We can’t quite work out what we are seeing: is it tree, human, or something in between?
From a distance there’s a powerful sense of solidity and sculptural form. Emerging from the velvety darkness of densely applied charcoal, parts of the form are obscured and mysterious, while others stand out in dramatic chiaroscuro.
They arrived unexpectedly, a procession of strange tree forms with wispy branches reaching out to anyone who’ll listen.
‘Spirits’ is a new body of work which has taken me by surprise. It has grown out of my recent study of movement and gesture but morphed into something quite different. For a long time I’ve studiously avoided drawing branchy details but these works demanded them to counter the powerful gestures of their decapitated trunks.
They began as trees but have become something (or someone) beyond that category of creature, so I’ve named their characters accordingly.
It’s been said that I draw in a very sculptural way – perhaps not so surprising when I tell you I studied 3D design and spent the first half of my creative career making 3D things. I’ve always had an affinity with form, which translates into my drawings whether I want it to or not.
This week in my ‘drawing movement project’ I paid homage to my sculptor heroes Rodin, Michelangelo and the ancient Greeks, all part of a lineage of artists who made stone appear to move.
My mission this month has been to refresh my studio practice with some intensive drawing, examining movement and gesture, refilling my visual memory in preparation for new work. I’m your classic easily distracted arty type so I recognised that I needed a defined challenge to stay focused. I gave myself boundaries then just tried to fill the sketchbooks and stay with it, enjoying the meditative process of drawing.
After working from the life model for a while, I turned to my extensive archive of photos and video from my years of tree-hunting. While there are 1000s of images to get lost in, I had just a few individual trees in mind which lend themselves to this project.
After a long break away from the drawing board, I decided to spend the month of August exploring movement as a way to spark some new work for later this year. My intention was to examine movement in the figure, in wood, water and other elements, in order to feed that fluidity into new tree inspired pieces.
Many people have commented that my work reminds them of dancers, or human or animal figures, so I felt it was a good time to explore this more deeply and in a more intentional way. When I’m drawing trees I’m always looking for movement, even though the trees move too slowly for me to see I know they are always in motion.
A framework for studies in movement
To give this idea some structure, I created a studio project for myself with quite definite boundaries. I know from my experience of sustaining a studio practice that this is a helpful way to get back into the flow of making after a break.
Where do the ideas come from? How do the images form themselves?
It’s not until after I’ve finished a body of work that I can get enough distance to see where it might have come from, what it relates to and where it sits amongst all my work. While I’m making it, it’s mostly a response to a creative urge rather than following a plan.
Rivers of oak series
Looking back now I see that my ‘Rivers of oak’ series came from the coalescence of two visual elements – the bare, weather-eroded sapwood of long dead ancient oaks and the turbulent patterns of the sea where I row. Both are things I’ve looked at intently.