Week 4: Drawn to Light

It’s hard to believe that I am one month into my 12 month course already. How time flies! Thinking back to how quick my final undergraduate year went, I imagine this will be exceptionally fast too. I am enjoying every day of it though so far!

On Monday I decided to have a reading day as I had some philosophy reading to catch up on. We were reading Fredrich Nietzsche’s first book ‘The Birth of Tragedy’. I didn’t find it particularly difficult to understand but it was pretty heavy going and there were more pages than I anticipated. I also spent Monday re-reading the blog post from the previous week. I was going to book the laser cutter on my laptop for the week ahead but something stopped me.

To tell you the truth, I’d been looking at my test pieces from the laser cutter and having some doubts. The ones that shimmered I still liked, but I discovered when I placed more than two layers next to each other it ruins the shimmering effect. I don’t always know how I achieve the shimmer effect either, it seems to be a random combination of several factors and I think I just got lucky with my degree show work. I became frustrated at the time the laser takes to finish – when I draw or paint I am a very fast worker so this slow pace doesn’t sit very well with me, I think the energy is lost in the work. Also the laser cutter requires booking at busy times which was always a bit of a pain.

I asked myself the question- ‘Do I need the laser cutter anymore?’

A bit of a scary question but the answer came to me as a definite ‘no’. I enjoyed using the laser cutter for my undergraduate course, but I think it’s important to go with my gut instinct here. With all my little test drawings and experiments I am definitely feeling something more instinctual and organic. We have been talking a lot about ‘mimesis’ the idea of representation in our art and this has made me want to be a physical part of the work again. I felt as if a lot of myself was taken away when all I do is press a button on a machine.

My project ‘Enso’ came to mind. I had really enjoyed this project – I would say it was definitely one of my favourites throughout my entire undergraduate course. I started flipping through my sketchbook to try and come up with the solution when I began to notice all of these little line doodles (see below) I had been drawing unconsciously in the middle of my notes. Drawing. I wanted to draw.

I felt a little sad then because truly, I have never felt a connection with a material more than I have acrylic and light. It really speaks to me in a way that no other technique has managed to do before. So I started to think of a way I could combine the two and then it hit me – hand etch into acrylic. It allows me the same technique but a different process. That night I ordered a hand etcher and hoped like mad it would work. I knew acrylic scratches easily but you need a proper power tool to etch like the laser.

On Tuesday we had our philosophy discussion on Nietzsche’s book and I liked the concept of opposing Appolistic and Dionysiac forces, the former being this veil to mask the true world and the latter being primal urges and truth. It was almost this push and pull that I had been experiencing within my work – the primal carving methods were calling to me!

In the afternoon we had a lecture from Professor Mary Modeen, this time on ‘Modes of Representation’. If anything this lecture only made me surer of the abstract route I wanted to go down, though as we learned in the lecture – ‘everything is always an abstraction of something.’

On Wednesday morning our Humanities seminar was on ‘Las Meninas’ by Foucault which is a very intriguing piece of writing, I would recommend you to read it if you haven’t. I already knew the painting (I think it’s one of everyone’s favourites as it’s so enigmatic) and so it was great to hear Foucault’s opinions. Afterwards, I received an email telling me the etcher had arrived (thanks Amazon Prime) and I rushed home in the afternoon to try it out. Little did I know the book I had preordered – Caitlin Doughty’s From Here To Eternity had arrived, so I said the usual which was ‘I’ll just read a couple of pages’ and ended up reading almost the entire thing (review coming soon!) You can see my post on her other book here if you haven’t already read it.

Anyway finally during the evening I got around to the etcher and wow it was strange to get used to it. It kind of looks like a drill with a pen attachment and it was very difficult to control and hold. After a lot of practice I managed to get the hang of it. I really blew me away as there are different attachments, one like a pen, one that makes marks like charcoal etc. Of course I am sure they are all for woodworking and metal uses but nevertheless I like to repurpose tools to my ideas.

I don’t think I have mentioned this before but I have taken up meditation within the last couple of weeks and I am really enjoying it. I tried to incorporate this mindset into my drawing, almost letting the machine draw for me and just emptying my mind of all thoughts or concerns about the final outcome. I feel like this is an integral part of the work, kind of losing my preconceptions about the piece. To my delight I discovered the the etcher not only ‘draws’ but can also carve into the acrylic, therefore the final outcome is something of a hybrid between sculpture and line drawing. It looked like thread or neuron tangles and I like to think I was drawing thoughts or feelings as they came to me.

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Test piece to try out etcher.

First attempt

First proper attempt at hand etching

During Thursday’s Lecture with Mary Modeen on ‘Contingency in art’ it reinfored some of my thoughts, like the process becoming part of the artwork and ’embracing the aleatoric’ something that happens a lot with this technique as I never feel like i’m fully in control of the machine. I love the feeling of creating something physical again, of getting covered in acrylic at the end of a etching session.

On Friday I spent the whole day etching a piece of mirrored acrylic I bought in the art shop, and discovered it was almost like painting as the metal reflects and reacts differently to the tool.

Mirror test

Back of mirror of test piece

Phew, so a busy week then all in all! Check out my Instagram and my Facebook as I am planning to put a lot more photographs and video updates this year than I have done in the past. Catch you all next week!

Week 3: Learning to Laser Cut…Again

This week I decided my priority was to get back on the laser cutter. It’s been a good few months since I’ve created anything so the thought of getting back on and familiarising myself with the machine seemed like as good a plan as any.

Monday was spent reading Aristotle’s Poetics for the Tragedy’s Figures philosophy module. I decided to have a go and audit the philosophy module as I like Professor Mark Robson’s style of seminars. Monday afternoon I was back in the laser cutter and had an attempt at laser etching some of the textures and prints I had created. It took a while to become accustomed to the process again, but kind of like riding a bike I hadn’t really forgotten although it took me longer than usual.

On Tuesday I audited the philosophy lecture. It was strange because I really thought I would be out of my depth reading Aristotle and participating in the discussion. It turns out though there isn’t really a ‘wrong answer’ in philosophy and I really enjoyed the exchange of ideas. It is something I am getting used to and beginning to really look forward to. I think instead of sitting in a two hour lecture and falling asleep it is a really great way to become engaged with the topic and ultimately remember it.

That afternoon we had a lecture followed by a seminar from Graham Fagan. He talked about his work and the idea of ‘form’. It was great to hear him speak about his work and his process and I found the part where he discusses consciousness particularly intriguing. The seminar afterwards was slightly difficult for me to follow but it was fascinating to hear everyone’s points of view on ‘form’ in relation to their artwork.

Wednesday was my humanities lecture day and we discussed Walter Benjamin’s work ‘The Work of Art in Age of It’s Technological Reproducibility.’ This particularly interested me as I work with digital media so it was great to see all the differing opinions Benjamin had as to what constitutes an artwork and how in his opinion it’s ‘Aura’ gets lost in the act of reproduction. It was also great to discuss how works of art remain so when they are reproduced – the Mona Lisa for example – and why as humans we have this need to collect things like postcards with the artwork on.

Wednesday afternoon the laser cutter was fully booked for tutorials so I took to the library to read ‘the Search for the Real in the Visual Arts’ by Hans Hofmann. At the weekend I had been walking down by the city quay and was inspired by a sculpture there. It was layers of stone when lined up right you could view the river Tay through. I thought of an idea to layer pieces of acrylic up like this – maybe just a few to start with and then more as I figured it out. I began editing photographs of some birds I had taken to try it out.

Sculpture Installation that inspired me.

Thursday afternoon we had another lecture with Professor Mary Modeen, this time entitled ‘The Agency of the Artist.’ We had to ask ourselves what agency meant and we learned that it can be many things including power, the ability to affect change, intervention and taking action. In the seminar we discussed the Hofmann reading and I particularly liked his use of the words ‘magical’ and ‘spiritual’ in art as it related back to our readings earlier on Tuesday and the idea that art has a physical presence or ‘Aura’.

An idea was brought up in the lecture was the concept of the ‘Anthropocene’ – ‘the proposed epoch dating from the commencement of significant human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems, including, but not limited to, anthropogenic climate change.’ This really intrigues me and I would like to explore this idea in my art practice as I work with a lot of digital media and we live in an increasingly digital age. After the seminar I had a little mooch around the art shop and bought some acrylic that I felt would work really well for my layering experiments.

After a few trial runs of etching that didn’t turn out so favourably on Friday morning, I finally managed to get the etching working correctly. The machine had to be set slightly differently as the acrylic was 3mm instead of 5mm. It took a while but I managed to get a test piece of work finished. I’m not sure it came out entirely as I wanted it to, I need to play about with more defined layers and contrast next time, although there’s something about the hazy dreamy quality that intrigues me.

All in all it was a good productive week and I am looking forward in particular next week to more philosophy discussions, we are reading Fredrick Nietzsche’s ‘The Birth of Tragedy.’ Will update you all next week!

 

 

Week 2: Psychology and Philosophy

I really look forward to these weekly summaries. This week the main topic of discussion was what it meant to ‘dwell’ and the difference between just ‘dwelling’ and ‘dwelling poetically.’ I think these blog posts really help me to ‘dwell poetically’ in the sense of collecting and analysing my thought processes.

Monday was a reading day for me. As I mentioned in last week’s blog post, there is a lot of reading on this course. Not that I mind (I love reading) but more specifically we are being taught to analyse whilst reading, which is a new concept to me.

The two essay readings we were given this week were ‘Moses of Michelangelo’ by Sigmund Freud and ‘Poetically Man Dwells’, a passage from Marin Heidegger on a poem written by Friedrich Holderlin.

For week 10 we are discussing the book ‘How to Be Both’ by Ali Smith, so I finished reading the first half of that in the afternoon.

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On Tuesday we were lucky to be taken on a tour of the McManus galleries by Professor Callum Colvin who has an exhibition there at the moment called ‘Museography.’ His work interests me greatly as I used museum collections in my degree show work. It was a real treat for our group to be shown around the exhibition by Callum himself, who was able to talk us through all of his artwork. His method uses a unique combination of painting, photography and installation and it was great to see the images up close. I particularly enjoyed his Anamorphosis piece – a cylindrical mirror which clarifies a distorted image placed in front of it; extremely clever and captivating.

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It was great to have a look around the McManus collections again and I sat for a while looking at my favourite piece ‘Dante’s Dream’ by Rosetti. I will always have a soft spot for the pre-raphaelites – my SQA higher work was based around them.

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On Wednesday we had our first Humanities module lecture. I was a bit nervous about the fact that we were to be discussing Freud as, although I have read him for sheer enjoyment before, I can’t say I’ve ever felt like I had fully understood his work. I need not have worried however, as the discussion was extremely enjoyable. It was intriguing to find out how this particular piece of writing related to his psychoanalysis techniques, specifically ‘talking therapy’ and looking back through a patient’s history. This is what he was doing in ‘Moses of Michelangelo’ just with an art piece instead of a patient. It was also interesting to see how he argued throughout the whole essay with himself to try and come to some conclusion as to why he felt a certain way about the work.

On Wednesday afternoon I went back to the studio and pulled together some photographic inspiration for my studio work. I also changed some of the layout (I like to work over my studio space again and again, like a constantly shifting painting). This included hanging up my bubble prints I had finished the week before.

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On Thursday we had our third lecture from Mary Modeen, this time entitled:

‘Thinking about Indeterminate Relations’ – Deconstructing our knowledge of ‘seemingness’ and Embracing the Unknown.

Have you ever heard a more glorious title of a lecture? I’m willing to bet not. It would be accurate to say her lectures are nothing short of spectacular. While my head hurt a lot at the end, I definitely felt my life had definitely changed in some way that I struggled to explain. She spoke about how as children we are taught to see objects by name and that if we looked at language a different way other than just ‘naming’ it can really free us from a lot a preconceptions. For example there is no such thing as ‘solid’. We might say “This ground is solid” but actually the ground is shifting, moving and changing on tectonic plates all of the time. The same way everything in the universe is made up of atoms all shifting around constantly – there are no ‘outlines’ as such.

All of this really spoke to me as I am interested in this concept of ‘shifting’ for my practical work. I like the prospect of my images shifting and changing in front of the viewer – something which I stumbled on completely by chance at the end of last semester with the shifting etchings, but I never fully had the chance to explore – I guess you could say that due to the ‘Aleatoric’ – a chance happening which was the word of the week!

This coming week I intend to get back on to the laser cutter and reacquaint myself with the controls and try some test etchings on a spare piece of acrylic. On Friday I spent the day editing some scanned imaged of the ink tests that I have been working on to prepare them for etching on Monday.

So in summary then I am thoroughly enjoying the course so far. Again, I wasn’t expecting it but it has already introduced so many philosophical questions and thoughts about my artwork that really resonate with me. I am definitely excited to see where this course will take me. Until next week…

 

 

Week 1: Playing Artfully

So here we go again… week one of the MFA Art and Humanities course. It doesn’t seem any time at all since I was typing the same for the final year of my Bachelor’s Degree and so much has happened since then.

I guess the first important piece of information I should share with you is that I won a scholarship. This means that my tuition costs for the course are paid for and I get £6K tax free for living costs, which is pretty astounding. I almost didn’t believe it when I received the email! It has taken huge weight off of my shoulders and I feel now I can just relax into the course.

I’m looking forward to sharing this journey with all of you. From what I’ve experienced of the course so far, I can already tell that it will be pretty life changing. It already has me thinking about so many aspects of my work that I’d really never considered before now. So here’s the run down of the first week…

On Monday morning we had our first meeting. There we had a run through of the course structure and it was an opportunity to meet everyone I will be sharing this journey with. We had only met briefly the week before to matriculate, so it was good to speak about what materials everyone works with. There are about 28 of us in total – the largest year so far which I think speaks volumes about the popularity of the course. We have a huge array of different disciplinary artists, from painters to jewellers and everything in between. Our course comprises of an Art module and a Humanities module, both of which seem to intertwine to inform our practice so I’m looking forward to the change of pace. During this meeting I was crowned the ‘Queen of Seminar Spaces’ (not as fancy as it sounds) which means I am in charge of the communal seminar space near our studios. I definitely want to get a yoga morning and a wine and cheese evening up and running in there which all sounds like good fun to me.

After the meeting in the morning we then had a chance to settle into our studio spaces. They had already been assigned during matriculation week, but it was good to get properly set up and start putting ideas up on the walls. I have a nice corner of a room with a little storage chest. It was so nice to finally be in a studio space again after lacking one all summer and I had put up some ink and paper tests inspired by the ocean which I had been working on.

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On Tuesday we had our first lecture from Professor Mary Modeen the course director. The title was ‘Playing Artfully’ and explored the concept of ‘play’ and experimentation within art practices. This lecture really struck a chord with me. Play is something that I advocate strongly both within Aces and my nursing home art sessions. It at once occurred to me that although I am a strong believer in the concept, I have never really turned the tables on myself and focused on free experimentation within my own practice. I have always been quite a control freak, especially in regards to editing images with photography and I think that is something that is important for me to relinquish this year, at least in the initial stages of experimentation. After the one hour lecture we then had a one hour seminar. We all sat and played with plasticine while discussing some topics and I think that was a genius idea. I reckon I haven’t touched plasticine since I was about 5 but it’s so fun.

Afterwards, in the spirit of this lecture I found a tube of bubbles that were left behind by the previous year which I was determined to try and print with. It turned out just adding ink to the bubble mix however seemed to compromise the solution and wasn’t concentrated enough to make a mark on the page, so I vowed to try again the next day.

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On Tuesday night 5:30-7:30pm we had our first Humanities module seminar. This was taken in the Dalhousie building which was a nice change from the art school. We were discussing the definitions, connotations and historical development of the words ‘culture’ and ‘criticism’ and how they relate to the art world. A seminar like this was completely different to anything I have ever experienced. Especially in fourth year, we didn’t even have any lectures at all, never mind partake in an active discussion! The majority of the discussion I understood, but some of it was quite convoluted to follow. I imagine that is something I will get used to, but for the moment it’s quite a – to use one of the terms discussed in the seminar – culture shock.

On Wednesday we had a free day and so I was determined to get back into the studio to complete my quest to print bubbles. I discovered that I was better placing the paper onto the bubbles after blowing them, because they hold their shape for longer. After a lot of trial and error I eventually managed to achieve the bubble prints I had been wanting! I loved the unpredictable abstract nature and the surprise of not knowing what the print was going to look like until I lifted it off the surface. It was very childlike, completely in the spirit of the Tuesday lecture.

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On Thursday we had our second lecture of the week from Mary. This time the title was ‘What Makes Contemporary Art Contemporary?’ Another concept which just blew my mind. How was that a question I had never considered before now?! Well it turns out the answer isn’t a simple one. Afterwards we all moved to the seminar space for another discussion and this one was intense. As with the Tuesday lecture, it was a fast-paced exchange of ideas and thoughts which left me with a bit of a headache afterwards. Not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because it required a lot of hard concentration. Following these discussions is a new process that I will have to get used to. I thoroughly enjoy them but I find it difficult to interject with my thoughts as it is so fast paced and by the time I refine a point to make we are already three topics ahead.

I am really enjoying the fact that this course isn’t just an extension of fourth year though, it is much more than that. Already I can see development in my practice from just week one, so goodness know what will happen by week 15.

Not much to speak about on Friday. As you all know I suffered from sepsis a few months ago so I am undergoing blood tests at the moment just to check everything is okay on that front. I had another one midday on Friday due to the fact that the hospital had lost one of my blood samples the previous week (how does that even happen?!) So I was feeling a bit rotten after them poking and prodding me and decided to go home and read the material for the Wednesday Humanities lecture, which is Freud’s writing on the Moses of Michelangelo.

So there’s the run down of this week. I am looking forward to getting stuck in to this course. The winning of a scholarship kind of validates to me that I am doing the right thing by studying this course. It was something I had wanted to do since I attended my first Master’s Show in 2013 and I’m glad I finally have the chance to do that now without worrying about the cost. See you all next week!

Learning from the Masters

After visiting the 2017 DJCAD Master’s show I thought I’d write a little bit about what I enjoyed from the MFA Art and Humanities exhibition, seeing as I am going to be starting the course next week.

The whole show was really strong this year and I especially enjoyed getting to look around an exhibition as opposed to sitting beside my work in degree show – even though that was fun too! It’s just exciting to be able to emerge yourself in an exhibition and spend a whole day getting lost amongst the art.

One of the artists that really caught my attention was Gordon MacKenzie. He explored concepts of identity as self through photography. I really loved the minimalistic display and the starkness of the black and white photographs against the white walls. The large scale of the photography made the images substantially arresting and provided stunning detail. I loved the mixture of landscape and figurative work. The mystery behind each person portrayed in the images was really fascinating and it was definitely an incredibly well executed show.

Another artist that caught my attention was Ruaridh Lever-Hogg. I reviewed his work in the 2016 degree show and so it was great to see the progress and direction his work has taken since then. He has focused on colour and paint in his work, creating incredibly realistic paintings of paint covered faces. It was great to see the detail up close and they had a really profound impact displayed all together. It was such a simple idea and yet it was incredibly complex at the same time.

Miriam Mallalieu’s work was on first glance visually arresting. Hundreds of images from the 1948 Encyclopedia Brittanica line shelves on a black background. Her work focuses on organisation and archiving. The clever display of these images project a prediction of what the future was predicted to be like, as well as a snapshot of what the world was like at that time – almost simulating an incredibly detailed film reel. I spent a good amount of time becoming lost in the images on the walls, wondering about the people in the images and the lives they led.

So that was the work of just a few artists that impressed me at the Master’s Show. I didn’t take too many photos as sometimes it’s a nice change just to experience artwork first hand instead of looking through a lens all the time. You can find all the artist’s work on display at the show here if you wish to have a browse.

It’s always refreshing walking around an exhibition and picking up tips and inspiration here and there for your own artistic practice. It definitely made me incredibly excited to start the course and I cannot wait to make work again.

 

An Interesting Book About Death

I recently read an interesting book about death. That’s a great first line, isn’t it?

I guess my family talks about death more often than most. This is because my Dad works in the funeral business as a hearse driver predominantly, but also as a ‘transporter’ – picking up dead bodies and taking them to the funeral home. Before he started that job it just never occurred to me how many people die on a daily basis as silly as that sounds. You don’t hear about it often unless it is someone that you know. Especially as a 22 year old, mortality has never been a particularly high concern on my list.

As many of you know I had my own dance with death a couple of months back (read it here if you missed it). Since then I guess I’ve been a bit paranoid. It is only now that I have been able to take time to reflect back on what was a life changing experience. Confronting my own mortality.

During my illness I became suddenly very aware of my own impermanence – we all are living organisms constantly changing. I remember studying this concept when I researched Buddhism but until you experience it first hand it’s difficult to comprehend. The abscess in my body was slowly killing me and there was nothing I could do to stop it. The only way I can describe the feeling was like losing some sort of unexplainable fight, piece by piece.

I distinctly remember lying at 2am in the hospital bed. The only thing I could feel was the abscess somewhere inside of me throbbing, slowly distributing poison throughout my bloodstream. It had swollen so large over such a short period of time that I was so terrified at that moment the abscess would rupture and kill me instantly.

A sort of uncontrollable primal panic seized me.

I wasn’t afraid of death itself, rather, everything that went along with it. Could everybody cope without me? I was sad all the plans I had might not be fulfilled. 

I didn’t die, thankfully, and a few weeks into recovery I stumbled across Caitlin Doughty through her Youtube series ‘Ask a Mortician’ where she covers topics on anything from body decomposition to funeral procedures. It was refreshing, insightful and strangely relieving. Death is, after all, as natural as birth. Yet we don’t talk about it.

When I found out she had written a book on her experiences I knew immediately I wanted to read it. ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ is a memoir of sorts, about her work as a mortician and her views on death and the funeral industry – albeit from an American perspective.

It’s a fascinatingly morbid yet captivating read, and I would highly recommend it.

“We’re all just future corpses” she writes with unapologetic frankness.

I guess I got lucky this time.

Update: You Can Now Own My Work!

A super quick blog post to say you can now purchase my work online from Art Pistol’s website! It’s a great chance to own a piece of my work and I have a lot of limited edition affordable test pieces up there! You can click here to visit the site or click the link on my ‘buy/commissions’ tab :)