Too much gloss - too much fine-tuning - too much surface - too much superficial sheen - too much polish. Not enough blemish - not enough imperfection - not enough foible - not enough fallibility - not enough spit. Masses of potential - loads of opportunities - plentiful solutions - permutations galore but not enough risk ….. and not enough spit.
What do I mean by spit? Not easy to explain but it has to do with immediacy and uncertainty exemplified through an insatiable desire to dive into unknown waters. It has something to do with residue or evidence left behind during and after drawing or doing - something to do with mess. Activity within the computing environment doesn't usually accommodate residue, slippage, spillage, accident, smudge, or the bits one might expect to have to deal with, to exclude (if working with other media), or those bits one has not yet noticed, but might with further consideration acknowledge as integral to the drawing or doing. This is what I'm after.
Ideas and concerns of my own drawing practice.
The works extend the concept of drawing as visual conjecture toward unseen possibilities. I advocate drawing as imagination, probing and confrontation rather than entertainment, progression and improvement. Wherever there is a tendency for visual decisions and evidence to be predicated by medium or habit, there is a need to persist in engagement in terms of purpose rather than style.
When asked that incessant question, "What do you do?" I reply, "I am a drawer". There were times when I had great difficulty in responding, feeling as I did that I did not belong to a prescribed practice - painter, sculptor, printmaker, film maker, even fine artist. When working with 'stuff' in the material world I am involved with trying to realise that which I do not know, see that which I have not seen. Nothing has changed through the intervening years; I am still pursuing the same track. We now acknowledge the 'digital' as commonplace but if I construct a wireframe within a program like 3D Studio Max, what exactly am I doing? I believe that I am drawing. I know that I am not painting, sculpting, printmaking, filming - perhaps I'm not even making - but I am drawing. The experience and knowledge derived from previous practical pursuits in the material world serve to inform my thinking and working procedures (quite often constraining them) but those decisions regarding what I do and what to do next are governed primarily by my experience as a drawer. My projections or conjectures with regard to the intangible stem from an awareness of the tangible and those of the invisible from an awareness of the visible and vice versa.
The recent series of works - fleshscapes (entitled Vestige#1 etc.,) are composites of layered information. Body image is overlaid using the disturbance or interference factor of a mesh or stencil. These stencils are various and constructed - square, circular, rectilinear, hexagonal, perpendicular, at an angle etc. The negative and the positive are delegated according to figure/ground within the mesh itself. For example the circular motifs within each mesh might allow a previous body layer to be exposed, or these motifs might be considered as positive and that which surrounds them negative. Modes of working within the material world are extended in the digital environment whilst maintaining a sense of appropriateness of means. Awareness of the working realm -
materials, properties, constraints, procedures etc., locates and informs the work and initiates ideas and the directions of the work. The work is a result of a precarious but essential balancing act between knowing and not knowing. My hope is that my engagement with the digital is on the basis of genuine exploration of opportunities and possibilities particular and peculiar to that realm as opposed to the imitation of manual technologies. Visual engagement based on an exploration of possibility is preferable to replication. Drawing is that form of visual conjecture which takes place prior to, during and after the activity of doing, whether the activity involves graphite sticks or computers.
Where as opposed to what is drawing now?
Many artists and designers will say that in order to be able to see one must draw, or that the doing of drawing enables seeing. Feeling, thinking, doing and seeing (what has been done, as well as what is being done) are intrinsic and central to drawing. If one were to take a metre ruler, calibrated from 0 to 100 centimetres, 99.9 centimetres of that ruler could be considered as drawing and the remaining 0.1 centimetres as the moment when what has been done, or the work, becomes finite. Drawing is the means of thinking visually, the to'ing and fro'ing of forming - the means through which one thinks, makes, breaks and then thinks and makes again until the end of the ruler is reached. It is the beginning of work and might sometimes be realised as the end, or as a work in itself. As such it is as critical to the future as it has been in the past. Asked to define drawing (and I'm not sure that drawing has been defined to date) I would have to decline. Not simply avoidance but rather in consideration of the non-specificity prevalent within the activity itself. I feel, as a practitioner, more able to respond to the question: 'Where (as opposed to what) is drawing now?' The 'what' seems to relate to the summation of a finite activity. I feel more able to comment upon what drawing is 'not' but even that presents a minefield of oppositional possibilities - so to be more/less specific/non specific.
Drawing is touch, trace, probing, failure, continuity, change, exploration, realisation, discourse, irrational, evidence, assimilation, cognition, contentious, encounter, recording, intention, experiential, indeterminate, logical, realising, rigorous, focus, actuality. Although it might not be! Drawing is not technique, facility, competence, representation, mark-making, language, aesthetics, depiction, doodle, discreet, gesture, habit, imitation, mechanical, monocular, original, inspired, predicated, sentimental, skill, static, style, talent, artificial. Although it might be! Drawing is not on paper although it might be.
What is new work that is inherently out of sight?
The activity of drawing enables focus upon any number of visual issues. High focus thinking relates to the logical and analytical whilst low focus thinking presents the opposite end of the spectrum, loss of control, creative fancy and an ability to be receptive to the unexpected or fantastic. The state of mind required when engaging with drawing involves high and/or low focus thinking. Drawing requires an approach that is alert, organised and rational in the preparatory sense, an ability to survey the immediate time, space and interruptions and a continual open-mindedness to the circumstance. What is new work that is inherently out of sight? How can we recognise that which has not yet been seen?
As human beings we assimilate our sensory experiences, we act out a form of simulated existence as part of a complex survival strategy and we intuitively learn how to cope in the world. Exposure to different ways of seeing, or seeing differently, requires risk-taking. As the technology train hurtles on unabated, providing ever faster, ever cheaper and ever easier means of solving problems and producing visual imagery, artists and designers face the very real problem of whether to simply keep up with it or to put themselves in the driving seat. Does form follow function or form follow program? Creative people have no desire to strap themselves to the front of the technology train. They may wish to slow down, get off or at times to travel even faster but they would insist on having the choice of direction. Constraints are inevitable and challenging but acceptance of the computer simply as a more convenient tool encourages the notion that one makes work facilitated by technique alone. Artists have never had problems using, adapting or sometimes even inventing tools as and when the need occurs. The electronic realm is just another step along the path of curiosity and invention, but it is a step which might allow us to engage with other aspects of space and time. The computer allows us another view of our world and new experiences, but it is an experiential and experimental approach to work, an acceptance of the necessity of risk and failure and the subjugation of technique which will allow those steps to go somewhere.
When questioning, searching within, or commenting upon the nature of the environment via whatever means, you are engaging in the actual and the real and the outcomes are in fact actual and real. The making of a drawing using physical substance, whether that is graphite on paper or finger through sand, results in an actuality - a drawing. When working within the electronic realm, the absence of substance does not necessarily denote that the results are not real. Visual thought remains a critical factor in the implementation of work. In its capacity to make the invisible visible, and for three-dimensional simulation, the computer allows for a re-spatialisation of the visual world. This can occur on an individual level, i.e. the relationship between artist or spectator and artwork (whatever form that takes, static, moving, multi-perspectival, or even simulated), or on a collective level, i.e. multimedia/media/plastic transmission/production of information or image. The computing environment can augment our ability to perceive the visual world.
Can one work with uncertainty within the computing environment?
The evolution of the computing environment owes much to artists who have insistently probed space. Deception is possible because seeing is believing. If one perceives the world by virtue of corporeal dependency, then perhaps one is incapable of perceiving the totality. Deception might be the norm. Breaking through the barrier of deception which human beings intuitively construct for themselves is at the heart of drawing practice: seeing that which might be obscured in everyday, conditioned perception. Uncertainty is a paramount condition of drawing. Drawing a two-dimensional reality on a two-dimensional surface from a three-dimensional reality demands an experiential acknowledgement of both. One is not making a copy or an illusion of three dimensions in two dimensions. Similarly, the activity of drawing within the computer does not have to be seen as making an illusion of three dimensions. The computer offers a peculiarly non-material association of mark in the equality of presence and the quality of mark through pixels. Traditional drawing is a physical act whereas drawing on or perhaps into a computer screen could be described as physical but different. Both activities are nonetheless real. The particular peculiarities of the computing or digital working environment cannot be ignored, but how do we allow a secretion of spit into the place/space/work. A relaxed acknowledgement of the digital environment, where strategic approaches can yield the unexpected and accident is allowed to happen, might enable spit. Then a mode of working which is governed by uncertainty and non-formulaic may become the norm within the computing environment.
Drawing promotes individual thought, action and, critically, reflection upon that action. Drawing endorses the right to fail. Drawing acknowledges totality - both sum and part. Drawing advocates an appropriateness of pursuit in relation to forming, be that physical or virtual. Drawing sanctions choice whether inclusive selection or exclusive semblance. What contribution has drawing made, can drawing make and where might drawing be evident in the present? Visual practitioners in their awareness of both previous and contemporary visual practice are both critical historians and critical observers whereby their personal critiques recognise what has happened, what is happening and what might happen. They aim to develop ways of thinking and working. They aim to offer alternative ways of functioning, which will meet the challenges of future visual practice. They aim to maintain current spit levels, to cultivate more spit and try not to get lost in the shine.