Saturday, 1 March 2014

Perusing Artists' Sketchbooks

This post is a tad retrospective, as I'm writing about an exhibition I visited last month - but it was interesting and enjoyable and I wanted to share it with you!
Place: Black Swan Arts Gallery, Frome
When: 7th February, the penultimate day of the touring exhibition
What: The SKETCH Open Sketchbook Drawing Prize Exhibition, a.k.a a chance to nose through artists' sketchbooks and see their process!
Being a writer, I'm all about the word-y process of building up that final, publishable draft that (hopefully!) will make a book-on-the-shelves, but often I think that we look at art and see it as just-a-picture-on-the-wall, and forget how much process has gone into getting to this frame-able, view-able point. So, for me, this exhibition was a fascinating glimpse into the process of an artist.
First, I must give a shout-out to how the exhibition was staged: I loved that it was simple, interactive and intimate. On the walls were small perspex shelves on which the notebooks were propped, encouraging you-the-viewer to interact; to pick them up and browse through, or leave them propped but flick through. There was even a bench seat or two if you wanted to sit and peruse, though I didn't; instead, I did my usual stand-there-with-a-notebook-and-write, ignoring any questioning I always do!

Admittedly, there were some sketchbooks whose language I just didn't speak or interpret, but that reminded me that art is subjective and people have varied tastes...and thank goodness for that, because it would be a boring world if we were all the same!

So, from my notebook, then:
  • on Robert Hames' sketchbook: Pencil sketches of people at mechanical/aeronautic work - for me it comes alive when the people are doing; just like in a piece of written work, the action breathes life into the scene. The studies of just things leave me cold.

  • on Samuel Lindup's sketchbook: Pen ink sketches in an A6 book. Such fine lines, fine details, such precision - how can it not be printed?! One picture, small and justified to the left like a poem, is of a house, side-on. There are windows and a door, yet the house is not grounded on anything. Out of the chimney comes the life of the house, all blown out like a big puff of smoke: TV, toaster, cooker, airer, dustpan, microwave, vase with flowers, and all the other tiny objects I couldn't make out! A little off to the the right, blown askew, is an open umbrella. Is it a metaphor for Mary Poppins/the metaphor she is; the rain of existence that we all must stand; or the shelter from this that we seek?

  • on Mike Middleton's sketchbook [who was shortlisted]: Small rectangular vignettes, often with a border/frame, in a warm colour palette. Is it my love of Italy that draws me to this sketchbook, or the chalky buildings caught in an Edward Hopper-like silence, their story to be spoken by the viewer?

  • on Michael Chance's sketchbook: A charcoal sketch of 'Ivan', showing a man with short, black curly hair cropped; a broad, broad nose; eyes looking down; mouth closed; Adam's Apple visible above his crew-neck sweater. One eyebrow seems slightly raised. There is a darker shadowing to the right of this eyebrow, as if melancholy or trouble awaits there. There is a pensive, resigned air to 'Ivan', as if he is preparing for the difficulty of what is coming. I am moved. On an earlier page is a seascape, with a lighthouse assailed by a frothy sea, which seems so luminous and lifted, as if it might assail me too.

Once back home, I Googled the artists whose work I liked and visited their websites/blogs. I pretty much couldn't find the pictures from the sketchbooks...but then, if they are part of the process, they probably won't be the exact finished work...
Still, I'll leave you to your own explorations with the links, and share with you the one pic I did find represented on a blog:


Michael Chance's 'Lighthouse', from:
~ ttfn ~