Reflect and Research

To start the reflect and research unit I will be looking into five artists that span a wide range of different mediums and subject matters. Each of them have different crafts that I’m interested in, and while researching them I hope that I see threads emerge. Gaining more information about them should help me pull all of my interests together into one coherent vision, something that is true to myself and hopefully touches other people.

Jockum Nordstrom is a Swedish artist that uses collage, painting and drawing to create an intense encounter between childhood and the adult life. A mixture between boyish romanticism and down to earth realism. Nordstrom’s work features playful fantasies inspired by folk art and nordic imagery.

Book: All I have learnt and forgotten again

The collages in this book are the best I’ve ever seen. They are simple, cut out shapes of Japanese mulberry painted with water colour, he uses tropes of folk art with the janky shapes and lines he uses. They are naive and clunky in the most perfect way. His use of animals and nature blended with his personal interactions give you are sense of memory bending and fraying with time. A layering of scenes of top of each other suggest memories that run in parallel, or viewing a life from the outside, like looking into a doll house.

David Berman was an American poet, musician, and lead singer of the band Silver Jews. Along side 6 studio albums he recorded with the band, Berman published a book of poems titled Actual Air in 1999 and a hardback book of line drawings titled The Portable February in 2009, later that year he announced his retirement of music. In early 2019 Berman made a return to music under the name Purple Mountains before taking his own life shortly after.

Actual Air Digital book screenshots

The Portable February Images;

David Berman has very quickly moved to the top of my list. I listen to his music every day and his collected work is my main source of inspiration. How he responded to the suburban southern American landscape, injecting the mundane with surreal and meaningful insight painted such a rich and interesting picture of his own experience. This is so hard to achieve and I cannot think of anyone that has done it better than Berman. Quiet and gentle. He left such an emotionally potent legacy that will stay with me forever.

Cate Le Bon is a contemporary musician born in Wales, now living and working in LA. After listening to her music since her debut in 2009, my tastes have been wholly influenced by her zany instrumentals and abstract, heartfelt song writing. She has always been an influence, so I’m going to study her work, particularly her lyrics and subject matter. I want to unpick the structure of the work and find out what it is that makes her whimsical and folk-like words so powerful to me.

I think one of the main driving forces is the use of abstraction in her writing. David Berman’s writing makes me think of cold corridors and liminal spaces. The past being shot into the present like a bullet. Being close to Steven Malkmus, he came from the indie rock scene, the more isolated and depressed he got, he became more open to his past and where he came from. Picking up more of a country sound. Cate Le Bon on the other hand, has a background in folk music. Or at least it feels this way. Her debut album is very stripped back, most often with the use of a guitar and her voice reminiscent of folk artists like Anne Briggs or Bert Jansch. My idea of Folk is a complicated and confused one. I think something that leads to the essence of who I am and therefore my work. So I will be discussing my relationship with it here in hopes of understanding my connection to the topic.

Le Bon’s abstract lyrics open up a space for imagination, something that cannot be explained, creating a narrative that is more potent and mysterious in a way. Less is explained. Things are hinted towards. This is really fun; it allows people to project their own experiences, fears, wants, and imagination onto something like a sheet of unexposed film. Not to say that the work is empty, the artist has made something meaningful to her, but also leaves enough to the imagination of other people to fill in the gaps.

It reminds me of a picture that I found in the bin.

I was making work on the sublimation printers and came across this drawing in one of the bins, I thought it was interesting so I took it home with me and put on on my wall. I didn’t think about it too much after that. But over time it has become one of my favourite things, after living with it for so long, the little information that is given sticks with me and I find myself lost in this picture most nights. It works so well in creating a mysterious narrative that is loosely strung together with images and text. For me, this picture works the same way as a Cate Le Bon song. You are not spoon fed, the artists are using language to create a world that is different from person to person.

After moving back home to Preston I have been turning my old bedroom into a studio that can function as a darkroom. I have bought an enlarger to make prints from digital negatives because I find digital images too sharp and clinical, but the various printing techniques possible in the darkroom allows me to manipulate the pictures in a way that you cannot do on photoshop. At first I thought it would be cheaper than shooting on film because I could shoot as much as I want on my Nikon D800 then make a digital negative to print from. I thought that film was so expensive, but after sourcing all of the things I need for a darkroom its proven to be just as expensive. However as a lot of my purchases were on items that I would only buy once considering in the future I will be able to work out a more money efficient system when using chemicals and making digital negatives, I think the darkroom with start to pay for itself. Besides it will scratch an itch I have had for years.

I bring this up because a photographer I’ve been looking at a lot recently is Masao Yamamoto. He does the same thing as I plan to do – make darkroom prints from digital files. He uses traditional techniques to collage and manipulate images, printing on scraps of torn paper and tinting his pictures to create magical and incredibly intimate scenes.

The thing that makes this process so good is that you can edit the pictures on photoshop before you print the work to reduce the paper you use on tests. It allows for more focus on creative issues rather than technical ones.

Emile Kees

Recently I’ve found an artist on instagram that has a very beautiful look.

Emile Kees’s website is currently down so I can’t see anymore of his work. However I do know that the work above are two darkroom prints. He used Ilford Multigrade art, a warm toned cotton rag paper that gives the image a soft look, I love the way this image has imperfect borders, something I love to do with my images. I’m going to be darkroom printing my pictures from my bedroom soon. I will be using this paper as well as Japanese rice papers to achieve the same feeling. To me this look makes the work so tender and gentle. It really evokes emotion that I hope my work to do.

H is for Hawk

H is for Hawk is the book that made me realise I needed to leave Manchester. While reading it in second year I realised that I didn’t want to live in a city and for the sake of my mental health, required a closer connection to nature. Living in the city really made me depressed, and desperate for some sort of wild life. Through this book I could access what I wanted. This quote from the book sums up my feelings very well;

“These days, when I go into town, I’m increasingly finding excuses to park my car in the muli-story car park, because from the open-air fourth floor I can stare at these fields. They are like the backbone across the horizon, scratched with corpse lines and damped with cloud-shadow. A strange complication arises when I look at them. Something of a doubling. I feel myself standing on the distant hill. Theres a terrible strength to this intuition. It’s almost as if my soul really is up there, several miles away, standing on thirsty clay watching my soul-less self standing in the car park, with diesel and concrete in her nose and anti-skid asphalt under her feet. With the car park self thinking if she looked very, very hard, perhaps through binoculars, she might see herself up there” p.240

I’ve read this book three times now and I’m not sure if I can draw anything out of it directly for my work, but it’s message forms the foundation of my thinking, and I’m sure its philosophies are hidden in all of my work somewhere. I’m going to put this down and look for something else on the same lines. What I’m looking for is something to teach me about memory, place and maybe childhood? I could see it being useful as my collage work is naive, and the more I’m responding to my collage, the more imagery I’m making in relation to my childhood.

Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald

“It was a scene that felt familiar in an inexplicible way, and for weeks it was on my mind until at length I realised that, down to the last detail, it matched the Vallula Massif, which I had seen from the bus, through eyes drooping with tiredness, a day or so before I started school, as we returned home from an outing to the Montafon. I suppose it is submerged memories that give to dreams their curious air of hyper-reality. But perhaps there is something else as well, something nebulous, gauze-like, through which everything one sees in a dream seems, paradoxically much clearer. A pond becomes a lake, a breeze becomes a storm, a handful of dust is a desert, a grain of sulphur in the blood is a volcanic inferno. What manner of theatre is it, in which we are at once playwright, actor, stage manager, scene painter and audience?” p. 79-80

This quote is interesting. The author is staring across the sea at a cloudbank, the shapes that he could barely make out reminded him of a dream he had years prior. This scene was inexplicably familiar to him. He realises that he had seen this scene years ago. The day before he started school.

I really like how memories of the past, the present and dreams are rolled into one piece of writing. To be able to move back and forth between all of these things to create this strange mesh of fantasy and reality interests me a lot. At the moment I am in the middle of writing stories from my past, you can see them here in week ?. My aim is to write poems, write about dreams that I’ve had and other bits of writing to create a similar type of oscillation between fantasy and reality. The more times you tell stories from the past, they alter in tiny ways. They can sometimes end up being quite different from what actually happened, I want to play on this idea of fleeting memories and truth more.

Gertrude Abercrombie

I came across Aberchrombie on the internet a few days ago and have been thinking about it a lot. The artist paints surreal scenes of empty interiors, barren landscapes, still lifes amongst other things. Most of her work is quite small, and they are exhibited in the most beautiful frames. I’ve been drawn to the work in the same way I’m drawn to the abstract nature of a Cate Le Bon song. When you’re given only a little information, so you live with the work and it slowly opens up to you over time.

Motifs throughout her work include cats, doors, present moons, nature, and clouds. I like the idea of having reoccurring icons than run through my work and resemble things that I’m thinking or feeling, and express my hopes and dreams, what I find funny, what scares me. As a painter I feel as if this is easier to do because its much more of an expressive medium, or it is on the surface anyway. The more your press down on a surface, the more the surface will be impacted. You can immediately show your inner violence or gentleness with the application of paint. You are creating something out of your own head. With photography on the other hand, you’re using apparatus to capture a real-life scene, so I find it harder to find myself in what I shoot. A lot of what I photograph seems to come down to chance which is why I would like to start blending collage and painting more to my photographs to help tell more of a story that is truer to what I want to say, rather than what I happen to find.

Frames

The artists frames are an important part of the paintings, they are what first grabbed my attention after all. The small paintings in those large frames are incredibly effective in my opinion, they really lend themselves to the folk art movement which Aberchrombie was a part of. They express a the DIY culture of working class artists that can’t afford to get their work professionally printed and give a haptic dimension to the work that I’m completely in love with. I want to play around with a similar frame-to-work ratio. I love how it looks and I think its just what my artwork needs.

New materials and work flow

That being said about Aberchrombie’s work, I’m going to print my work in the dark room and make some janky frames for them. I have access to my grandad’s garage and all the tools I need to cut rebates and curves into the wood. As well as these finishing touches I have bought some water colour paper to make some salt and albumen prints. I’ve also bought some inks to hand colour these prints. With these new techniques I am going to be making surreal collages on photoshop and printing/colouring them in the darkroom. I’m very excited. I’ve made my first darkroom prints that you can find here at the bottom of the page.

Josef Sudek

At some point in second year I took this Josef Sudek book out of the library and have just now started to analyse the pictures. I can really absorb them now that I’ve been making prints and researching alternative print making.

Sudek was a prolific artist that experimented with lots of different styles of photography from commercial in his youth to fine art/pictorialist work later on his career. I really enjoy the pictures that he made towards the end of his career when money and time weren’t an issue. I can split his work into two styles; the same as my work. Theres his punchy, bold, abstract work (Above) I think I take pictures that are similar (See two of my pictures below)

He made another style of work that is similar to the picturesque style of Masao Yamamoto. I love the long rectangular crops, it pushes photographs into the painterly very easily and scream out for an over-the-top gilded frame like that of a Klimt painting.

I’ve been taking pictures like this in order to look more painterly, I would like to print these and tone them browns and yellows with tea and coffee, or to salt print them which could tone the print an orangey brown because the older methods can’t achieve the blacks of modern papers and films. I am currently waiting for a new batch of silver nitrate to test this printing method out. I think it could make these pictures so much better and more interesting. I would to see them on browned paper with uneven and tattered edges. I think I will have to try this after my deadline because I’m running out of time.

Danny Fox

Danny Fox is an artist I was shown by a friend very recently and I’ve been obsessed with him for about a week now. This post should really be in the Notes on folk section of the blog but because he’s a contemporary artist that studied and worked in institutions I can’t really justify it as folk art, more naive art I think.

Fox makes small drawings and large scale acrylic paintings that are so imaginative and free. Recently I’ve been in a funk, overthinking my work before I even experiment and try something, I just think my way out of making something but this work gives me the push I need to free myself by trying something new and questioning how things are supposed to look. They make me want to try cutting out parts of my pictures and printing them on linen in the darkroom, completely disconnected from anything, then to draw and paint and sew on them; including abstracted poems. This way I can blend my interests in the way I have been talking about for months but have been too scared to try something I’m not comfortable with.

I’m going to buy some 5b pencils.

Raymond Meeks

After listening to Meeks on an episode of Nearest Truth where he discusses his process and methodology, I have been looking at his work a lot more. Especially as he’s gotten so well known that it’s impossible for me to check instagram and not see his work in one way or another. I think he’s been so successful lately because his work is so gentle and tender. He as a person is very contemplative and thoughtful, its so easy to fall in love with the words of a man who cares so much.

Ciprian Honey Cathedral

Here is two spreads from the self published version of his book Ciprian Honey Cathedral; a series of inkjet prints on recycled book pages folded into an unbound book. The work is so beautifully simple. He was moving house and wanted to make a project on what you decide to bring with you, and what you decide to leave. The new version of the book was later published with a huge publishing company. Mack books probably, I can’t remember, it’s not important. Even though the book is given new life with his beautiful poetry and more pictures, the work loses a massive piece of what. makes it so good. The fact that it was essentially a handful of loose papers. The delicacy of it being the paper is not archival, it will eventually yellow then rot away. Thats what makes it good.

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