i. Happy New Year! I had a three week break from uni and work and spent a good deal of time drawing, reading, visiting shows and considering the upcoming term. I will share some of my drawings in the next post and use this one to instead discuss the contextual research I’ve been doing.
ii. I read the majority of Eric Fischl: 1970-2007. The bulk of the book, entitled Fischl on Fischl, comprises examples of the artist's work accompanied by his comments. Although I find a lot of his paintings pretty bleak, he talks about figurative painting and his career simply and articulately:
‘I came to a point… where I’d used up everything I’d been taught and none of it was really working. I began to make this transition to working from a content point of view. I thought maybe I’d just start from something more familiar, something that I knew.’
‘I was actually looking for frozen moments, for something where somebody’s gesture, the interaction between that gesture and its environment and what had caused it - all those things that created a poignancy that filled the room with meaning.’
‘I’ve found there’s a difference between a painting of one person, two people, or a painting of three or more people. Each ones puts the viewer into a very different relationship to the scene, to meaning, and to self… Three or more people becomes a social dynamic. It can be social within a family framework or literally social in which the viewer takes a more removed position, like watching people on the street; you’re just one of the many.’
iii. I visited Albert Irvin and Abstract Expressionism at the RWA in Bristol and loved it. The exhibition was mostly devoted to a retrospective of Irvin’s large, colourful abstract paintings but included works by the major abstract expressionist artists that inspired him (Pollock, de Kooning, Motherwell, Newman), other leading British abstract artists (including Peter Lanyon and Gillian Ayres) and a room about Irvin’s figurative beginnings with the Kitchen Sink painters. The show was bright and celebratory and made me want to paint again. One thing I’ve realised at Camberwell is that I think more in terms of drawing and painting than printmaking - in that I’m far more concerned with picture making (composition, subject etc.) than technique (which shade of black ink or gsm of paper to use). I can see myself returning to drawing and painting with enthusiasm on leaving Camberwell in the summer. The show also displayed ephemera such as sketchbooks, paint cans and wonderful snippets of writing including this statement by Irvin reflecting on his time at Goldsmiths and his practice as a whole:
‘…trying during four years to learn something of the elements of my art, and realising, on leaving, how little one learns as a student and how much is left to be learnt for oneself in the dedicated ritual of one's own studio.
I have, at one time or another employed most of the idioms current in the language of contemporary painting in an attempt to build for myself a means of self-expression both personal and capable of communication with anyone interested enough to be a spectator of my work.
I show my work wherever and whenever I can and sell it to any noble soul who'll buy it. This happens too infrequently for comfort so I am obliged to teach, one or two days a week. I like teaching; it can be aggravating but on the whole I like it. And it gets me out of my studio for a bit, which is a good thing.
I have no plans for the future. The future is a series of jerks from one painting to the next, each one sowing the seeds of its successor..’
I found this particularly inspiring as I begin to face the prospect of leaving art school (for the second time) and figuring out how to maintain being an artist and make a living.
iv. Dad and I travelled to Birmingham for the day to see the exhibition Maman at The Barber Institute of Fine Arts. The show featured paintings and photographs of intimate interior scenes exploring the shared life of Vuillard and his mother. By ‘expressing the contemplation of beings and of things’ through quiet pictures of domestic scenes, Vuillard (alongside Bonnard) was labelled an ‘Intimist’. Whilst the paintings are modest in size and unassuming in subject matter, I found these depictions of everyday moments and familial relationships incredibly poignant and moving. Although Vuillard described a very different type of interior space, I long for my work about the pub to feel similarly gentle, melancholy and intimate.
v. There are several exhibitions opening in the coming months that I am really looking forward to including Bonnard at the Tate Modern, Sargy Mann (curated by Chantal Joffe) at the Royal Drawing School and Diane Arbus at the Hayward Gallery.
vi. A comment in my formal feedback from November suggested that ‘your confidence in the validity of your path is now strong enough for you to progress with energy and ambition.’ I have been considering how my work might develop before the degree show. I definitely want to get back into making monotypes (perhaps upping the scale as in Harry Whitelock’s work) as well as continuing my painterly etchings (perhaps using areas of tone such as in Rachael Neale’s monotypes). I feel as if the work is definitely going somewhere, I just need to stay calm and enjoy it. Rather than going back anxious, I am excited to get back into a studio routine.