During Part 4 of the course, I have undertaken a project to produce a set of related prints arising out of objectives set by my new tutor. These were:
- consider the subject for a print more
- broaden my imaginative ambition
- write more at length about my opinions of my work, question the potential meaning and how a viewer might interpret that
- look around my subject area and consider lateral possibilities
- consider art and artists who might impact on my subject
- engage with a subject for a print or series of prints in more depth.
This challenge was of a different order to those I had had up to this point in the course. So far the challenges had been technical. It happened to coincide with a visit to Art In Action where I had been inspired by the work of two artists, painter Sarah Spackman and ceramicist Akiki Hirai, both influenced by Giorgio Morandi. I bought two of Akiko’s flasks, purely to draw, and was happily engaged in this when my new tutor challenge arrived. I have therefore decided to base my project on Morandi, not just exploring his approach to still life but seeing where this might take me in analysing form and tone and interpreting this into an abstraction of form and landscape.
I discovered Morandi a couple of years ago, reading Ian Simpson’s book ‘Drawing: Seeing and Observation’, Simpson (1973). He references Morandi’s work in his discussion of ‘Analysis and Selection’, ‘students….report that they can find nothing that interests them but the most trite and conventional subject contains some aspects waiting to be discovered by those prepared to investigate’ and this is what attracts me to Morandi. He took the most mundane everyday objects and investigated them obsessively for years. It is an obsession I can comprehend. I love life drawing but many circumstances are often beyond one’s control. Even drawing a tree depends on the light, season and weather. With a still life, one can control many parameters and yet find many nuances to understand and interpret. The two flasks I bought from Akiko have asymmetries and can be lit or turned to have changing conversations with each other. You can concentrate on drawing, understanding form and tone, whilst shedding other variables.
Initially, I had started drawing thumbnails of the flasks and then, selecting one arrangement made a larger drawing in charcoal.
I now started to research Morandi and his works. My charcoal sketch echoes the sort of enquiry he made early in his career. Having taught himself etching, his prints examine tone as a complex map of hatching as in Still Life with Very Fine Hatching.
I did a very quick sketch of the shrubs in the garden trying this approach but completely lost my way.
As Morandi’s artistic career progressed, he limited himself to subjects close to home; the local landscape and domestic utensils. He collected a considerable number of these and, as his representations became more and more pared down, he covered them with mat paint to eliminate labels and shine. Gradually his paintings became simpler and simpler, pursuing an essence of the objects by reducing, then eliminating, shadows, context and perspective. The utensils assume an importance beyond humble utility; they become totemic monuments in an empty landscape or religious vessels on an alter. His obsessive examination seems akin to a zen meditation in which all sense of self is lost in pursuit of an higher essence. In some works, the pots disappear completely and are only represented by a void.
In looking at Morandi’s work, I also looked at work by other artists who were either directly inspired by him or whose work echoed his pared down vision of still life and landscape. In this, I wasn’t trying to research threads in the history of art, more to make free associations and to grasp an understanding of these creative processes to apply to my own work. I was looking for a route into abstraction and simplification.
My trail of association lead me to look at work by Tony Cragg (especially his laboratory series), Sean Scully, Henry Moore (especially his ‘Stonehenge’ prints), Ben Nicholson, William Scott Tate, Patrick Caulfield and John Virtue. I tried to analyse how they had simplified their still life or landscape subjects, what they had chosen to leave in and take out. I saw them flattening space, omitting atmospheric perspective and three point perspective, removing context and detail. Many used a very subdued colour palette, or no colour at all (Patrick Caulfield being a notable exception).
I also visit the Estorick Collection in order to see some of Morandi’s works at first hand. Disappointingly, only one was on show, but I am pleased I went and saw it in person. It was a small painting (most were) about 10 inches by 12, deceptively simple. The paint is scrubbed about on the canvas and, although almost monochrome, there are real subtleties. The background is a cool colour , the jars in a similar tone but in a warm colour. The items are arranged symmetrically in the centre of the frame and have the air of a religious icon. The canvas was pasted onto board which looked like any old bit of cardboard with one corner dented. I really enjoyed sketching and analysing this small work.
In parallel with this research, I have continued to explore my flasks and other objects. I have tried to look at them from differing points of view and different light. I have used collage to help map tone and I have looked at moving the shapes into landscapes and interpreting a landscape in a similar way.
I have developed prints from several of these sketches. In contrast to the earlier parts of the course, I haven’t tried to explore a particular printmaking technique; rather I have tried to select the technique suitable to the image. The exception to this was on an etching course last week, where I tried to select an image which would suit that particular technique. This approach has produced a set of prints based around a subject but which don’t necessarily work together as a series.
Inspired by Morandi’s hatching technique, I made a simple drypoint of my two flasks.
I liked the sketch of the bottles from above, with very strong shadows. I like the diagonal shapes disappearing out of the side of the frame, the negative spaces and the fact the subject it isn’t instantly obvious. This is a very simple collagraph where I have mapped the tones using micaceous oxide (like carborundum) for the shadows and parcel tape for the highlights. I have deliberately kept it simple to emphasis the strong shadows. It was very difficult to ink and wipe evenly with its large flat areas of tone.
The sketch of the bottles from beneath inspired this etching using sugar lift. I then developed the print using a very light roll-over of ink in colours inspired by the Morandi painting in the Estorick Collection.
I thought this was a good addition to the plate and went on to print it using various chine colle papers. I tried using a monoprinted tissue, khadi paper cut from a linoprint background and lokta tissue.
I think the final one of these is the most successful after the ink roll-over. I prefer the inexact nature of the shapes and overlapping tissue. This is hand made lokta paper and I am aware that it is non archival and fades badly.
The sketch above was used as inspiration for another etching using a lithograph crayon as a stop out. I like the soft tones here and the play of light. My etched plate didn’t really capture this and I would have liked to develop the plate further with etching but ran out of time in the workshop, so I developed it at home using carborundum. This gives a softer feel but I think the image really calls for a mezzotint.
For my final image in this series, I used a sketch where I had looked at a very simple London skyline and tried to simplify it using the fell I had developed sketching the bottles. I was also inspired by the research I had done looking at Henry Moore’s prints and drawings. His use of wax crayons is a very useful way of representing texture and breaking up solid shapes.
I wanted to interpret this as a collagraph to capture the textures. I prepared a couple of test plates to examine the tonal gradations I could achieve with various materials. I looked at the initial prints but also at ghosts because I know that some textures print better as the ink develops on the plate.
I kept my plate and shapes very simple.
I quite like this initial, dark, forbiding print, but also developed the plate with a bit more texture and colour. As always with collagraphs each print has its own strengths and weaknesses. I would like to create a bigger plate in this style and try combining it with monoprinting and overprinting.
I have really enjoyed this research and the ideas it has generated. I can see this continuing into the Part 5 of the course.
Simpson, I. (1973) Drawing Seeing and Observation. Reissued ed 1982. London: A&C Black
Coldwell, P. (2006) Morandi’s Legacy, Influences on British Art. 1st ed. London: Philip Wilson
Cremoncini, R. (2012) Giorgio Morandi Lines of Poetry. 1st ed. Milan: Silvana Editoriale