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Consciousness is an Illusion I Cultivate

As he came out of the crowd, he found himself
and in that moment saw the world as it is
Photograph – pre-fired glazed porcelain

With the start of a new year, I continue revisiting and finishing old work while developing new projects. The key for this year is that everything I do is consciously connected with everything else at a subliminal level.

These are some of the principles or approaches I am currently following:

experiment in the light of experience; cross thresholds with courage and extend them with diligence; conclusions are not the end but the well-spring of enquiry; I look not for affirmation in outcomes but focus on the anticipation of where they might lead; I do not try to please anyone but myself; I break my own rules but keep the discipline of rigour; to simplify takes time; always write and draw in equal measure; think in poetic terms; identity is not a subject, it is being; think critically after and before doing, not during; finish everything however bad I think it is – what starts badly often ends the best; evolution is not improvement, it is adaptation; work on different projects at the same time, each one will feed the other; draw from life, that way I understand how the subject turns and fills space; repairing what is broken is an act of love; the importance of art lies in its giving significance to things in life; poetry unifies that which has become separated; consciousness is an illusion I cultivate; keep wondering, look at the moon; all I have said is mutable.

Mass, Gravity and Life

What is the Meaning of this Intrusion

This second drawing of the current series shows me an early pattern may be emerging. The space surrounding an object is affected by it and is part of it. It is almost as though the one becomes the other. Gravity is often explained as mass changing the geometry of space, warping it so that movement which would otherwise be in a straight line is directed towards the object. Similarly, the interlocking fields of lines, as strokes delineating form and creating presence, are shaped by the subject’s mass. This is not just a technique for drawing but a philosophy. But looking at it from another angle, they would work well as etchings or lithographs.

But the drawings are not only about the objects as models. They are drawn out from deep-seated notions embedded in the existential. Bringing inanimate things to life is as old as humanity. Creating life is the other side of magical thinking to the defeat of death. Pygmalion, Frankenstein, and Golem manifest this in myth and storytelling. I see the drawings as animation, not in the literary sense, but as a sensory metaphor that ignites thought and response. It is a presence that becomes a reality, allowed to exist as the thing that embodies it. If it does this for me, it may also do the same for some other person.

Lines, Titles and Poetry

I Listen to the Bombs and Drones and Hear Nothing in this Silent Place – graphite on paper 2023

I am coming back to drawing in a full circle with my beginning, but with a deeper understanding of what it is for me to draw; its purpose and meaning. Starting with the latter, I now envision drawing as the bringing forth of something that has fallen before me and giving it life. I treat the line as a plastic material, a medium that possesses mass, yet it remains conceptual at its heart. Drawing shapes the mind into thinking something into being, a thing that has presence and not only significance. Searching amongst the debris of ideas that I have waded through over the years is being connected as rasa on a string; along a thread of long consciousness drawn through tropes and objects that emerge from a plasma.

Titles are as fluid as the ideas that emerge from doing a work. I cannot settle on one or another. I am drawn to changing a work’s name and not fixing it. To bind an idea to a single title is like saying that a thing cannot be anything other than what it is at any one moment. Titles add layers to work but should not define it. A title serves as an identifier of some aspects of its meaning, making, and placing, but it should not mark its end. Words label the world and things in it. That worded world’s coming into being is of limited form, one of an infinite many. It is labelled by the relative fixedness of what we understand to be the meaning of words. As poetry tries to transcend this limitation through ambiguity, I see a title as necessarily a temporary and mutable part of an artwork’s identity.

Fleeting, Permeability and Night

This is Where I Draw: Nighttime photograph 16122023

I have often walked into the studio at night when all the lights are out and the moon casts moving shafts of pearlescent light onto the floor. These fleeting moments turn into instances of excitement which are rapidly gone. The studio at night is another land, of shadows and lights that throw thoughts of work in different directions. Four nights ago there was no moonlight but I saw a moment in the night-life of the chapel that captured the expectant sense I have when walking into it. The table where I draw, where my work meets Janet’s, a permeable membrane where ideas are filtered and passed to and fro between us.

From Cloud to Clod

The title of this post comes from an original idea Janet came to some years back. Living in rural Lincolnshire, we are surrounded by sky and land, clouds and clods, particularly evident in the ploughing seasons. She mused on clouds as a metaphor for ideas in constant formation, fostered by her readings of Wordsworth. She looked up the etymology of the two words. Their connection resides in their similarity in form. This is a poetic relationship, made more interesting by the opposition of substance: one heavy and dense, the other vapour at the whim of winds and temperature.

Much of our work draws from our surroundings. We are very different in our approaches. Janet sees an ascension of the clod to the cloud, of material transformed into ideas. I envision clouds coming down to earth, making ideas tangible material. That is why I have reversed Janet’s phrase when writing the title for this post. The descent from the sky to earth is a motif in my most recent poetry, Clouds Descend (on a Walk Down Fen Lane) and Bird. I am enthralled when I see dark clouds close to the ground, sweeping across the horizon. I make a reference to this in The Divine Birth of Ash. The exchange of views and ideas centred around commonly held values in our daily lives has always been a source of inspiration and interest.

A few days ago, I finished a series of small graphite drawings of porcelain shapes I made about three years ago. The models originated in a present I made for Einar for his first birthday, intended as sensory toys to encourage handling skills and feel for form. Variously arranged in simple compositions, I was not attempting to render them academically. The impetus for drawing them was to chase their mass as an emanation of energy from within, each according to their nature.

If only I could see the shape of your scent scattered into memory and desire, I would draw it forever.

For some time, I have thought of making similar pieces on a large scale using lime mortar with an armature. When cured, the mortar is like limestone. I have researched materials, but that is as far as I have got. I am constantly distracted. A few days ago, I tried to make such shapes with stoneware clay but ended up with two open models and one tall vase-like object. These, in themselves, suggest other things and have created another thread of enquiry. It is a question of going with the flow while maintaining focus.

This flow has moved in the direction of a curve from past to present, joining work from different periods in my work to almost forming a circle, but not quite. There is room for spiralling experimentation and expansion, perhaps more so than ever. The coming together of seemingly disparate parts of my practice is giving insights into my core interests – surprise is always welcome.

I am currently moving from one project to another. This allows me space to stand back and reflect on mistakes and possibilities. It stops me from overthinking during making and avoids my tendency to try and make something into what it is not.

Writing is where I can apply critical thinking when not engaged in making. This should be reserved for more intuitive action. I am mindful of the point at which intuition and freshness are lost.

This is not…

detail of graphite drawing

I have not blogged for around three years. I have missed doing so. Curating a blog is an invaluable way of reflecting on work rather than in it. Life has intervened and created inevitable distractions causing a sort of hiatus in my visual art practice. Well, not quite – I have done work and learnt new skills, more than I might realise, but as much as I would have liked.1I will post about the small projects in the future However, things do not last forever, and here I am, creating a new post in the vein of where I had left off at the end of the MA at UAL – MA Journal.

I have looked at the MA blog but with no real intention of blogging. A few days ago, I visited it again looking for some ideas, I was more receptive to the idea of carrying on blogging, it was a revelation. The content is as fresh as I remember it and presents itself to me as the invaluable source that I had hoped it would be. What also surprised me was, how my thoughts then are so very relevant to my thinking at this moment.

I did a lot of searching during the MA. Since graduating, I have continued in the spirit of exploration. It has become clear that what I am now doing has its origins right at the start, from childhood and adolescence. The difference is one of skill, and understanding coming from doing, doing, doing. There are indelible threads that run through everything. Looking through my parents’ papers when sorting out their estate, I came across a poem I had written while at school when I was fourteen. It has the same traits and cadences found in my most recent writings. Regardless of subject matter, theme or motif, there is a sense of form, of mass whether when using words, colour tone or resistance materials that are dense and raw. I now feel able to make use of that clarified essence with directness, avoiding the uncertainties of taste, influence or judgment.

(Road to Ortimino) – 1991 – 91 x 102 cm, oil on linen, This is one of the last paintings, if not the last, I did in Italy. In essence, things have not changed since then and before. The detail of the drawing above is from about two weeks ago of shapes in porcelain I made in 2021. The same preoccupation with mass seems to have followed me throughout my life.

I talk of limitations because I have just read something by Lev Manovich that chimes perfectly with what I have thought for a long time regarding the artist and technology. In his ‘A Letter to a Young Artist‘ in which he deals with the problem of creativity, art practice, and artificial intelligence, he manages to simply put the same thing that Delacroix said nearly two hundred years ago. To make strengths out of your weaknesses.

So what is our principal weakness that purportedly we can use as a trump card in the creativity race against technology? AI has all the knowledge stored on the internet at its fingertips or soon will have. Secondly, AI is evolving its computational and motor capabilities at a speed that makes our biological and cultural evolution glacially slow. Soon AI will be able to do anything it is ordered to do, or even of its own accord, and improve on it. So why compete with a god? Even collaborations would look anything but.

It is that limitation that gives us the get-out-of-jail-free card of future creative irrelevance. In the limitations stakes, we are sure-fire winners. Compared to AI we will be able to do very little and slowly. That is what will give us direction as artists. We will be forced to narrow our focus and dig deep, very deep. So deep that AI will not be able to follow us down the labyrinth of our narrow limitations because it is so large and all-encompassing to enter into our human micro world. Manovich is telling us not to try to compete with AI and forget about being ‘creative’ – be limited. That is the very conclusion I had already come to. As an artist, I shall let AI do what it is good at and accept being human, do what fascinates me and become deeply immersed in the ramifications and minutiae of my imagination.

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    I will post about the small projects in the future