‘There are places, just as there are people and objects and works of art, whose relationship of parts creates a mystery, an enchantment, which cannot be analysed.’ —Paul Nash, Outline, 1949
I went to see the Paul Nash exhibition at the Tate Britain. It was an overwhelming show. A huge collection of his works including watercolours, engravings, large oil paintings, collages, illustrations and poetry from his varied career. I wasn’t overly familiar with his work before attending, though I’d perhaps seen a few of his more famous surrealist paintings.
I didn’t know that he was a war artist in both World Wars. That he began his career as an illustrator. That he took a major role in organising the International Surrealist Exhibition in London 1936. I’m very keen to get my hands on his autobiography and learn more about him, but for now I wanted to share a couple of the pieces from the show that chimed with me.
Nash felt a strong connection to certain places. In 1938 he discovered ‘Monster Field’ a place where large fallen trees seemed to him to resemble beast-like creatures. He enjoyed returning there, though in a letter from the time he wrote that he had trouble remembering exactly how to find it. It seems to me he enjoyed the atmosphere of this field and those tree-creatures. They inspired him and he documented them in photos and a series of paintings. The branches reach out like tentacles and jagged shards of bark look like teeth.
I can relate to Nash’s Monster Field, some places have something very evocative about them. I have my own spots that can make me feel blissfully happy and serene, others that creep me up or that I feel strangely tied to though I can’t always explain why.
The other piece I particularly enjoyed ‘Swanage’ (1936) is a collage composed of photographs from Nash’s collection of found objects. Along with his fellow artist and friend Eileen Agar, they would place unusual objects together to create new and surreal encounters between them. Which they would then photograph, draw and paint. I love the muted colours in this piece. The shapes and forms, shadows and details that create an alien landscape.
The Paul Nash exhibition is running at the Tate Britain from 26th October – 5th March
Tickets approx £15
It’s January and the start of a shiny new year already, it hardly seems possible! Before I get stuck into my new year drawlutions (drawing – resolutions, anyone? Oh dear..) I wanted to have a quick look back at December and 2015. The ‘Easy As’ show was a lot of fun. Seeing everyone’s beautiful alphabet artwork displayed together was brilliant. With a real mix of styles, colour and approach from each artist.
Meeting and collaborating with the talented Drawn Chorus Collective was a great experience. On a personal level it was lovely to be exhibiting again and creating a piece that would have a physical life. Whilst I love working on games and apps, it feels great to see my work printed and framed up every so often. In case you missed it, here is my illustration ‘L for Lepidoptera’ and some photos from the private view.
I was lucky to work on some fantastic digital projects in 2015 such as Silverpoint. I got down to lots of sketching; including my Devon holiday and recent trip to Edinburgh (more on that soon!).
Moving from Brighton to London was a big change for me. It wasn’t until the tail end of the year that I really started to feel settled and get a feel for my own place in what can sometimes seem a daunting and isolating city. I now feel i’ve found my feet and am thrilled to be in such a happening space, with so many gigs, exhibitions and heaps of culture, plus meeting lovely people to boot. 2016 here we go!
I went to see the ‘Magnificent Obsessions’ exhibition at the Barbican. This is a series of rooms filled with the collections of 14 artists living and dead. On the quest as ever for something unusual to draw, I was pleased to find plenty of curious and odd objects to satisfy that need, but perusing the collections of each artist in turn got me thinking about the act of ‘collecting’ itself.
What does it mean to collect something? Is it the grouping together of near identical objects? Or It might be the differences of objects which allows you to bring them together; you like the way this jug looks when placed next to these silver handcuffs and this cactus. Or maybe you’re more categorical, bringing together stuffed animals like Damien Hirst, or grouping flora and fauna in a more general way.
The Victorians were big on collecting, and having a Cabinet of Curiosities (also known as a Kunstkammer, or Wonder Room) was quite a big status symbol, something to show your power and worldliness. Apparently even earlier in 1587, Christian the 1st of Saxony was advised that one needed 3 types of item in order to have a proper Kunstkammer:
1. Sculptures and paintings
2. Curious items from home and abroad
3. Antlers, horns, claws, feathers and other things belonging to strange and curious animals
For Andy Warhol and his collection of gaudy cookie jars the satisfaction may have come from the act of obtaining the jars rather than displaying or admiring them. It is said that after purchasing a jar, it could end up sitting unwrapped and unobserved in his studio. Not put out on display or organised in any pleasing fashion as they have been at the Barbican. It’s more about the buzz, the thrill of suddenly spotting that unusual object you crave, almost obscured beneath a pile of junk in a dingy back room at a flea market. Knowing that you had to have it and make it yours.
Not all collections have to be beautiful and pleasing. You might choose to collect something that disgusts or provokes. Peter Blake’s collection of creepy dolls and outlandish masks definitely give a different vibe than that of the beautiful intricate ‘Netsuke’
collected by British ceramic artist Edmuund De Waal. Netsuke being carved, button like toggles worn on Japanese Kimonos. He has tiny carved mice, hares and turtles sometimes made from ivory (eek) and sometimes bamboo amongst other outlandish materials.
The line between ‘STUFF’ and ‘A Collection’ is quite thin I feel. In one of the larger rooms at The Barbican’s exhib, German artist Hanne Darboven’s objects are on show.
A life size plastic horse, a miniature theatre, a lamp in the shape of a cobra, to me this definitely falls more into the STUFF pile. If you collect stuff, is it a collection? Or just a group of things that you like? Are you just a hoarder rather than an intrepid devoted collector? Not that it matters.
I wondered if my higgledy piggeldy ‘house decorations’ qualify as a collection? These are things that I like to have around me, usually on a shelf in whichever place i’m renting, because they are pleasing and inspiring to my eye. I have dried roses from a friend’s funeral, vintage teacups, kitsch shiny angels, half a barbie that has been painted as a Mexican day of the dead Katrina (A small selection pictured below). I suppose the common element here is that I have lots of owls, ceramic owls, wooden owls, metal owls, big ones, small ones, cute ones, serious ones. Some are ugly, but that no longer matters when they are brought into the parliament with the others because their oddness makes them interesting.
Are creative people more likely to cultivate a collection? As it is something which may feed back into their work and inspire it or even become an extension of their work. Barbican featured American artist Pae White describes her collection of textiles as a visual library that she can refer to when working. My visual library is now largely online thanks to the internet and apps like pinterest which allow you to have a HUGE collection, without any of the financial commitment or risk of alienating loved ones by filling every available space and surface with seashells.
I suppose it really comes down to an individual’s personality and what sparks their interest as to whether or not they will have a collection. If they do have a collection, what do you think it says about them?
‘Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as a Collector’
Is at The Barbican until the 25th of May, £12