Saturday 31 January 2009

An end of January recap: organising, notetaking and subject matter

I am trying to get to grips with a number of different strands here right now, and I don't think I'm managing too well. Too many other things are calling for my attention and while I've so far been rather good at avoiding nasty winter illnesses, a tonsilitis rather effectively floored me for the past week. The throat is no longer sore, but... wow, I had never noticed just how tiring a trip to the post office can be (well, that 100 metres to and back).

In any case: enough late January winging
[hahaha... whingeing is of course what I meant;
what a nice buckage* I produced at the end of this month]

  • Linocut printmaking
  • Colour, marks and general influences in Wolf Kahn's use of pastels
  • The facilitation workshop, specifically: production of knowledge

For most of these, the scenes are set: it'll be about the pondtreedarkwinterreflections that have come out of the visit to the bull's hollow. I'm very happy to stick with these scenes (two or three) at the moment and keep working with them.

Sticking with a couple of compositions that work well and keep intriguing me usually seems like a good idea. It kind of does away with the need to sort a composition for each new piece and allows instead for some more systematic - and yet at the same time: more playful? - exploration of media, colours, marks and all the other stuff around them.

The pond reflections in some sense feel like an easy option: I am painting stuff I've known for so long again. I keep thinking around this one, and whether it actually matters? Oh, well, yes it matters quite centrally. I think one of the things from last year I learned was the dynamic and energy I got from painting something known and familiar. From taking it from something known and familiar and slowly, patiently letting it go elsewhere; in part wilfully - and, dear, did I try to push those fields to transform and become something new from all that was old.

Over Christmas, I realised that there is almost endless possibility in continuing with that. And how enjoyable that is: take something that was taken for granted and let it go, run with it, see where it takes you and it may surprise you. It's like Benjamin's sock: where does observation turns to narration, poetry; where do past facts turn to memory and the making and invention of selves, a history that is imagined and yet filled with so much memory at the same time.

This all provides a little bridge across to the facilitation workshop again: and the questions it posed for me about different types of knowledge and understanding; and the realisation just how much I've learned and begun to understand through painting.

Relatedly, I've changed my writing and recording arrangements. A new laptop allows me sitting on the sofa while blogging... does it show in a sitting-on-the-sofa-chattiness? Similarly, I have finally taken the digital recorder I bought for work and interviewing home with me and am experimenting with recording notes and thoughts verbally, rather than in writing.

I am used to take a lot of notes in writing, either longhand or in the computer. But most often, the reason something doesn't get recorded is that I can't be bothered to type/write yet more again. So, I am curious whether having spoken files will see to that in some sense. Generally, I think I am someone whose thoughts and arguments are becoming much more quickly much clearer in conversation, when spoken. It's quite often at those moments that I feel something coming together. So, maybe I should just organise the 'talking to myself' element of that.

And: if it's noted, I can chuck it out of my mind, I no longer have to keep thinking about it in worry that I may forget. So, Folder A on my rather impressive Olympus recorder has various thoughts on labour politics on it, notably (a) the wildcat strikes at UK refineries against the use of foreign workers; (b) comments on an article on Rosa Luxemburg, experience and organisation, and (c) notes from the class I taught on Wednesday where we discussed the end of career.

Well, this post was supposed to be on some earlier experiments with pastels on dark paper. Have a taster of these. I think they will be on show tomorrow.

Pond reflections on darkness
Pond reflection on darkness #1
Soft pastel on board

* buckage, n. , first usage c2001; denotes the wilful combination of two unrelated words into a new creation; usually based on some metaphorically imagery employed by Gesa Helms, etymological origin: a combination of the English nouns bucket and luggage for a bucket full of unnecessary luggage that one carries around.
Does that sound about right, P.?

Thursday 29 January 2009

Colour towards the evening

Melancholie des Abends

- Der Wald, der sich verstorben breitet -
Und Schatten sind um ihn, wie Hecken.
Das Wild kommt zitternd aus Verstecken,
Indes ein Bach ganz leise gleitet

Und Farnen folgt und alten Steinen
Und silbern glänzt aus Laubgewinden.
Man hört ihn bald in schwarzen Schlünden -
Vielleicht, daß auch schon Sterne scheinen.

Der dunkle Plan scheint ohne Maßen,
Verstreute Dörfer, Sumpf und Weiher,
Und etwas täuscht dir vor ein Feuer.
Ein kalter Glanz huscht über Straßen.

Am Himmel ahnet man Bewegung,
Ein Heer von wilden Vögeln wandern
Nach jenen Ländern, schönen, andern.
Es steigt und sinkt des Rohres Regung.

Georg Trakl

Melancholy of the Evening

- The forest, which widens deceased -
And shadows are around it, like hedges.
The deer comes trembling out of hidden places,
While a brook glides very quiet

And follows ferns and ancient stones
And gleams silverly from tangled foliage.
Soon one hears it in black gorges -
Perhaps, also that stars already shine.

The dark plain seems endless,
Scattered villages, marsh and pond,
And something feigns a fire to you.
A cold gleam shoos over roads.

In the sky one anticipates movement,
An army of wild birds migrates
Towards those lands, beautiful, distant.
The stirring of reeds rises and sinks.
(Translation by Jim Doss and Werner Schmitt)

No poet I have found who is more colourful in darkness. I have had his poems for more than ten years - they were one of my leaving presents when I moved to Glasgow. But it was only last autumn that I begun reading them in their colourful, mournful strangeness.

And rather fitting for some digital exploration of different colourways for the print. Do you have a preference? Other suggestions?

And, for the migrating birds, something in song. It's melancholic too, albeit a bit softer it seems. It was on my music player when I switched it on on my way into town a few days ago on a rainy gloomy afternoon.

And then I'm spinning and I'm diving like a cloud of starlings.

... Hm, how very delicious that line is. And for a bit live starling action, how's this:

Sunday 25 January 2009

Es ist schon da!

Vielen, vielen Dank! Es kam gestern mit der Post. Und ich glaub, ich hab auch schon Opas Druck gefunden. Danke, dass du auch noch mal nachgefragt hast wegen der Ölbilder, Jutta!

Albert König, Alte Weiden
Wood cut, 1912, 41x31cm

Well, my parents very promptly and reliably delivered on their part of my printmaking project, and yesterday it arrived:

Albert König: Das druckgraphische Werk 1911-1941. Published 1989 by the Albert König Museum, Unterlüß.

  • For a German Wiki entry on König, see here
  • For the Albert König Museum, Unterlüß, see here

Well, it is full of traditional wood cuts, a few lino cuts of heathland, moorland, woods and fields. Birches and junipers twisted by wind and rain and plenty of eeriness. I had a quick look through it, and am posting a first taster.

My mum also included one of König's paintings, guess what: it's of some birch trees reflected in water. What a coincidence. Must be a rather common theme where I grew up, even 100 years ago.

Albert König, An der Quarmühle,
1920s, oil on canvas 75x60cm

Friday 23 January 2009

Lino cut variety

Lino cut on blotting paper
coloured pencil, oil pastel, indian ink

Take block of black layer, pull print on blotting paper, let paper dry, use coloured pencils liberally, add oil pastels to overlay black printing inks, splash a bit of indian ink around.

A name for it? How about 'not-printmaking'? Monoprint? Or does that require a mixture of other 'pure' printmaking processes.

I think I may just call it mixed media, wonderfully generic, isn't it?

Thursday 22 January 2009

It got serious, yesterday

I told her. And it became real. And when I left, all she said was:

Gesa, that is a wonderful plan.

So, this, written in September when I was caught inbetween, acquired another verse.

Don't know what I'm talking about?
Don't worry - I feel the same way, most of the time..

Be longing
For a place that isn’t here
In a time that isn’t now
To a person that isn’t me

In a world that isn’t mine
To a time that isn’t here
With a place that isn’t now

To a soon that had been past
With something new that will be old
From a past that will be now

Troon South Beach

Monday 19 January 2009

Der Strumpf - Walter Benjamin

A bit of reading I like and had meant to put in here for ages. A wee while ago I did some scouting for translations, so that I don't have to do it myself and found a copy of the English translation online in Solveigh Goett's blog on textile art.

It's a little story I like to go back to since I discovered it (admittedly rather late) in my Berlin discovery. It's from Walter Benjamin's Childhood around nineteen hundred.

Der Strumpf
Der erste Schrank, der aufging, wann ich wollte, war die Kommode. lch hatte nur am Knopf zu ziehen, so schnappte die Tür aus ihrem Schlosse mir entgegen. Hinter den Hemden, Schürzen, Leibchen, die dahinter verwahrt gelegen haben, fand sich das, was mir ein Abenteuer aus der Kommode machte. Ich mußte mir Bahn bis in ihren hintersten Winkel schaffen; dann stieß ich auf meine Strümpfe, die da gehäuft und in althergebrachter Art gerollt und eingeschlagen ruhten. Jedes Paar hatte das Aussehen einer kleinen Tasche. Nichts ging mir über das Vergnügen, die Hand so tief wie möglich in ihr Innerstes zu versenken. Ich tat das nicht um ihrer Wärme willen. Es war "Das Mitgebrachte", das ich immer im eingerollten Innern in der Hand hielt, was mich in ihre Tiefe zog. Wenn ich es mit der Faust umspannt und mich nach Kräften in dem Besitz der weichen, wollenen Masse bestätigt hatte, begann der zweite Teil des Spieles, der die Enthüllung brachte. Denn nun machte ich mich daran, "Das Mitgebrachte" aus seiner wollenen Tasche auszuwickeln. Ich zog es immer näher an mich heran, bis das Bestürzende sich ereignete: ich hatte "Das Mitgebrachte" herausgeholt, aber "Die Tasche", in der es gelegen hatte, war nicht mehr da. Nicht oft genug konnte ich die Probe auf diesen Vorgang machen. Er lehrte mich, daß Form und Inhalt, Hülle und Verhülltes dasselbe sind. Er leitete mich an, die Wahrheit so behutsam aus der Dichtung hervorzuziehen wie die Kinderhand den Strumpf aus "Der Tasche" holte.

Walter Benjamin, Berliner Kindheit um neunzehnhundert. Suhrkamp 2006, p. 56

Printproject 2_3 T/P, Detail
Print project 2_3, T/P Detail
Lino cut on blotting paper, 15x15cm

And here, the translation [with added suggestions by Solveigh]:

"The first cabinet that would yield whenever I wanted was the wardrobe. I had only to pull on the knob, and the door would click open and spring toward me. Among the nightshirts, aprons, and undershirts which were kept there in the back was the thing that turned the wardrobe into an adventure for me. I had to clear a way for myself to its farthest corner. There I would come upon my socks, which lay piled in traditional fashion - that is to say, rolled up and turned inside out. Every pair had the appearance of a little pocket [bag]. For me, nothing surpassed the pleasure of thrusting my hand as deeply as possible into its interior. I did not do this for the sake of the (...) warmth. It was the 'little present' rolled up inside that I always held in my hand and that drew me into the depths. When I had closed my fist around it and, as far as I was able, made certain that I possessed the stretchable [soft] woolen mass, there began the second phase of the game, which brought with it the unveiling. For now I proceeded to unwrap 'the present', to tease it out of its woolen pocket [bag]. I drew it ever nearer to me, until something rather disconcerting would happen: I had brought out 'the present', but the 'pocket' [bag] in which it had lain was no longer there. I could not repeat the experiment on this phenomenon often enough. It taught me that form and content, the veil and what is veiled [the wrap and what is wrapped], are the same. It led me to draw truth from works of literature as warily [carefully] as the child's hand retrieves the sock from 'the pocket' [bag]."

Walter Benjamin, The Sock, in Berlin Childhood around 1900, Transl. Howard Eiland, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge/Mass. & London/England, 2006, pp 96, 97.

Have a look at Solveigh's wondrous world of textile art, files and textual musings:

The sock - it's about knowledge and discovery, about knowing, seemingly, superficially if one isn't careful. I like it a lot, and it reminds that I've meant too to write up the course on facilitation I went to in December - if you remember: it was about asking a question...

And a bit of music? Maybe? Perhaps... something more about the wondrous world. Why not this:

Saturday 17 January 2009

A bit of learning: Wolf Kahn

Over the past two weeks I've been digging around some work on how to work with water reflections. Most of the digging was done on my sofa with some of the books that had been staring at me for far too long.

Inspired by Lindsay's and Vivien's excellent posts on Kurt Jackson on Watermarks and their respective blogs, I begun with KJ's Thames Project. I still haven't seen any of his paintings in live, but this book already provided a few inspired coffee rounds with M..

But I got stuck: I find his markmaking just utterly fascinating, but it's a wet media markmaking... there is no way I can splash with dry dusty pastels.

So, enter artist #2: Wolf Kahn. I had bought one of his books when Casey's Wolf Kahn project introduced me to his fantastic colourist landscapes which build up so much tension and ambiguity between abstraction and representation that I can look at them forever.

Warm Tones on the River by Wolf Kahn, 1990
Pastel, 11x14 inches
Private Collection, New Mexico

Well, having decided to explore water reflections in dry media (well: mainly pastel) for a little while longer, I've been since reading through WK, had a few email conversations with Casey and begun to find a way of exploring WK's work.

As a start today: his palette. It got me terribly excited. I loved it. And nonetheless it has been a very strange and alien one for me. Hm, I don't quite know if I get the words for it.... let me muddle around for a while on this:

It's colorist - note the omission of the -u-. It's a palette I've come across since in quite a few other Northamerican artists, notably in Tracy Helgeson's oil paintings [I am putting the link to her Sales blog in here as much of her current work involves portraits.]
I am tempted to describe it as a rather cool palette, but that is not right: there's plenty of warm tones sitting next to high chroma cooler hues; so: high chroma is maybe more fitting; it seems rich in phtalos, cobalts and cadmiums. And, other than cobalt blue, these are pigments I haven't used much myself.

Well... I think I can see the difference and particularities but it will probably need a few more iterations to speak of them.

Kahn describes his pastels as immediate responses to - or better still: part of the experiental seeing of - being in landscape (or nature?). They are characterised by marks closely associated with drawing. Rather than using sanded boards, he draws on paper - lightly toned paper.

Diane Townsend's Terrage pastels are said be to be developed with a particulay eye on WK's palette. She carries one set of twelve of WK's favourites, which are these here:

Diane Townsend Terrage Pastels: Wolf Kahn's Favourites
dioxazine purple 188
mars violet 93
red oxide 88
quinacridone magenta 182
blue-violet gray 135
gray 124
ultramarine blue 18
ultramarine blue 20
permanent green 164
cadmium red light 56
cadmium yellow 67
cadmium orange 63

I found this image in the book, it's rather different to many of the others, but it resembled most closely some of the eeriness of my recent pond reflections.

Black Pond i (study) by Wolf Kahn, 1997
Pastel 11x14 inches
Beadleston Gallery, New York

And where is all this getting me to?

A first glimpse is this:

A pastel drawing on white paper with an unfamiliar palette. Hm... Comments to follow once I've made up my mind...

Trees in lake #2
Trees in lake,
Soft pastel on paper, 30x20cm

A few related links:

  • See Diane Townsend Pastel website here
  • Casey's Wolf Kahn Project at the Colorist here
  • Wolf Kahn Pastels by Wolf Kahn. Harry Abrams Publishers, New York, here

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Only 24 hours left

... to listen to my little bit of anticipatory fun.... Florence and the Machine in a live session on 6Music.

1. click this link
2. go to right hand menu: Listen again, Wednesday 7 January
3. open iplayer
4. fast forward to 1:45:30 and click play

5. laugh with me and look forward to a gig with her (and Glasvegas) in a fortnight, and Dog Days in particular at 1:53:20.

Well... I will forever love her for the line 'happiness hit her like a bullet in the back', all amidst the scariness of a League of Gentlemen English countryside nightmare just at the very moment when I had the most important realisation of the year (or mibbe decade???).

You're too late? Well, take the video again...

Who needs the bull's hollow if there are music videos like this!

Monday 12 January 2009

I've done some, too!!

[look at me! look at me! look at me! she shouts excitedly, jumping up and down]

... Linoprints that is, seeing that they seem terribly de rigeur this January, as both Jeanette and Vivien demonstrate.

Last week I finally got started with assignment 2 of the OCA course: simple lino cuts. I had been a bit uninspired as to that assignment (did I mention that before?); too much like school work, and the very first one consisted of a tedious block full of different marks and textures. Very useful but the thought alone did send me back to sleep.

But, thanks to my easily excited sunny predisposition (on such a dreich mid-January, back to work plod), the block was quickly marked and I could proceed to task 2 and 3.

I've been collecting all these impressions and images in my mind - the night skies, the water reflections and some trees against light skies impressions and they've been waiting for a medium - the pastels and the ink sketches are not graphic enough. But, of course: the stark imagery of traditional relief prints may just get there. With that realisation I quickly developed a couple of the photos of the bull's hollow into simplified sketches*.

Water so still so dark
Linocut on blotting paper

This is the first one: a simple single colour print with different marks - do you recognise the image?

PrintProject2_1 WIP

Print Project 2_2 WIP
Linocut on cartridge paper

This is not quite finished but part of task 3 in this assignment. Again, an eery place, sky and water reflection mystery. For anything more definite, you'll need to wait til it's finished though.

*I had to laugh at Jeanette's comments 'think 10 times, cut once' - that definitely doesn't apply to me... cut, then think and then improvise... the same goes for the carefully developed sketches... I struggle to produce 2, 3 even just mildly attentive ones.
And you know what? I absolutely enjoy doing without.

Sunday 11 January 2009

A blue line. Still, so still

Water reflections #2
Water reflections #2
Soft pastel on board, 35x25cm

A blue line
still so still
clear so clear
water mirror, speak to me
speak to me of the secrets
secrets you keep
so tight so close
in your red water
water so dark
water so still

Reflections. So present. So clear
to touch them to hold them
they drip through my fingers
nothing to hold nothing to have

They stand in line
upright. tall. tight

Look close
bark peels and breaks
a crooked trunk
a broken branch

How kindly though
they all reflect in water

The slightest blur
and all that is crooked
turns to beauty

Colours intersected by water
a surface so still that
it seems to reveal all there is

Look, can you not see?
All that there is
to marvel at

Clear lines long lines
a breeze lifts
barely to hear
it lets the lake move
it breaks the lines
hides the trees

And nothing remains.

blue brown purple blue sand

Saturday 10 January 2009

And onwards.

So many words for what was, and a short list for what I'd like to do over the next year.

1. Two proposals for exhibitions:
- a group exhibition with the Eldon Group for in a couple of years time
- a small exhibition of the books from my Found Papers Project

2. More art stuff offline
- get a better sense of Glasgow's art scene
- check out Berlin too

3. More larger scale drawing pieces
- life drawing
- more observation pieces to fill some of the gaps of my distant love for the sea

4. Travel and paint
- in Scotland
- in Chile
- in Germany
Most of these will involve coastal locations, so for subject matter, seascapes will hopefully figure more prominently.

As for the last point, Casey introduced me to Astrid Volquardsen's pastel paintings of the German coast and her blog Pastell Bilder. Often small scale pieces they capture beautifully the sea, the breeze and the horizon.

The German coast is a place I haven't been to for years, and for the past few years fantasised rather intensely of going there for a holiday, preferably in autumn. So, when I stumbled across Astrid's evocative paintings, that wish had a clear visual expression.

Astrid Volquardsen, Foehr - Oktoberlicht
Pastel on board, 12x34cm

Astrid Volquardsen, Sylter Brandung 3
Pastel on board, 12x34cm

Astrid Volquardsen, Sanfte Brandung
Pastel on board, 12x34cm

(all images copyright Astrid Volquardsen
click on the images to visit Astrid's website)

These are some of Astrid's paintings but do check out her blog and website too. Curiously, Astrid lives just some 30 miles from my parents' place, what a funny small world this is, some times.

As a reminder, I got myself this for my 2009 calendar:

click on image to see a slideshow of the calendar

Thursday 8 January 2009

Urban Water Exploration #1

I was a tourist here once.
I no longer am.

The city looks different whether you are or you are not.

Want to follow me on a bit of discovery?

Turn on the soundtrack and on we go.

Out of the subway, across the car park to the embankment.

The river glistens in the winter sun.

Urban Water Exploration #1

But the Kelvin is not my destination, not for today.

Urban Water Exploration #1

Urban Water Exploration #1

I walk past some new build development, a dingy underpass
I wonder if this was a railway tunnel or wartime shelter
Or maybe both.

Urban Water Exploration #1

Hm, this is more like it. A bit of watery calm.
Some reflections.

But not quite right.
I am looking for light trunk dark backgrounds.
Past the bridge to the little pond.

It is half frozen, just the tiniest bit of open water around the edges.
Where does the water change its state.

Urban Water Exploration #1

Urban Water Exploration #1

Urban Water Exploration #1

So many trees
So clearly reflected.

Ok... time for the coffee with M.
I back track, go to my favourite coffee place - offshore... how fitting
Order a coffee and [click repeat] hear this song.

Spring once

Water, the city, reflections, trees... all in an hours walk.

Note to self: need to do this more often.

Wednesday 7 January 2009

Rewind 4 - The art I have been making

Fields in winter, study
Fields in Winter, Sketch
Pencil in Moleskine, 24x21cm

Something which started with severely cold fingers developed into my biggest series so far. It started as Winter Drawings and became Belongings. The fields around my parents’ house proved important (well, I always knew they were) and a rich source for explorations into
  • sketching trees and bare fields,
  • exploring light and limited palette in oil paint
  • exploring the tension Nicholas de Stael built into his fantastic landscapes of the Mediterranean
The road to the blue trees
The Road to the Blue Trees,
Mixed media collage on board, 64x45cm

When I finally arrived at the Road to the Blue Trees, I thought that that was it.*
But going back there this summer and just last week, I am now thinking of investing into an easel permanently installed at my parents and of venturing further afield (ouch): The Bull’s Hollow, the Night Skies, the moors and pine forests, and and and…
So, you can keep watching for more Belongings here.

At the end of 2007 I at various points complained (e.g., here) that I could neither draw trees nor people. Well, I did plenty of those in the interim. After having finished some of last week’s the December sketches, I only after realised that it was those trees that I in the past regarded as complicated. So: trees are ok now; people, too. It’s not that they look great, but I am happy enough to sketch in many locations now. In fact, I was just thinking about football matches and swimming pools as sketching locations. I think that’s not too bad.

As for life drawing, I ended up not doing any over the past year. I would have liked too, researched a couple of options but didn’t sign up for anything because of the time commitment. But, I found Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School – a Club Noir where once a month you can go and sketch from life in a cabaret setting (at the Arches, see write-up here). Still working on persuading my friend H. to come along…

Well, I am clearly not lacking ideas and plans. More problematic is the seeing them to an end. Most notably that is the case for the collage, bookmaking, involving people I know project that I started pretty much a year ago with Found Papers from Somewhere. Almost thirty people sent me some found papers for this, a few books are finished and I’ve got plans for an exhibition and a couple of other things, but still it requires more time to make the 8-10 small books I am making from these found papers. And, probably not helpful: I do feel guilty about it. I don’t suffer from too much guilt, generally, I think. But this one keeps lingering in part because it has already lingered for so long. I had initially hoped to finish it in June. Now it’s January. Oops. But, since guilt thrives in silence, this is step one of my exorcism. Here’s a glimpse of one of the books:

FPP#3 Detail 2
Found Papers Project Book 3, Detail
Mixed media collage on board, approx 20x9cm

Collage and mixed media were THE discovery of the last year. They allow me to be more focussed on process beyond a single brush. And, through these, I am getting back to use pastels more frequently again. Part of this interest in process was me signing up for a course on Printmaking with the OCA (see the write-up of the first assignment here).

It’s experimental, without a press and on my kitchen counter. It’s great. It’s structured but allows plenty of development of my own ideas. Not just allows, it is actually required. I tend to think of printmaking as one element in a mixed media setting, with a preference on monotyping. Yet, as the course proceeds, and I am keeping an eye on other printmakers, I am more and more intrigued by it as a medium in its own right. I think this will stay with me as medium.

Can you see the common thread through all these: let’s have plenty of projects, plenty of ideas, plenty of different subjects, plenty of media. It’s not that that surprises me in the slightest. Yet, it means there is little time for each of them. But, looking at it over the course of a year, that’s not a problem. I think I need a range of things to choose from as I feel like and it takes on a path in the process that isn’t straightforward but mine.

Some more highlights along the way?
  • The invitation to join Watermarks – despite (or maybe actually because of) my keen interest in Fields and Woods
  • Some 30 odd plein air pastel sketches of fields and the sea
  • Four sketchbooks filled with people, ideas, more fields, more waves

I am fairly tempted by a Rewind 5 – Things I’ve learned. But a couple of other things need to come before that. And: a (very) limited list of plans for the next year wants some publicity.

Thank you so much for reading and commenting!!!

* Of all the paintings I've done, this is my absolute favourite. I love it. It makes my heart sing, every time I look at it. It's the conclusion of something rather long and at times painful - both in terms of actual memories of the place, but also in terms of experimenting with abstraction. It is also one that the RGI rejected for its show. And I'm sure that my love of it impairs my judgment of the quality of it; but so be it :)

Tuesday 6 January 2009

Rewind 3 – Blogging

At post #202 I firmly refused to comment on what was before and what Gesah’s Paint & Pastel was about, but now I’m another 50 odd posts further on and don’t feel quite so speechless. 18 months ago, Torben, my brother, and I had been talking about a website… part publicity, part ‘Gesa wants to learn the internet’ project; while that was proceeding (i.e. T. was writing the script and I was editing images), I rather spontaneously thought ‘oh, why not a blog? I can do what others do’ and within minutes it was set up. I was intrigued by its immediacy, its flexibility; I also figured that – unlike a website – it would actually act as a prompt to myself to write (think, reflect) about all this art stuff I had been doing… part structured journal, part exercise book.

Before, I had posted a few of my paintings and sketches at WetCanvas and got to appreciate the interaction and feedback that was lurking beyond my keyboard.

Corn in Late summer, Detail
Corn in Late summer, Detail
Pastel on board, 50x35cm

And, looking back, I am amazed and fascinated by the extent to which the blog has been serving these two purposes to (a) get me to do more art; and (b) provide source book, journal and planning tool.

Over and above, it serves a social function along a number of axes, both online and offline. There are first and most obvious other artists who blog. Their blogs, their posts and their comments have become a source that I don’t want to miss. And while I am in parts at points mildly amused by the idiosyncracies of online communities amongst strangers, particular quirks and eccentricities, I am also fascinated by the ways in which interaction is organised at a distance.

Apart from individual bloggers, there have been most notably the Moley Exchange project which Steph asked me to get involved in May; and more recently the Watermarks group, kickstarted by Vivien, Lindsay and Katherine. In particularly with the latter I am thrilled by the focussed discussions on the group blog and a private ning networking site that are taking place and which even over the short space of less than two months have helped me articulate and develop a whole number of points around seascapes, distance and abstraction.

And then there are friends and family who read the blog; many of them do not post comments but it is nonetheless the source of rather frequent conversation; I do like the nicks my brother invents to comment once in a while with a link to a whacky website; and just on the weekend my mum ticked off her ‘have to learn to leave comment in Gesa’s blog’ item, which made me smile. I am hopeful too that she will make a go of reading the posts where I am sure she will understand far more than she thinks she would. She had picked one of my two cornfields from summer for her Christmas present (see post here), and the other one is now for sale on Etsy, here.

Cornfields #2 Final
Corn in late summer,
Pastel on board, 50x35cm

So, over time, the stuff about which I will consider blogging has widened. Whereas initially it was rather narrowly focussed on my practical painting and sketching, it soon begun to include notes from exhibitions, about artists I like – most notably the series on Joan Eardley from last winter, and more recently Cy Twombly; and while I still don’t have a tag on ‘culture politics’, I do have now tags on ‘thinkings’, ‘researching creativity’ and ‘working in the arts’ – all of which are moving my academic and research work closer to the stuff I paint and art about.

It also means – related to yesterday’s post on writing – that some of the posts are becoming less explanatory – just recently Jafabrit had written about her blog as a piece of art itself [sorry, it took me a while to find, it was in the comments on Casey's intro to the Fine Art Department, a rather neat small online art showcase adventure, see link here]; and after reading that, I’ve begun to feel more confident about not explaining my posts; about posting notes for others (in past or present); and of not minding if stuff isn’t immediately communicated to all who read it.

So, with all this having gone on over an extended length of time, I am struck by the attachment I have formed to my blog and all it encompasses. It has become important; I use it as source of reference, as ‘I want to listen to that song again’, ‘Oh, let’s check if that painting was included’ or ‘how did that poem go again?’. Quite similar to a painting, it has taken on quite a dynamic, a process, by itself, sometimes it surprises me, or angers me, but mostly it makes me rather happy.

Yet, there are couple of consequences of this: I tend to spend even far more time online than I used to; and with a day job that is rather computer/inet intensive, it is a development I am not too keen on. It also can be rather demanding of my attention and immediate response: ‘Oh, I cannot not answer within 3 hours.’ – That’s something I don’t like, there’s enough stuff I get stressed about, and this isn’t supposed to be one.

Lastly, I noticed that I started to ‘think in blog’. My mind formulates blog posts – 90% of these never see the light of day, and that’s all for the better, but nonetheless it is a rather specific way of expressing and formulating a day, an experience, a thought. And with this thinking in blog, I then begin to wonder what else is there outwith. But that may be the content of another blog post… or rather not? See what I mean? ...

Ok… that’s the scene set for rewind #4: finally, the art I did in 2008. Next post.

Monday 5 January 2009

Rewind 2 – Writing

Ok, it took me some time to arrive back home, but now it’s week 1 of the new year and what better things to do than to look back… not?
I think there may be three posts to this
  • Rewind 2: writing
  • Rewind 3: blogging
  • Rewind 4: Art, art, art… not that either of the above are NOT art, but it’s painting, sketches, drawings and projects I finally want to talk about.
  • (Rewind 1 was my Hogmanay flight above the clouds, here – in case you wonder about the missing first)

Found Papers Project Book #1.3
Found Papers Project Book #1.3
Mixed media collage 6.4x8.9cm

I want to start with the writing, partly because it provides so many overlaps with a lot of other things I’ve been doing; it also provides the actual tool for the post on blogging; and lastly the medium through which I’ve found I communicate (by blogging) most of my art.

Ok, I’ve written a lot over the past year. A lot in here (in fact 170 posts; that many, many words and almost a post every other day over the year).

But: I have written quite a few other things too over the past year. Most notably, 2008 has finally been the year that my PhD came out in print. Do you want to have a look at it? It’s over here:

Gesa Helms 2008 Towards Safe City Centre? Remaking the Spaces of an Old-industrial City. Ashgate: Aldershot, see publisher's site here

It took five years to get it published. And that’s already a first observation with regards to the blog. While here, I write, I publish and it’s there – for better or worse, but still with plenty possibility to edit – academic writing takes a long time.

This is to a good part due to a long process of peer refereeing, comments, revisions and hopefully final acceptance. But just as well, a piece several times revised can still get rejected and you start again. For academic writing, at least in the UK, there is a clear preference for such peer-refereed journal articles over single-authored books, edited collections or book chapters. So, once my articles were rejected, I postponed further and further the book publication, and suddenly five years were gone.

Most of my writing to date has been very clearly for academic outlets, with all the limitations (see above for time; but more crucially for a limited audience, it is e.g. considered successful if 5+ others quote your article over the ensuing years). But this autumn I co-authored a short piece on the Glasgow Gorbals with a colleague of mine in Berlin for the Berlin Tenants Association publication (Gesa Helms & Jens Sambale 2008 Rückbau in der Finanzkrise? ME189, see full text here). It’s shorter, much more immediate than other pieces I’ve done, it’s in German (which I don’t write in often as I tend to have forgotten about German grammar, or at least claim to) and it was published within a couple of weeks after we agreed on the final version.

These two pieces do have a lot to do with this blog. Why?

If anyone at the age of 16 would have told me I would earn my money with a job consisting of writing and public speaking I would have screamed at them. Writing wasn’t for me, and public speaking even less so. Moving to the UK and learning to write a piece of 100,000 words changed that. It changed that also because I could learn a writing style where I could ‘explain’ any of my favourite idiosyncracies with foreignness: I am not from here; and that hid issues notably to do with class and education.

In this sense, the blog over the past 18 months has more and more become a playground to experiment not only with art but with writing too. Have you noticed?

Most obviously, it’s the posting of little ditties and word plays. I have been writing these for a long time [and am in fact still looking for a suitable outlet for cringey, love-sick poetry by 14 years old school kids; any advice welcome].

When I was sorting through my sketchbooks yesterday, I came across this one. It was a drawing/observing/writing experience which was new, exciting and rather sublime; and I’m glad that that moment didn’t remain singular but has become a more and more frequent occurrence as the year progressed.

Mist. Graphite in Moleskine, 10x8cm


Into the mist. Out of
Nowhere it descended
The woods, branches
A lonely leaf
Silently it calls. Haziness
The world blurs to take
Notice. Lazily
Then - as it lifts
A spot of cobalt above
Trees in the distance
The world didn't stop
After all

Like most of the other stuff in here, it is pretty much about exploration: stuff I passed by 10 or 20 years ago, didn’t consider it to be ‘for me’ – poetry belonged very much in that category; it wasn’t that I couldn’t appreciate it, but it was tied up with habitus and status that wasn’t mine and so I discarded it. Here the last year, its encounters, discussions and experiences have opened up plenty of possibilities - be it about writing in a more open, associative manner without regarding it as not rigorous, or be it writing in German, or, or, or...

And with the blog also a medium where they are easily explored. How? That’s for the next post.