Meet the Ancestors

Lately I’ve been reviewing past themes in my work, looking for ways to tie things together visually and conceptually. This has happened to some extent so far in the Brown Paper Drawings, and in individual works at various times. I am looking for an overall theme, similar to the Family Photos, that pulls in a variety of subjects via the elements they have in common.and generates a body of work over an extended period.

It seems I already know broadly what it is, but it’s like having a shoe box full of somewhat random items that form a collection just by being put together. I need to explore this collection more in visual terms before giving it a name. The Ancestors, a group of paintings and drawings from some years ago, will be part of it.Scans0076

The Ancestors arrived through a variety of influences. I was doing some work based on pictures of mummified people; a visit to an exhibition of Aztec sculpture also fed into it; as did a very curious photograph of a protest group of marching men – who were all naked but for their shoes and all wearing identical full-head masks. It also linked to the family photos in that these pictures showed previous generations of my family, most of whom I hadn’t known personally. Some study of death rituals in other cultures also featured, and this gave the idea for the following painting, Family Dance, referring to the Malagasy custom of literally dancing with the dead, the wrapped bones of their relatives.Scans0077

These paintings are relatively small and done in soft Sennelier oil pastel.

Project work

For the past few weeks I’ve been working on a project agreed jointly with another artist, we have a theme and are working in parallel. This is under the umbrella of an artists’ buddying group organised by Blue Monkey Network based in Eastbourne, UK.  As my buddy and myself come from different backgrounds, working methods and experiences of art, we felt the joint project would give us a bridge to share ideas and technical information.

The theme of the project is ‘We are already forgetting you’. Steve provided a list of phrases that he had thought might inspire artwork, and this was the one I preferred. I spent some time thinking about it in technical terms, of ways of layering, diffusing and obscuring images. The work produced in this way was quite random. I then settled on the idea of a newspaper story that generates big headlines for a brief amount of time, but fades away as new incidents take over the media.

I had a couple of newspaper clippings from reports of serial murders that had been big news, and also some photos taken from the screen during a television documentary about the case. I produced a number of drawings, paintings and monoprints. Meanwhile, Steve and I  were meeting weekly as buddies and sharing the progress of the project and other issues of interest.

The buddying group was a six-week pilot project, so we knew we were aiming for a final presentation. Running out of time, I put the work together for a review and to decide where it might go next. This photo shows some of the reference pictures and artwork in my studio.PENTAX ImageIn review, I felt that the work replicated an earlier project, that artistically I was treading old ground. Also, in working through direct reference to the newspaper cuttings, I was uncomfortable about recycling a story that was not mine to tell and that would still have painful resonances for people personally involved (the crimes occurred in 2007 and there is a lot of information on the internet, though the murderer never confessed or gave his reasons).

It became obvious I should re-focus on the theme of ‘we are already forgetting you’ and could use some of the reference material and existing artwork in ways that represented a more abstract sense of how such news stories resonate in our own lives.One relatively incidental piece of work I had already done began to look more like a solution than a by-product, a small watercolour based on the visual  research, but in which no identifying elements remained.forgetting 9This is a different beginning rather than an end to the project. I don’t know where it will go next, there are other possibilities. Today I visited an art exhibition at a school – the exam projects of 16-year-old students – and I felt I’d learned something from them about process. Not that their processes are so different from mine, based on enabling the images to evolve, but it suggested a different perspective on what stage of the process I might be in.

Having worked alone since leaving college – decades, not just years – it was interesting to be so aware of sharing the work with the buddy, and ultimately, in some way, with the whole group. Again, a new perspective, and one that takes me out of my comfort zone. Food for thought.