If drawing is a visual language then it is certainly distinct in form and function to other languages. Every other language is concerned with the constituent parts. The letters, the words, the structures. Drawing is largely concerned with the end result. What is represented. We derive a host of meanings from how it is made and the strategies employed in rendering the forms but, the totality of the image is paramount. And it should be. Although not as brutal as having the magicians trick revealed, the analysis of drawing can make the drawing seem too determined, too constructed. But if we call drawing a language, we can also speak of the use of language in ways that are more poetic and befitting of an art object. Like language, drawing employs devices that challenge our assumptions and through a complex arrangement of developed notations (symbolic shorthand), the artist is speaking with a singular voice; more akin to spoken language with pitch and timing laid over the intended (or unintended) meaning of the words. Languages, like the places they reflect, have cultures and that is a compelling lens with which to see an artist’s world. A culture of one perhaps. Enjoy these drawings of London. More context for these characters to come. These are just people that called out to me.
The drawings below are from Long Beach Island New Jersey and New York City. Vacationers at the beach were in short supply or so the locals said at any given opportunity. It would seem the hurricane Sandy damage may have kept people away although the island had made a remarkable recovery with reminders at every restaurant and deli. A defiant ‘we will not be defeated’ seemed to ring out of every establishment. This was even with flood waters the year before being over a meter in height in the same places.
Long Beach Island was not what I expected. After years of seeing the classic circular LBI stickers on the back of wealthy SUV’s in Westchester NY, I imagined a more prosperous and, to be honest, more boutique beach side destination. It was a more down to earth New Yawk kind of place and I appreciated that. After living in England for 3 years, I am even more aware of the amount of money that Americans have to play with. It is decadent but it is a culture that I understand. This is how we roll so to speak. After a week of drawing, socialising with my family and eating for Uncle Sam, I remembered how seductive abundance was and how it was like a sedative, dampening my inclinations toward dissent. I was packing on the pounds trying to temporarily ignore my better instincts. It would seem from looking at my drawings, that the problem persists for many.
In this unsettled and uncertain moment in American life, America is doing better than most. It seems less to do with the facts on the ground than a powerful optimism that quickly shakes off set backs. It is hard to see an America that would ever fully embrace modest living and the sensible, conservative, well worn habits of its European fore fathers. History would suggest that transitions so extreme are less likely than out and out collapse. It would seem the ride isn’t over yet.
It occurred to me recently when I was trying to describe free association to a student that we make very strange connections in our mind that although outwardly absurd, reveal a distinct strategy. In this particular case I was demonstrating how one might think around the idea of Halloween and I started with pumpkins, and then went to face paint, throwing eggs, vandalism and finally incarceration. It was a tidy narrative, even moralistic! Drawings are also associative in that they are the summative combination of various ideas that may be related only by their cooperation in seeking a form. It is a confusing task to teach drawing and creative problem solving to budding artists. You want them to own their work but a significant truth lies waiting to be understood. Drawings, like our unfettered thought processes, cannot be tethered to some notion of control and ownership. The bad cliché ‘if you love something let it go’ is almost accurate. Just be careful you know what your drawings are saying behind your back.
John Berger said that every drawing is autobiographical by nature. What must people think about my drawings! My drawings are actually about people. People who have earned their faces. Good, bad or weird, there is a celebration of the well lived life. Even when that life amounts to gross excess or even callous disregard for others. We are the sum total of the granular day to day, minute to minute life we lead. Drawing for me is a kind of topography of lives lived and to extend the map metaphor, I am drawing destinations on a journey. It is a knowing wink and a nod that my drawings give back to me because they know that when I see them sparkle with decay, I too am equally doomed. Under the impenetrable gray English sky we can both laugh at the absurdity of it all.
After a miserable summer even by English standards, the first day of unadulterated sun and clear skies was like a gift from a god I thought had long abandoned us. Southsea was truly on parade with heavily tattooed men with wives or girlfriends in revealing questionable outfits and kids running feral and throwing beach pebbles at people passing by. I even managed to witness and capture that distinctly English rite of having a flask of tea regardless of the heat. It was glorious and the heat of the sun was making the lead of my graphite stick move across the paper like dirty butter. So at the end of the day, I had a bad sunburn, 5 drawings and a well deserved pint. Enjoy.
After dishing out more money than I ever would have thought for a pen on Ebay, I struggled to get what the fuss was about. The pen was no ordinary one. I am referring to the Mont Blanc 149 piston fountain pen. It is regarded by many as the best fountain pen in the world and according to some artists, it is a fine machine capable of keeping up with the hand and mind of the artist. After receiving it, I tested it on several sketch book pages. It was unremarkable. It felt sluggish and the line wasn’t as varied or as interesting as I had hoped. A big fat waste of cash. Then, I had a brainstorm. Perhaps a pen like this needed a surface that was firm enough to let it glide. Like a skater on freshly surfaced ice. I also imagined that bright white paper may be the best option as black ink would look most crisp. So, I purchased bright white illustration board and unscrewed the fine torpedo cap of the big (some call it a man’s pen but that is grossly narrow in my view) torpedo shape. Wow! It handled like the Porsche it really is. With no idea of what I was going to make other than a vague exploration of Portsmouth characters, the drawings flowed with the ideas and the pen was tremendously exciting to use. My reason for buying the pen in the first place was to have a new tool. More than that, to have a tool that combined what I love about etching and drawing and was more expedient to use in upcoming explorations into graphic novels and personal projects. Much more to come.
These drawings have been eagerly awaiting the warm glow of the computer screen for months. I have been meaning to get them up here but it has not happened. Finally, the dog gets walked. From the Isle of Wight Zoo and streets to Brighton and Bath, these drawings have little in common other than they were produced for pure enjoyment and, in regards to the colour pieces, as a kind of controlled experiment. I am starting to tap into the English frame of mind and I am constantly being surprised. Like any people of any nation, complexities abound especially when you move beyond the surface. My students are also inspiring me. As much of an old dog as I am, (an old dog that needs several walks) there is always a desire to push my image making capabilities to even greater heights. The shape of that is being formed in my head as we speak and may represent a further departure from realist subjects. For now, these drawings have their walk on the cyber stage. Enjoy.