My drawings merge diverse influences from landscape, music and literature. The work draws attention to the relationship between repetition, process and denouement across sound, text and visual art forms. The initial impetus is invariably visual which then, through endless repetitions of line and tone, starts to involve other influences from something I have read or music that I have listened to. In my earlier work these influences are not overt; they just would just gradually seep into the work and rest there. Part of a group of work which I have called De Profundis, The Quartet Suite along with the Soundscapes, Nocturne and Discords drawings, are related to music, to the sound and vibration of bowed or struck strings. The lines originated from drawings of the horizon off the West Coast of Ireland made during my Fellowship at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation in 2010. Referencing the continual movement of the sea, these lines became increasingly unstable and in their verticality developed their own autonomy. Once the lines started to tip up the reference to horizons was left behind. They moved towards a clear relationship to music and appeared purely abstract, solely about how the lines and the materials I was using behaved on the paper and within the composition. My most recent drawings reveal my obsessions with line and edge. I have a fascination with what happens at the edge of a drawing, a need to make it as important as what is happening within the interior. I use wax which raises the marks off the surface in a way that is subtly sculptural.
My current work is directly related to music and had its genesis in exploratory drawings made whilst listening to John Cage’s pieces for prepared piano. Strings soaked in Chinese ink were plucked repeatedly and the sound of them snapping against the paper was a significant element of the process. The Cage drawings were a turning point leading directly to work exploring the deeply emotional charge of Bach’s Suites for unaccompanied cello. In the Bach drawings I pursued a deeper engagement with the music, creating an interaction of sound, vigorous movement and mark-making whilst listening to the differing interpretations of the suites by Pablo Casals, Yo Yo Ma and Pieter Wispelwey.
The initial drawings were physical; intensely responsive to the mood, major and minor keys of the different suites and often executed at exhilarating speed. In the finished drawings, selected marks extracted from the studies, were layered, rubbed away, and redrawn repeatedly, providing a free-flowing undercurrent of line and space over which a structure, acknowledging the measured framework of the Baroque music, was superimposed. Throughout, however, it was the passionate, least Baroque interpretation by Pablo Casals with which I identified most closely.
Following my immersion in the Bach Cello Suites I returned to John Cage after discovering his lyrically beautiful short piece for piano, In a Landscape, composed in 1948. I spent the Summer of 2014 working in France and spent most of my days in a small room listening to string music by the French composer Gabriel Fauré. The drawings, Notes from a small room, are an ongoing exploration, responding not only to the music but to the echoes of the sounds within that small space and to the sense of place. Everything revolved around the space and the sound of the music reverberated off the walls and filled the small high ceilinged room. White walls and solitude, no other distractions, only the intensity of the process and the isolation.
The pieces played most frequently were as follows but the drawings were shaped by the sounds of violin and piano, often plaintive, by specific repeated phrases, colour and atmosphere in the music. Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano. Op. 13. Romance Op. 28. Trio for Piano Cello and Violin Op.120 and Après un Rève, transcribed for trio.
Alongside this intensive process was the work made in response to George Sand’s Chateau at Nohan where she lived with Chopin and d’Oiron. Château d’Oiron in Deux Sevres is an extraordinary mixture of cabinets of curiosities both 18th century and contemporary artists interpretations of them, sound, music, hybrid animals, terrifying monsters suspected of eating small children, endless historical references, revolution, peasant uprisings, exquisite painted ceilings and walls, grotesqueries balanced with beauty. For twenty years and more I have visited this house as it has gradually been restored and resurrected into a living historical monument which celebrates and absorbs contemporary artworks, literally into the fabric of its walls. For some reason now I felt the need to react visually and made little drawings in a book tracing not only what I saw and experienced this year,2014, but contain the experiences and memories of all the years that have gone before.
On my return to England I made larger drawings in response to Fauré’s Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano. Most recently I have just completed Anywhere Else But Here a response to a String Quartet by British contemporary composer Julian Leeks. Julian and I decided to collaborate after Julian saw my drawing Soundscape 4 at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol in 2011 and asked permission to use it for a poster and concert programme. When I first heard Julian’s String Quartet Anywhere Else but Here I was blown away by its beauty. By the breath-holding beginning – the waiting of something to happen – the pulse of the plucked cello string set up an intense feeling of anticipation. With all of the pieces by the composers I have worked with before there has been an element of repetition, a concentration on certain melody lines. With Julian’s piece, the complexity of the layering of the different instruments and the constant pulse of the cello made it a very intense and demanding process. I didn’t want to focus on just one section of the music. I needed to deconstruct and separate the sounds, isolate the yearning melody and then put it all back together visually whilst at the same time responding to the emotional darkness.I wanted to encapsulate the poignancy, the sadness of the music in one drawing and the almost anguished outburst right at the end followed by a return very quietly to the reassurance of the pulsing beat. It really took me out of my comfort zone and it took much longer than normal to complete the drawing. In the end I had to put aside the deconstructions of the different elements and close my eyes and listen to the piece as a whole again and again and then put the feeling of whole piece into the drawing. Julian Leeks then set about writing a second string quartet in response to my drawing.
Drawing as the most direct form of visual communication, eye to brain to hand, has always been at the centre of my practice, from initial exploratory sketches through to finished work. I like the fact that ‘drawing’ exists as both verb and noun but that, in its form as a noun, it fails to provide an adequate label for those whose practice is contemporary drawing. It leaves drawing open to interpretation, endowing it with an almost maverick freedom allowing it to take any direction, to use any media and to respond to any stimuli.
Eerily quiet in pale shrouds of early morning mist, this thing we call the sea, glitters like a jewel in sunlight, drowns itself in tumultuous, thunderous waves and fades into gun-metal grey in the dusk half light. Moody, restless and inconstant, it is mesmerising, captivating, inescapable…..
Discovering La Plage
Walking though a subterranean space, low medieval arches curve beautifully in all directions. Painted white, with stone floors, the space is filled with light though I remember no windows. Low ceilings, so low everyone had to duck their heads. I plucked a book from the crowded shelves, Alain Robbe-Grillet, ‘La Plage’, seagulls swooping, moving forwards away from the walkers on the sand, the falaise on the right rising sharply. Again, repeated, and again. Memories come flooding back. This is where I am now.
A line, drawn on hot-press paper, rubbed until it fades and fuses with the surface, becomes a shadow of its former self. Lines repeated, gradually darkening, produce marks of tension and great spatial depth. On canvas, the bleeding of charcoal and graphite trapped and paled by layers of paint continues to exploit these abstract interpretations of movement, mutability and evanescent light. My work is an enquiry into process, through memory and repetition. It is an investigation into the instability of line, of surface, of life, informed by observation of the world around me.
Sound is ephemeral, you can’t pin it down. It lives in the memory. It is intangible.
You can return again and again to a drawing but not to a performance. Once the final note has died away it has gone. You can record the performance but the moment has passed.
Leurs trois visages halés, plus foncés que les cheveux, se ressemblent. L’expression en est la même: sérieuse, réfléchie, préoccupée peut-être. Leurs traits aussi sont identiques, bien que, visiblement, deux de ces enfants sont des garçons et le troisième une fille. […] Mais le costume est tout à fait la même: culotte courte et chemisette, l’une et l’autre en grosse toile d’un bleu délavé.
La Plage Alain Robbe-Grillet
It’s a mouth, half open, breathing, but the eyes, nose, and chin are no longer there…. the noise – the breathing – is tremendous, but above all its that you don’t expect it: you climb up the dune, you struggle to drag your feet up the slope, for a while all you’re concerned with is the suction beneath the sand, and suddenly space explodes, you’ve looked up and the top of the dune has fallen away far below you, something like two colossal arms opening wide – but that’s not it exactly, it’s not welcoming, its rather that you have no choice, the way you’d fall off a building or a monument without a guardrail….
…you can tell from people’s faces, especially children’s, who has seen the sea and who has not: those who must have welcomed the sweep of the sea into their eyes (crashing all the way to the backs of their skulls, it empties them out in a way), and those who have tried , confusing the sea and infinity, to keep adding a little bit more to the images, telling themselves that even beyond, still further, without end, the sea goes on… when it’s not that at all, when compared to galaxies, the sea is minuscule.
Breathing Underwater Marie Darrieussecq
Part of what makes roads, trails and paths so unique as built structures is that they cannot be perceived as a whole all at once by a sedentary onlooker. They unfold in time as one travels along them, just as a story does as one listens or reads, and a hairpin turn is like a plot twist, a steep ascent a building of suspense to the view at the summit, a fork in the road as introduction of a new storyline, arrival the end of the story. Just as writing allows one to read the words of someone who is absent, so roads make it possible to trace the route of the absent. Roads are a record of those who have gone before and to follow them is to follow people who are no longer there….
…the story is a map, the landscape a narrative.
Wanderlust. A History of Walking. Rebecca Solnit