Tuesday, 30 June 2020

'Constructed City' 15: Steels

All Images: South And West Leicester, 2020

The use of photography to inform and seed various projects, has long been part of my creative routine.  That being said, the photo archive relating to my ongoing 'Constructed City' project is already the most extensive yet - no doubt, for many of the reasons detailed in my last post.  If screen prints have been unavoidably on-hold for a while - and paintings are emerging at a fairly stately pace, at least I can't complain of any shortage of visual stimulus or source imagery.

Anyway, there's little point in simply sitting on them.  It's unlikely many (if any) of them would ever be exhibited simply 'as-is', but they can still be informative here, I feel.  I occasionally beat myself up for the relative sparsity of my final output in recent times, although that situation is actually improving somewhat, just now.  If additional reassurance were needed (perhaps only to myself), trawling through all these images also proves that the overall continuum of work remains unimpeded.  Less neurotically, it's definitely the case that certain visual motifs evident within them have already been translated directly into my prints, and are starting to reoccur within the paintings too.

As the sheer quantity of the material grows, they also inevitably start to self-categorise, in terms of motif, theme and formal characteristics - or even just as a catalogue of the various increasingly familiar stages typical in modern construction work.  These all group themselves together behind the label of steel erection.

I love this elementary bare-bones stage of any project.  Although significant preliminary work will have already taken place at (or below) ground level, this is inevitably the first significant intervention above the surface.  It's also the first time one gets any real sense of the ultimate form of the building.  In terms of the impact of each of these emerging edifices on the landscape, the assembly of the steels delineates a specified portion of space - a volume of urban reality, soon to be contained within curtain walls, and ultimately, to be commodified as real estate.

I've already thought a lot, and talked a bit,  about the perceived annexation of terrain that all this building work represents.  Clearly, this can be charted on the city's street plan, but it manifests itself vertically on a visual/pictorial plane too - as a filling-in of sections of the perceived skyline.  As each of these steel armatures grows denser and more complex, I find it hard not to think of them as hatching-in designated sections of sky.

For the casual passer-by (as much as for the artist) the visual, and therefore psychological, effect, is actually far more immediate, than any consideration of square meterage on a ground plan, or attendant property value.  In that sense - it is a qualitative experience.   But it is perhaps at this steelwork stage that the relationship between x and y axes (and thus, perhaps - between quantitive and qualitative value) can be first properly understood.  Although space remains temporarily contiguous with the wider surroundings - and thus with the accustomed environment, a new boundary has been clearly established.  The complex subdivision and interrelation of spaces within it, and perhaps even their intended function, can already be perceived.  In effect, a placeholder for new activity, and thus - for new meanings, has been established.

On the purely visual level, the steel skeletons provide a dramatic complex of lines, angles and negative portions of chopped-up sky, that's hard to resist.  But they also seem to constitute a bridge between the idea of a building - as represented by architect's drawings and digital models, and the ultimate inhabitable edifice.  They are - if you like, a tangible, explanation of an environmental transformation that is about to solidify.

And, of course - they make great silhouettes too.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Constructed City 14: Wrapped

All Images: West Leicester, June 2020

A relatively short Corona-lull not withstanding, the significant wave of major construction work now continues apace, at various sites around Leicester.  The first two buildings to attract my lens, some months back, long since completed, and stand adjacent on the inner ring road.  Another large edifice, nearby on the river bank, is well advanced, and will soon interest me less as a work in progress - representing instead, another section of both map and skyline to have been successfully filled in.

But, this is by no means the end of the story.  Yet another, even more massive complex of blocks is now at the stage of peak visual complexity, just a few metres away - and is providing an ever expanding harvest of source images on an almost daily basis.  More photographic excursions, to sites to the north and south of the city centre respectively, provide further material still.  In the last couple of weeks, two more brand new edifices have raised themselves, again close to the river - being currently at the delicious steel skeleton stage.

It's almost too much to keep up with, and I feel a certain pressure to visit and revisit as often as possible, for fear of missing a particular detail of the construction process as each building expands.  So, whilst I hesitate to celebrate a global catastrophe that has already claimed too many lives - and which will doubtless disrupt many more, I can't pretend the greater degree of time-flexibility the pandemic has afforded, hasn't been very useful.  Also advantageous, is the fact that many of the construction sites are a mere stone's-throw from home - and were always easily within the scope of a statutory exercise session, or that they lie on my regular cycle route to work - now that going to work is becoming more of a thing once more.  Finally, the generally favourable weather conditions, and long summer evenings afford yet more incentive to jump on the bike for a quick spin 'round the sites' whenever the mood takes me.  The strongly-illuminated colours and strong cast shadows, created by the abundant sunlight, don't hurt the resulting images, either.

Anyway, this seems an ideal time to put up a few more of those images - at least while my next 'Constructed City' painting is still a little way off completion.  Following my observations about the habitual wrapping of many of these half-completed buildings, in my last 'CC' -related post, I'll include a few more examples of that phenomenon here, along with one or two closely-related meditations on the theme of veiling and translucency.

Enjoy, (I know I do).


Sunday, 7 June 2020

Black Lines Matter: The Work of Glenn Ligon

Glenn Ligon, 'Double America', Neon & Black Paint, 914 mm x 3048 mm, 2012

It would be short-sighted, if not pernicious - and surely indicative of the problem generally, to ignore the waves of anger and protest over the recent death, in Minneapolis Police custody, of George Floyd.

Glenn Ligon, 'Untitled (America)', Oil Stick & Acrylic on Paper, 305 mm x 229 mm, 2007

Glenn Ligon, 'Figure #63', Acrylic, Screen Print & Coal Dust, 1524 mm x 1219 mm, 2010

This is no place to attempt to discuss all the complexities of America's institutional racism (or Britain's, for that matter), and clearly, I can have no real understanding of the everyday lived reality of all that, from the point of view of any BAME person.  This was only ever really intended to be an outlet for my own thoughts about art, in any case.  But sometimes you just have to accept that your own self-indulgent concerns exist within much wider societal or environmental contexts - however insulated your own privileged existence may appear.  Whether this really is the global turning point so many hope for, only time will tell, and the sad fact is, America has been this way before - to relatively little lasting effect.  But it's vital that people keep hoping (and more importantly - pushing) for a breakthrough.  For a variety of reasons, it seems doubtful our species can prevail much longer by maintaining the status quo - and this does feel like a time to stand up and be counted, at the very least.

Glenn Ligon, 'Study For Negro Sunshine #52', Oil Stick, Coal Dust & Gesso, 305 mm X 209 mm, 2010 

Glenn Ligon, 'Warm Broad Glow II', Neon, Paint & Metal (Installation), 
237 mm x 6147 mm x 117 mm, 2011

Glenn Ligon, 'A Small Band', Neon & Paint (Installation), 1899 mm x 20257 mm,
Giardini-Central Pavillion, Venice, 2015

Glenn Ligon, 'Come Out Study #12', Silkscreen on Canvas, 914 mm x 1219 mm, 2014

Naturally, the whole issue of White folks hi-jacking Black folks' struggle is fraught with its own difficulties.  However, many have also pointed out that, as racism is a problem emerging from within white society - white people should also take responsibility, and be instrumental in dismantling it.  An edifice may withstand assault from without indefinitely, if sufficiently fortified - but must eventually collapse if the foundations are also dug away from within.  Also, glib though it may sound - how long can one really go on feeling shame and embarrassment at the crap behaviour of one's own tribe?  Self-respect, and respect for others, must surely be two sides of the same coin.

Glen Ligon, 'Untitled (I Feel Most Coloured When I Am Thrown -  
Against A Sharp White Background)',
Oil Stick, Gesso & Graphite on Wood, 

2032 mm x 76 mm, 1990

Glenn Ligon, 'Untitled (I Am Somebody)'
Oil Stick, Gesso & Graphite on Wood, 
2032 mm x 76 mm, 1991

Being less than techno-adept, or social media-savvy, at the best of times - I'm ashamed to admit the recent social media blackout gesture rather passed me by, in the moment.  In fact, it was a sign of how dim I can be about such matters, that I initially assumed there was just something wrong with my phone.  As it is, some have since critiqued that as a superficial and wholly inadequate response, anyway.  I don't  have too much of an opinion about that - but it's certainly no excuse for just keeping one's head down.  After a little reflection, the best thing to do here seems to be to use this - my primary channel of on-line communication, to feature the work of an artist who has engaged with all of these issues, far more skilfully than I could ever hope to.

Glenn Ligon, 'Stranger #48', Oil Stick, Acrylic & Coal Dust on Canvas, 1829 mm x 1524 mm, 2011

Glenn Ligon, '(Miserable) Life', Oil Stick & Acrylic on Paper, 305 mm x 229 mm, 2008

Glenn Ligon is a New York based African-American artist, of international standing, whose work I first encountered at Nottingham Contemporary, in 2015, during his self-curated 'Encounters And Collisions' exhibition.  I was immediately struck by both the eloquence and elegance of his own work (be it in the form of 'paintings', drawings, neon, or other installations), and by his ability to create consistently seductive formal artefacts which are both conceptually loaded, and culturally engaged.  I was always going to be drawn to text-based work which also remained so in touch with the traditions of abstract painting - but this work seems to go further than just that.  Certainly, I can think of few other artists so capable of simultaneously exploiting the symbolic and visual potential of black and white - and the effect of one on the other, quite so effectively.  Add in Ligon's strong literary sensibilities, and the sheer poetry of so many of his statements (often borrowed from other powerful Black voices), and you have a body of work which communicates more profoundly than any simple slogan.

Glenn Ligon, 'Debris Field #2', Etching Ink & Ink Marker on Canvas, 2896 mm x 2235 mm, 2018

Glenn Ligon, 'Debris Field #5', Etching Ink on Canvas, 2896 mm x 2235 mm, 2018

To achieve all that is a definite achievement in purely artistic terms.  What elevates Ligon's work still further, is his ability to do it whilst remaining inextricably engaged with the centuries-old struggle of Black people to have their lives and voices recognised, and valued as equal. 

Glenn Ligon, 'Stranger Study #12', Oil Stick, Gesso & Coal Dust on Canvas, 1016 mm x 762 mm, 2012

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Working Methods: Footprints In The Sand(ing)

Negative Footprint in White Emulsion Dust, May 2020

There's not too much to say about this - I'm sure you can work out what happened, and it's just further proof that all the best marks occur by complete chance.  I'd be tempted to say yet more new work is clearly afoot - but I fear that really would be unacceptable.

Monday, 1 June 2020

Completed Painting: 'Untitled 2 (Constructed City)'

'Untitled 2 (Constructed City)', Acrylic & Collaged Screen Print on Panel,
30 cm x 30 cm, 2020

Here's the second painting to be completed as part of my 'Constructed City' project.  It's clearly a companion-piece to the one in my last post - being identical in scale, and very similar in composition and overall handling.  There's also a clear lineage between both these little paintings, and the paper-based studies and sketchbook collages that preceded them.

If this return to a rather methodical approach, and the fairly linear development that characterises it, suggest a degree of caution - it is at least bearing fruit.  And there is already some degree of new ground broken here (and also, a rather more overt element of pictorial risk-taking), in the form of the bright orange field which occupies the composition's central section.  Scraping fluorescent orange paint over much of the painting was the last significant action on this piece (barring a couple of minor additions), and was, inevitably, something of a make-or-break move.

But, as we all know, being prepared to kill one's darlings is a tried and tested principle (if not a cliche) of any creative endeavour.  In this case, it effectively dispelled any fears of having made the same painting twice, and also represented an element of sheer instinct intruding  into a process that had, as I've pointed out, been relatively tentative up to that point.  Taking that risk, and (I think) making a painting that is far more satisfying than it would have been otherwise, is a massive confidence-booster too.  That's important, not least in terms of what might follow.

This pulling back of the magician's curtain may be slightly more of an affectation than many viewers really seek, when looking at artwork - I'll accept.  However, I see no harm in asserting that most 'successful' artworks reach that state because the artist trusted a hunch, or went out on a limb at some point - rather than because they had predicted the exact consequences of each and every action.

Should anyone require it - there is a more literalist explanation for something that certainly didn't appear in any of the painting's preparatory images.  One prominent feature of the construction sites I've been photographing almost religiously for some time, is the swathing of their structural geometry in layers of tarpaulin and other gauzy screening materials.  Might this presage some ultimate magician's reveal of the completed edifice, on the part of the builders?  I'd love to believe so.  Certainly, there may be some PR-driven urge to suggest that such massive physical interventions into the urban landscape could be erected with the minimum of inconvenient 'process' or visual offence.  More prosaically though, we must also accept that, in the main, all this Christo-esque [1.] wrapping is a response to Health & Safety legislation.

West Leicester, March 2020

Trent Bridge, Nottingham, July 2019

What it does do, visually at least, is to create the delicious complex of interlocking grids and overlapping translucent veils of colour, to which my lens is repeatedly drawn.  In this case, it also takes-on the Hi-Vis hue of that familiar expanded plastic fencing mesh, which is similarly prevalent on the sites.  Even more tangentially - there might even be some suggested memory of the ruddy sunset I glimpsed through swathed scaffolding, at the turn of the year.

All these months of visiting and revisiting the same sites, with camera in hand, may seem a trifle obsessive to the bemused passer-by, and have certainly resulted in a challenge from over-enthusiastic security Job's-worths, on more than one occasion.  However, while it certainly involves the potential harvesting of specific source imagery, it's also about compiling a more generalised (and perhaps more lyrical) sense-impression of the chosen subject - on which one can draw in a more intuitive manner.  Just like this, in fact.

West Leicester, December 2019

Anyway, that's enough demystification for now - I think

[1.]:  It is with regret that I learned of the death of the artist, Christo Javajeff, aged 84 - even as I was writing this post.