These drawing are from a recent trip to Poland to attend a conference on word and image at Kazimierz Wielki University in Bydgoszcz. I was presenting a paper about the experience of creating my graphic novel and how it posed some interesting questions about the dynamic relationship between text and image and how the narrative of the text takes on new dimensions through the medium of the comic. Some of the work from the graphic novel can be seen here…
To my eyes, Bydgoszcz was a friendly and beautiful city. I hope one can sense the warmth in these drawings through the clearly satirical bent, as there was full respect for the complex social, political and cultural landscape of the Poles. I got caught a few times, most notably by an old woman who sat next to me after I had quickly turned the page of a drawing I had just started of her. She sat next to me and rather unnervingly stared as I drew, giving audible bursts of approval. Needless to say I needed to find a new perch from which to draw.
Reportage drawing is the central focus of my Mphil/PhD study at the Royal College of Art and Design. I am looking at how the act reveals intuitive visual language and speaks to the multiple layers of both perception and commentary on the social, political and cultural conditions of the subjects themselves. I am also bringing in other reportage practitioners to contribute to a greater understanding of this highly challenging and revelatory act.
Here are some drawings done in London and St. Ives on holiday. We had some stunning weather and the beach was gorgeous. The seals were incredibly beautiful and for massive animals, moved with such grace underwater. The drawings reflect my interest in the exuberant moment. An ecstatic expression that while contained in lines and marks, extends our perception of the moment. Drawings capture moments but they also capture ideas. The drawings are prompted after all by an idea of something. Whether that is a formal interest in shape or tone or a commentary, it imprints the drawing with a purpose and a communal attachment to the circumstance of its making. What I like about drawing is that the thinking, feeling and making are unified into a singular, resonant image. It is difficult to strip out the humanity in a drawing and the echo of sensual experience in the act. We might own the drawing and control the circumstances of its making but we don’t own the experience of seeing the drawing. That is a delight all our own.
These are some drawings done in Portsmouth and Oudon in France. Time and circumstance puts much distance between these images so a collective theme is not worth identifying. There is a an exploration of real and social/political space mapped out in these drawings. I don’t believe in the necessity of the artist to justify the work that is created. I contend it is much more interesting giving the drawings ones own ‘reading’ and that the value of the work is in how it connects to your own experience (and perhaps prejudices). This communion with experience is also a connection with a place and circumstance that we may or may not have a tangible connection to. A drawing is an inevitable judgment, a series of decisions set in motion by some impetus whether it be a person, a place or an event. Looking at a drawing such as these reportage drawings, we are invited to see what the artist was thinking at that specific moment. That moment is no longer temporal as the drawing is fixed and we can closely read and discover the matrix of marks that, with united focus, say ‘look what I saw’.
I consider myself a slow learner when it comes to drawing. This might be because there is so much to know but it might be that its granularity, its slowness, is a large part of its pleasure. I am not referring to the act of drawing (which in my case is pretty quick) but the contemplation that exists between drawing. I spend a lot of time stalking my prey. A good drawing is only as good as the moment observed and that moment needs to be emblematic of something larger. Of course the closeness that I share with my subject, drawing and my own intentions, may not culminate in a readily understood drawing. This is why I post several drawings created within a relatively defined period. The thread between the drawings becomes clear when we see them next to each other in a dialogic exchange and as a group, speaking to the ways in which drawing communicates multiple layers of the human experience. A good drawing is infused with a kind of magic that has less to do with the accurate articulation of a specific person than it is an evocation of person, place or circumstance. I am learning now that the visual language of reportage drawing creates a kind of micro culture in these works that although wholly constructed and embellished by the artist, is deeply rooted in an intimate experience with real people and real places. The kind of truth that we readily assume is contained within a photograph is often too wrapped up in notions of objectivity. As Roland Barthes says of the photograph ‘it is a message without a code’. The ‘second meaning’ or ‘treatment’ of the image that happens in non analogous forms of art like drawing, are too often seen as a deviation from reality instead of, what I believe them to be in reportage drawing particularly, the summative expression of experience through visual language. The code is then visual language and the subjective expression of that language is an individual testament to a lived experience. Perhaps the visual truth that we should speak of is the successful articulation of that moment not in it’s believable rendering of people and places, but of our communion with the artist’s experience.
The following drawings were done in London last week as I attended New Designers in Islington.
These are some drawings done in a few hours walking around London. Starting in Paddington station, I moved towards Hyde Park and then finished at the cafe at the Royal Albert Hall. The extended moment that we are privileged to see in drawing is particularly unique in the kind of reportage that I am practicing here. While these people are surely observed and did exist (in a form prior to their reshuffling in my mind) the drawings frame that moment in a combination of marks and a construction of an implied or explicit narrative. This narrative is often only available to the artist when the drawing is done or, in those temporal moments when the action of drawing merges with unfolding thoughts and deeply felt impressions. Drawings, like thoughts, shift and change and it is this flexibility that makes creative reportage a dialogue with place. While the drawings may depart wildly from the real and observed, they could not have come to be without the feedback received by looking, thinking and making. In fact, if there is something vital to drawing itself (even work that is not anchored in observation) it is the bristling, inexorable link to a world that means something to us. This commitment happens first when the artist sees either through observation or in the minds eye, a discernible truth. Those temporal passages that speak in a variety of layered, symbolic shorthand, are a declaration of affirmed belief. We believe because the artist believes. And so the storyteller wanders on.
As always, illustration work can be seen at http://www.louisnetter.com
Reportage drawing is a complex activity bringing together several layers of experience, acquisition, intention and reflection. Through my own practice, and eventually the practice of other reportage artists, I am seeking to identify in the reportage act the simultaneity of seeing and depicting that reveals the inherent strategies, both intentional and intuitive, that are manifest in visual language. Reportage drawing is well suited to this path of inquiry because although it is undertaken in a variety of environments and with differing agendas, the act requires a high level of intuitive response to stimuli and concretely reveals strategies for articulating forms. Additionally, reportage drawing is often undertaken as a means to comment upon and extend ideas about society at large. It is my contention that the visual language of the reportage artist is imbued with the intent of the artist. This is particularly true of the reportage drawing that I engage with. My reportage drawing is heavily editorialized and my own visual language resembles an extensive graphic vocabulary that simultaneously renders form and comment.
Below are some recent drawings from Paris. Well, I composed them in my head in Paris but I drew them a day later back in London. What is lost and gained in working from memory is something I am very interested in. As these drawings are fairly successful, it does challenge the notion that reportage drawing is necessarily anchored to a time and place. That time and place can be as temporal as our perception at any given moment. These drawings then are a reflection. Perhaps that is what reportage drawing is; reflection in action.
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.