environment in a calmer, more ordered and organic fashion. He doesn’t keep journals as such, but I wanted to look at his work as it often takes the form of a record, sometimes known in the land art movements he is associated with as ‘evidence’, of his artistic activities which often take the form of a walk or journey. In One Hour (1984) a circle of 60 words from a 60 minute walk evoke not only the sounds, smells and sights from Long’s walk on Dartmoor, but also the shape of his circular walk through the form in which they are laid out. These diaries appear to be the suggestion of a journey, whether it be a physical or a mental one, and are not direct substitutes for the walks Long goes on or the mental journey Frida went through but rather responses to them and experiments in how to present ‘the world as I find it’.
>> See more interesting works by Long: One Hour. A Sixty Minute Circle Walk on Dartmoor (1984), A Hundred Mile Walk (1971–2), One Thing Leads To Another, Everything Is Connected (2007)
Do not fear mistakes. There are none. Miles Davis
Danny Gregory (1960 - ) is an illustrator and compulsive visual recorder of his daily life and experiences who has become well-known through another form of diary: the blog. I thought that this rather more modern medium is an important source of inspiration as it completely revolutionised the drawing community. Danny set up an online group called ‘Everyday Matters’ which people can submit a drawing of a daily given subject matter to, which makes his form of journaling quite the reverse of the responses to the isolated environments of Frida & Long – reminding us that art journaling can be an effective way to bring people together, passionately stipulating that anyone can draw, and that there are no mistakes. This shows us the beauty of keeping an art journal – as it has no buyer or, necessarily, an audience at all it can be a space of experimentation and development. Like Frida, Danny often uses himself as an easily available subject to draw, as you can see in the images above, one of which has been inspired by the distorting camera effects of a webcam as a way of encouraging observation and breaking out of assumptions about drawing well. However, journals are more than just practise sketchbooks and the other self-portrait features a more psychological response typical of a diary or journal, showing that Danny too conveys the goings on of his inner world through his wonderfully quirky quality of line.
>> Read more in: The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to be the Artist You Truly Are, A Kiss Before You Go, Everyday Matters
Our intention is to affirm this life, not to bring order out of chaos, nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply to wake up to the very life we're living, which is so excellent once one gets one's mind and desires out of its way and lets it act of it's own accord. John Cage
John Cage (1912 – 1992)’s Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse) is a sharp reminder that a diary or journal need not involve either writing or drawing at all, as he is in fact a composer, but I wanted to underline the idea that an artistic journal could take any form that inspires the creator. In this case, John Cage recorded hours and hours of stream of consciousness style and randomly ordered thoughts on topics from technology to mushroom picking. In order to break out of a controlled and ordered approach, Cage often used chance (such as the roll of a dice) as a compositional tool. Unlike the geometrically satisfying shapes that Long orders his experiences into, Cage seems to oppose constraining the form of his verbal self-expression and prefers to let the chaos which ensues pick up its own momentum and take on its own shape without the need to read meaning into it too much. One way of looking at this would be to think that experimentation is key and imperfections are OK; it’s better to express what is inside without trying to reorder it, as the quote above suggests. Another is to consider the idea of accepting what we see or hear for what it is, as opposed to reading meaning into it, giving us a new experience of something. >> For more of Cage’s ideas on this, listen to his fascinating talk on the importance of Silence.
Getting started can be the most difficult aspect of keeping your own art journal, no matter how inspired you are by artists such as these. To the lifelong art journalers like myself, it is perhaps easier to find aspects to incorporate: Frida Kahlo makes me want to loosen up my drawing style & use my imagination more as a source of inspiration; Richard Long makes me want to document journeys and work with text; Danny Gregory is closer to my native style whereas John Cage encourages me to play some games opening up books to random pages and picking out words. However, if I am in need some slightly more guided activities I tend to turn to one of my favourite current illustrators, Keri Smith. Her books, including Wreck this Journal and The Guerilla Art Kit emphasise experimentation, fun and not being afraid of the blank page.
It is not futile to do what we do. We wake up with energy and we do something. And we make, of course, failures and we make mistakes, but we sometimes get glimpses of what we might do next.
CHECK OUT CHARLIE'S WEBSITE:
A Participatory Project in East London – In Pursuit of Village Gossip
Jemima introduced four well-known artists who work in this way:
Rrikrit Tirvanija with his communal pots of rice left cooking in gallery spaces,
Thomas Hirschorn with his temporary pseudo community centres revolving around the ideas of a chosen philosopher,
Christoph Schlingensief’s shipping container of immigrants called ‘foreigners out’ installed in a public square in Vienna,
Turner prize winner Jeremy Deller, with his re-enactment of the miners strike Battle of Orgreave and an American road trip with a bombed car from Bhagdad.
Many of these projects are fiercely political, but often the artist’s concept facilitates the opinions, recollections and ideas of the viewer, or participant, rather than dictating his or her own. Rather than artist, we might think of the role in the terminology of theatre, with the artist as producer or director.
Art helps us engage with the world and each other as it provokes conversation, internal dialogue, which itself may lead to further questioning and research.
Many British art galleries and museums became free under the Labour government, open to all, but even though these institutions strive for inclusivity in the 21st century, not everyone feels welcome and comfortable, whether standing in front of Old Masters or contemporary installations. They are free, but they have a limited audience of ‘art-goers’. And then there’s the geography, if you live in the middle of nowhere, how can you appreciate these tax-funded institutions?
Jemima spent a year working in the Projects Department at the Almeida theatre and this seemed a more active way to get people engaged with what is essentially a writer and director’s artwork. Theatre and visual art all came together for Jemima when she visited a retrospective exhibition of Jeremy Deller’s work at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank in London. She described it as “a really enlightening experience…it was like an archive and costume box had been tipped open and found their way onto the walls.”
Jemima was presented with the challenge of making art totally inclusive. A question that was asked was; how can we provoke conversation amongst everyone?
‘Dear Neighbour’ attempts to address this, but on a very small scale. Jemima decided to work with the residents of her street, situated in the Tower Hamlets, one of the most deprived, ethnically diverse and creative areas in the UK, that ironically sits between the financial hubs of the City and Canary Wharf.
This one Victorian street would provide Jemima with a varied an audience in terms of age, race and interests, contrary to many such projects which have strictly targeted audiences. Her method of initiating participation was to write every household a letter. Mail art is a genre in itself, and with the nostalgia attached to handwritten letters she thought this unexpected post could be a nice surprise.
How would the project take form? Empty shops and street murals are part of the fabric of East London – so she needed to be original. The answer was in the architecture of the mid 19th century terraced street, with its symmetrical low sash windows that could easily translate to a gallery space. This ‘site specific’ response to the street also become symbolic; windows are a peculiarly transparent barrier, and so the portraits serve as a link between households. Its quite interesting that the pioneering artist Stephen Willats, who working in the late 1970s, talked of “the major subconscious role of the living room window”. He created an exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery with people living in social housing tower block in Stepney, by photographing residents and asking them questions including what they could see from their living room windows.
Nearly 40 out of 80 residents participated in Jemima’s project.
In Jemima’s well thought out letter she asked people to draw portraits because it seemed easy, simple, obvious even as well as being a pertinent point about our anonymity in the very street where we lived together. Interestingly, even though she had asked for just a portrait, many of my neighbours introduced themselves by writing their name, and some their age too. This is really interesting in terms of people’s discomfort surrounding security. Many people opt out of having their name and address in the published census but ironically people are prepared to put their name and photo on a social media profile to share with the online world. However, the ephemeral nature of a participatory art project is, in a sense, its beauty, as participants will carry their own thoughts, questions and conversations.
If we do not talk to each other enough in our digital age, especially in the hostility of our capital city, participatory art is a way to reinvigorate communication with the people we live among and around. Jemima grew up in the village of Westonbirt, and gossip, however dull, spread like wildfire. So if we replace gossip with conversation addressing art and culture, an umbrella for issues big and small, and give it some air in a particular community, perhaps it could become as infectious as gossip. In Dear Neighbour, even those households who didn’t join in by sticking up their portrait, probably did read her letter and spoke or thought about it before deciding not to join in. This is a good thing too, as participation should never be enforced, “I merely wanted to minimize the barriers that people can be confronted with.”
“I will use libraries as my studio and streets as my exhibition space.”
See the Dear Neighbour website: www.dearneighbourlondon.wordpress.com/blog
See Jemima in action in her video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoz7xGuzmd4
A selection of work from last month's exhibition 'Eight in Print' by members of Oxford Printmakers' Cooperative - prints by Catriona Brodribb.
If you want to have a sneak preview here is some of Phyl's work - please note these photos are cropped and come to the gallery to see the whole paintings! Below you'll find an interview we did with her earlier in the year.
West Ox Arts is a not for profit charity organisation that supports artists from Oxfordshire and beyond. This blog is an online picture journal of what goes on at WOA. Stay tuned!