22 COMPOSITE DRAWINGS OF CIVIL UNREST
These are a more concerted effort at using Photoshop to develop sketches, although still fairly rudimentary. This time I masked out the scanned figures and vehicles and combined various buildings and settings as layers in the one file. The settings initially come from sketches for the Cityicity series. Photoshop is a great tool for composition. But I quickly realized it allowed me to continue drawing with a number of other tools, not just pencil or brush, but selecting and pasting parts or shapes (collage or compositing via the pen tool) various filters and ‘transformations’, things like the clone tool, sponge and smudge. I did more of this with the 2012 Drawings. At some stage I suppose I‘ll get into a Wacom tablet and all that. Here my priority was mostly just arranging the scanned content.
The series focuses on sketches of figures and scenes of wreckage I’d been making between 2004 and 2010, recording my growing concern with broad political issues of conspiracy and corruption. Ultimately I suppose they’re about totalitarian globalization. The title, Crusade Culture sums up a pervasive, reckless militancy. I won’t say how this has touched me personally, but my feelings are obviously bound up with my circumstances. And these things are reflected throughout society, at even the most local, seemingly inconsequential levels.
I wasn’t interested in just picturing threat and abuse in a stylish way. I wanted the pictures to express a thorough systemic decay, the steady erosion of rules and respect. To some extent my work was already heading in that direction, although for poetic rather than political ends. A shift in iconography to armed figures and debris prompts the refocus but it was not enough simply to paraphrase news coverage of civil strife. As with the Cityicity series, they declare a mythic or metaphorical extension. They were not about civil unrest in just the third world or some major metropolis, but everywhere and anywhere. And they were not strictly ‘war pictures’ but pictures where war-like elements have seeped in or been ‘normalised’– in perhaps children’s stories or comic strips, games and fashions, in advertisements for luxury living or travel, perhaps in the past or future as well as the present. And they were by no means consistent and efficient in this, but rather, confusing and damaged.
That’s a good note on which to now look at the work. I’ll add more commentary at the bottom of the page.
NB: Click on landscape format examples for enlargements
Aylesbury in the Seventies
Alex Kingston on a Blind Date with Destiny
Stop and Shop
Suspect Thy Neighbour
Trade Show Assault
Heiress on Her Hobby Horse (1)
Heiress on Her Hobby Horse (2)
As you can see, the series sweeps together a cluster of ideas about structure and style (and there were other things that seemed just too diverse). But these remain sketches, Photoshop files rather than finished works. I post them here as a sort of progress report. Where the Privacy series deserve to be paintings, these are not quite ready. I suspect I would have to do quite a bit of painting again, before I could tackle these. The Privacy series I could paint right away, if I had the means. Now that I’ve posted the Drawings 2012 series and upgraded the introduction to Privacy, I’m revising this introduction to cover some more general points. Barring a special post devoted to theory, this is as good a place as any.
Firstly, my method begins with print – mostly photographic – sources that allow a radical interpretation of content. I am interested where I can see a second and unrelated picture, with suitable orientation and augmentation with other examples. This is not a matter of alternating or successive pictures, as with the familiar rabbit/duck ambiguity say, but where, with some adjustment a second picture roughly emerges. In this way I recycle standard pictorial forms, exchange content. What scope there is for other pictures to a form, how different it ought to be from its given content are matters we can leave for the moment. The treatment of light, texture and focus are all key factors in detecting this potential. So far these have remained strictly in terms of black and white. I seem to need that confinement to perceive these qualities. That may change as I use Photoshop more. The adjustments to be made, firstly by eye, then by hand, are to the kind of picture, its scheme or style and the kind of content or object, its properties and situation. The two are not always easily separated. Differences in picture and content proceed here by considerations of whole and parts, so that, for example some sorts of fragmentation are suitable for some objects under some picture schemes, while considerations for the whole of a picture are relative to the objects included, the pictorial scheme adopted. In some cases linear or graphic elements offer a striking addition to more graded, photographic ones.
The aim is to base pictures in print norms, as a measure of broad pictorial standards and to adopt ready-made forms but without their ready-made content. Forms are instead applied to less obvious or convenient content and cultivate subtle or surprising affinities. Essentially they test categories and discrimination for objects, whether factual or fictive, literal or metaphorical. Similarly, they challenge schemes or styles of picture. The role of painting is to make the process explicit. While photographic qualities are central, not all of them are relevant, not all of them find a place in a ‘ready-made form’. Matters of light or lighting, texture and focus, perspective or projection, as noted, need to be singled out, from say, size, printing characteristics (dot size) paper quality, edges (or composition) and obviously, tone or colour. In many cases the sample is supplemented with other ready-made forms. Painting is the tool that presents the picture completely. And painting’s means are often revised or renewed for the exercise.
Secondly, the humour and cartoon or caricatured elements arise in part from print sources, in part from their treatment as painting. It’s a tricky balance. There is a problem when what is taken from print sources is too obvious or familiar, or when its treatment as painting (or strictly, drawing here) similarly lacks impact. It can be frustrating. Sometimes compositing by fragments seems to invite this tidiness or timidity, so that each part retains a recognisable identity on its own (just). Then again, sometimes the process avoids too much integration as a whole, which can be just as detrimental. Similarly, the humour can be too pronounced and make the work just a joke, but humour is something that needs to be included, as source and treatment. This balance is easier to keep between works rather than within them. The occasional amusing work alerts the viewer to an attitude and related elements throughout other works. That’s enough.
Further questions about how and where exactly new content is found for adopted forms, about rival or conflicting versions of picture or content, about whether this amounts to Surrealism, Neo-Expressionism, Post-Pop Art, postmodernism, appropriation, deconstruction, detournement, simulation, slippage, and so on, await another occasion.