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Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Capturing Drawing in Response to Music

Part of my drawing practice involves drawing in response to live improvised music, this is a method I use to capture different emotional states and physical sensations through drawing. As part of my Research and Development project 'Drawing as Experience' (funded by Arts Council England) I wanted to ask; How is this work best shown? Is it through the finished drawing, the performance or the documentation of the performance or some combination of all of these elements? In recent years I have focused very much on the public performance as the act is where this particular aspect of my work exists for me, the finished drawing can not 'tell it' alone. But does this moment of making the drawing, of hearing the sounds that propel it into being, have to be physically witnessed by an audience each time, or are there other possibilities?

Exploring this, I commissioned Andrew Brooks to create a film of me drawing in response to improvised sounds by my long term collaborators David Birchall and Dan Bridgwood Hill. I wanted to push what the audience could access of this moment by using a go pro camera (attached to my head), giving both the impression of the performance as they might witness as part of an audience, but also a more intimate view, close to my own, inside the drawing.

Here is the resulting film. 

Monday, 28 November 2016

Drawing under Hypnosis - Session Three

My third session of drawing while under hypnosis in collaboration with Psychology Lecturer Devin Terhune, took place at Goldsmiths University of London where Devin is based. Our previous sessions can be seen here.

How should this work be shown? How do I communicate what happened? And how much really needs to be said?

There are so many different elements involved in each of the drawings I have made while under hypnosis. There is the drawing itself and the space I occupy in my mind while making it, these are two halves of a whole and are of equal importance to me. Surrounding this are; the discussions Devin and I have about the work and psychology and drawing more widely, the space we are working in and of course Devin verbally inducting me into a state of hypnosis each time. All of these things contribute, they shape the drawing.

Afterwards I am left with the drawings as well as sound recordings of the whole process, photos, notes, bits of films. Using a potential combination of words and images to describe work that needs both (Devin's spoken induction, my drawings) feels right. The next step will be to start playing with these elements, to work out exactly what I want to say, and how.


Drawing her hair, feels like bringing a part of her back.

More photos of the drawings and documentation from these sessions can be seen here

This work is part of my research and development project, 'Drawing as Experience' funded by Arts Council England.

Please note is important to only try hypnosis with a trained hypnosis professional.


Friday, 18 November 2016

Drawing Space Workshops

Drawing and Sound

 Workshops and other participatory projects are an integral part of my practice, as part of my Arts Council England funded research and development project 'Drawing as Experience' I wanted to develop a new series of workshops. Taking place over three consecutive Saturdays as part of the Health and Wellbeing program at Manchester Art Gallery, these workshops were open to the general public and participants I had met from St Lukes Art Project in Longsight (a project run by Alison Kershaw that enables people including those with mental health needs to develop their art practice). I also invited Rae Story, one of a team of artists who help to run St Lukes Art Project to develop and deliver one of the workshops.

Each workshop focused on a different aspect of drawing, the first was looking at drawing as a tool for noticing (both the subject and ourselves), the second, led by Rae Story was an exploration of drawing, light and movement which grew out of Rae's own art practice and role as a Qigong teacher. The final workshop focused on drawing in response to sound, including live music by Dan Bridgwood Hill playing violin and guitar.

Each workshop is a carefully built space, as much psychological as physical; from each drawing method developed, to the lighting, choice of words, materials, timings, seating, coffee and length of breaks, every layer is put in place to help provide an environment in which people can feel comfortable and ready to embrace wherever their drawing may take them, to be fully in the moment.

Though the specific drawing techniques explored in Drawing Space are, on the surface, most obviously related to my drawing practice, it is this idea of a constructed environment where I notice perhaps an even stronger link - I see the act of drawing itself as a springboard, allowing me a psychological space to explore and describe, and I enhance this by creating specific environments to draw within, such as immersed in live music or while placed under hypnosis, these are my catalysts. The Drawing space workshops were an attempt to create the right kind of catalyst for others.

We all increasingly need a space that makes us stop, create and dream.


Drawing and Movement

Drawing and Movement

Drawing and Sound

Thank you to the participants and everyone else involved in Drawing Space.

Some Participant Feedback:

'This was a magical and peaceful workshop'

'Loved it! First time Ive drawn since I was at school, this approach really helped me lose my inhibitions'

'Peaceful, introspective session, broadened my perception and allowed me to trust what was unfolding'

'Getting out of the house, performing and drawing, felt worth something'

'I feel relaxed'

I feel excited and energised.

For more photos of these workshops visit Manchester Art Gallery's Flickr album

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Making the Invisible, Visible

One of the things I am enjoying most about 'Drawing as Experience' (my Arts Council England funded Research and Development project) is the time it affords me to become immersed in the work of others. I have met with local artists Daksha Patel, Lesley HalliwellSimon Woolham and Gemma Lacey who all share a passion for drawing, spent hours in Tate Modern lost in Georgia O keefe's life's work, read up on the Victorian Spiritualist world of Georgiana Houghton, watched Len Lye's and William Kentridge's films of drawings in motion and much more.

The Eye of The Lord Georgiana Houghton 1870

 Making the invisible, visible.

In Peter Lanyon's painting 'Thermal', 1960 he paints air rising and transforming as he cuts through it, flying in a glider. Georgia O Keefe's emotions are embodied in the abstracted bones, desert and mountains she painted. Maria Lassnig's experience of existing inside the human body is laid bare in her paintings, particularly those made towards the end of her life. Spiritualist and artist Georgiana Houghton is perhaps the most extreme example of bringing the invisible to our attention (and visually the closest to drawings I have made in response to music that I have ever encountered) Her drawings are a direct result of her communications with the dead, who she believed directed her drawings. Her work (made in the 1860's and 70's) has been compared to the later developments of abstraction, automatic writing, outsider art and surrealism.

Spiritualism, solitude, illness, adrenaline, music... Though their routes may differ for me these artists share the same destination - they each attempt to capture in their work something we can not see, or touch but that is still familiar and known to us all, the physical sensations, emotions, memories, dreams and sense of 'other' (be it spirituality or the power of nature) that make up our existence. Though difficult things to make visible, for many of these artists, including myself, there is a real urgency to try.

Phyllida Barlow from the exhibition RIG 2011

Drawing methods.

I think of sculpture when I am drawing, Anselm Kiefer and Phyllida Barlow are two recent influences; weight, scale, space, density, tactility, movement, things bound or released, balanced and dropped. The sensations and emotions I am trying to describe in my drawings often feel sculptural to me, what keeps me 'on the page', for now at least, is a strong desire for the immediacy of the mark.
Recent shows by Jenny Saville and Frank Auerbach have inspired me. Canvas or paper, paint or charcoal and rubber their surfaces are like skins that become lived in. London streets for Auerbach and shifting collections of reclining bodies for Saville, are (on the same surface) drawn, re drawn, rubbed or scraped away, choices are made about what is important enough to stay, risks are constantly taken, it could all be destroyed. Exposing, we have seen what went on before, we see what was finally left behind. Wether in front of an audience or behind closed doors, this is performative work, the action is integral to the story.

Artist Mothers.

Mary kelly and Lenka Clayton. I wonder does it become easier to 'do both' if motherhood becomes your subject as it did for them, do you feel any less divided? Is my own work an affirmation of who I am beyond being a mother, a selfish act (in a positive sense), a form of escapism even? I know that although being a mother permeates almost all of my experiences, it remains stood at the edges of my work. What I don't know is why, or whether it should take a step forward.

Eagle Claw and Black Bean Necklace, Georgia O keefe, 1934

Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Grandma Drawings

'The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living' is the name Damien Hirst gave to his 1991 shark in formaldehyde piece. These words (more than the work itself) seem to have stayed with me, and replay in my mind whenever I try to think about death.

How do you comprehend death? After my Grandma died in May I chose to try and understand that she was no longer here, through a series of drawings.

The role that drawing has in my life gained new significance three years ago, when I became a parent. Now drawing is also an opportunity (sometimes the only one) to think over and process things properly. Though not particularly looking forward to it, I knew I had to make these drawings in order to face grief.

Some of my drawings made while under hypnosis involve telling Devin the sensory associations I have with the proposed subject of my drawing (i.e my son), which he then relays back to me while placing me under hypnosis, priming me for the drawing. Devin pointed out that I could try this by myself too, it would not be hypnosis, but could build a similar framework for a drawing.

And so remembering this, I sat alone one day and I though about Grandma; white hair, flowery swimming costume, the colour peach, crying with laughter, soft skin... I wrote these down to cement them for me. Then I drew.


Monday, 4 July 2016

A Performance with Epiphany at the Whitworth

This was my first collaborative performance with Epiphany who improvised with french horn, electric harp, cello, viola, flute and more, while I drew in response, resulting in my largest and most physical drawing performance to date.

Watch films of the performance
2 minutes by Andrew Brooks
8 minutes by Epiphany 

I wanted to work with Epiphany as I felt they were already blurring the lines I had been edging towards in Drawn to the Beat and my previous performances. I was struck by the fact that they moved among the audience as they played, and as I drew in response to them the first time we met, they would immediately and instinctively move closer to me and begin to respond back. These explorations in movement and increased call and response were amplified in our Whitworth performance.

I think of the music as a space I enter, a room in which anything is possible, many things are sensed and felt there and most are forgotten the moment the music stops. Here Epiphany made that space cathedral like with their scale and varity of sounds, and I felt myself responding with more intensity as a result.

Blind (focusing fully on listening, I never look up ) I sought out the different sources of sound, drawing towards them. Afterwards looking back at the photos and film it is almost a surprise to see the familiar form of a person with an instrument, knelt or stood alongside me. In the moment the sounds were just parts of this shifting, shimmering space, gently pushing and pulling me to be moved and to draw.

Afterwards people said they were trying to work out who was following who at which point, looking out for the shifts in control. I am always listening, taking in the sound as a whole or getting lost in individual parts of it. The musicians also respond at times to my actions, here we meet head on and will often get stuck in a loop until one of us breaks it off. Then there are those indescribable moments when we are working totally as one, and I am careful then to be as unconscious as I can, so as not to break the spell. It is at these times that the very tip of my finger, or the edge of the charcoal becomes like an anchor, perhaps the only thing preventing me from pure dance, or even flight.

Further images available here
Photography and film by Andrew Brooks

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Drawing under Hypnosis - Session Two

My drawings describe an inner world; imaginings, sensations, a particular motion, memory or emotion. I set up environments to draw within, for example I could position myself in an imposing or comforting part of a room, immerse myself in live improvised music or be placed under hypnosis. I then draw the impact these outer environments have on my inner world. Though the environments are planned, what emerges during the drawings is unpredictable. I respond in the moment, choose whether to follow a mark or form and what it suggests, is it right? There is always a fine balance between release and control, this is perhaps most evident in the hypnosis drawings. 

I have been collaborating with Devin Terhune (Lecturer in Psychology at Goldsmiths, London) to create drawings whilst under hypnosis, as part of my Arts Council England funded project 'Drawing as Experience'. Below is a summary of what happened during our second session, for more sessions follow this link. 

Devin and I have developed a process for each drawing; first we discuss what I want to explore in the next drawing, for example this could be drawing with my hands and arms moving independently of me (anarchic hands). Devin incorporates this idea into his induction (a set of verbal instructions that place me under hypnosis). Once hypnotised I draw and, with luck, my hands and arms have become anarchic.

For 'Dinosaur' I was to become 'fully absorbed in the drawing'. During it I felt relaxed, heavy and 'inside' my drawing in a way I don't normally feel. Early on in the drawing the jaws of what I recognised to be a toy dinosaur began to emerge, I remember finding it funny but deciding to stay with it, to let it happen. I was also very aware of sounds, the trains outside and footsteps above, these influenced the marks too.

Afterwards I remembered I had tidied away one of Jackson's toy dinosaurs just before Devin had arrived.
Anarchic Hands and Arms 

During induction I was told I would have 'Anarchic Hands and Arms' (meaning they would move independently of me, and each other) When I began the drawing I wasn't sure if I liked losing control of a part of my body, it felt alien, looked robotic, and the marks reflected this. I got used to it fairly quickly however and enjoyed observing, with curiosity, my new spidery looking language. Again I think my sensitivity to sound influenced the drawing too, the hard, scratchy sound of the charcoal moving seemed to breed more hard scratchy marks.

When we tried this technique in the previous session I had been sat at a desk with smaller paper, this larger scale exaggerated my movements and the marks, better describing the effects of anarchic hands and arms.

Anarchic hands and arms (large scale drawing)

Anarchic hands and arms

Imagining Jackson

Imagining Jackson

How do you draw love? I wanted to make a drawing about my son Jackson, to somehow describe my feelings for him. During the drawing I was really struck by how present and real my feelings were, with only Devin's induction and Jackson's comforter 'monkey to evoke them.

I felt very sure of what I wanted to do, the center of the drawing became a repeated smoothing of the pink pastel representing the rush in my chest I get when I watch Jackson sleep, a surge of love. Surrounding this were marks I recognise from my music drawings, in this context they represented the sound of his laugh. In the bottom right hand corner things  became more solid looking, brought on by thoughts of his squishy legs, arms and the crease at his wrist.

Devin mentioned afterwards that the technique of bringing about specific vivid images, which in turn bring about emotions, is used a lot in hypnotherapy. He also pointed out that I am a very visual thinker (as opposed to verbal) and he is not surprised that I am an artist.

Draw freely, without any constraints (large scale drawing)

Without Constraints

'losing control is a bizarre psychological state. With everything we do we have a sense of agency, a sense of being in control of our actions, this is a fundamental part of being a person in the world.’ - Devin.

What does it mean to draw with total abandon? 'Drawing without constraints' was a drawing in which I did not hold back, I was instructed to draw without worrying about how it looked at all, to just let it happen. What followed was a joyful wallowing in the physicality of making repetitive, addictive, sweeping marks at speed. I was reminded of swimming.

Whether I am instructed specifically to 'draw without constrains' or not, each hypnosis drawing is a balance of abandon and control, criticism and risk. The power between them shifts within the course of each drawing, I make judgments as I go, sometimes that judgment is to do nothing and let 'the hypnosis' lead. The other layer of control happens around each drawing, before it starts - in the discussions Devin and I have about what the focus of the drawing will be, and afterwards - in the choice whether to pursue that method again.

Please note it is important to only try hypnosis with a trained hypnosis professional.