Exercise 1 Developing your studies
Research point: Comparison of Tacita Dean’s Blackbord drawings with Seurat’s Landscape with Houses.
Interesting that both these works by artists, from different eras in working with landscape, choose to work in Monochrome of black and white, but on different mediums and in different scale that influence the drawings. At 2400 x 2400 mm each, the impressive scale of the blackboards of Tacita Dean invites comparison with the cinematic screen. Immediately in the viewers face, little privacy and modesty with which drawing’s more conventionally intimate proportions are frequently associated with, as Seurat’s small drawing does. Dean herself has made explicit the connection between her blackboard drawings and cinematic forms, describing them as ‘dysfunctional storyboards . Tacita Dean’s landscape series are huge drawings of the snow-capped peaks of Afghanistan’s mountains and the powerful Kabul River that flows down through them. For more than a decade, Western soldiers have scoured these mountains, which have therefore weighed on America’s collective consciousness. She renders these mountains as haunting forms and the whole painting/drawing is done in photo realistic style. The drawing definitely asks profound questions—how do we come to know and depict a place, and how does that affect history? I can imagine the surface being dry and chalky.
The Seurat work, Landscape with Houses ( secondary title, Maisons (Effet du soleil – Paysage aux maisons ) looks to me as a viewer like a Plein Air study of a grouping of houses that captured the artist enough to draw it, the secondary title refers to capturing the light/ the effect of the sun. Seurat was a neo- impressionist. It is a much smaller drawing, Dimensions: 24.9 x 31.9 cm. His drawing style is different to that of Dean’s. Seurat was fascinated by contemporary developments in optical theory. He sought a systematic approach to the rendering of light and colour, which he described as ‘ma methode’ ; dare I say an ‘ original style’ that no one else have tried or invented? The work is almost – vague – his pointillist technique applies here to the values of his drawing and the texture of the work which is very grainy. One sees nothing in the foreground, except a tree trunk, and Seurat uses white as his background. I do see how he constructs the walls of the houses to put them on different planes within the drawing. Seurat has used his marks to be a message by itself and not just the images of houses and roofs. In the book, Contemporary drawing by Margaret Davidson, the writer describes Seurat as the first artist who developed a drawing technique that consciously explored the interrelatedness between mark and surface. This tonal effect is a kind of pointillism creating different values of tone. This technique in turn prevents that his strokes are neither too detailed or too defined. It also requires the artist to draw form by using degrees of light, and forces every crayon stroke to break into dots of white and black. His shapes become edgeless, with forms advancing and receding from the shadows.
Tacita Dean also have a black foreground and background, only the mountains and river are shown in tones of white, the mountain looks grounded to me as a viewer. Could this be that the viewer is almost left to fill it in and to believe it is as you want it to be? Her images are formed by blotted lines and stark white for the mountain images. I am not sure about my statement but it seems that Tacita Dean did her series of Fatigues (6 panels of the Blackboard drawings of the Himalyan mountains) for the DOCUMENTA 13 in Kassel, Germany from 6 June to 16 September 2012
What I think I understand and like about the drawings of Tacita Dean is the priority it places on the drawing process of sketching and note-taking and almost foregrounding the coming-into-being of her ideas. Another South African artist, William Kentridge also works in black and white. He uses charcoal drawings to create animated films and his process of working is to use a film camera whilst drawing, stop it, go back to the drawing, erase draw again, and almost create that movement As Kentridge works over a single charcoal drawing, erasing and re-drawing, he periodically records each stage in one or two film frames. Each shot of the resultant film records the progress of a single drawing thus reworked, and the dynamic image becomes a texture of erasures, with traces of the drawn marks from previous frames still visible in subsequent ones.
What I found very interesting after reading about these artists, is the fact that they experiment with their media – they used imagination, creativity, encounters with the unforeseen, and moved to discover. I believe this is a challenge to my own growth and would like to take this learning with me.
(e.g. http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/multimedia/videos/355) in which the addition, relocation and erasure of lines creates movement. See this link for some examples of landscape drawings from his film Tide Table (2003): http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/134.2005/
I decided to look at more artists with regards to their landscape approaches.
Done on Brown Paper with charcoal and white chalk. I remember reading in a book by Harold Speed, that he saw the expressive use of form as very important in drawing.
Edward Hopper’s American Landscape – and etching where cows are part of a landscape scene.
I love his use of line to bring the viewer into the picture — the cows are walking into the scene. The use of tone is very effective to give form and atmosphere to the drawing/etching. It is as if the bodies/form of the cows emphasise the sweeping grass of the landscape.
Exercise 2 Foreground, middle ground, background
I looked at tree paintings and drawings of Corot. He makes use of line to describe the forms of this stand of trees. He likely began the drawing with pencil, to lay in the large shapes of the landscape and describe the tree’s shapes. You can see areas of un-touched pencil in the perimeters of the page, along the horizon line, and at the bottom where it appears the trees grow out of a rocky landscape). He continued developing the drawing with a brown ink and pen to clarify the tree’s contours. He laid in some of the shapes of leaf groups with contour and crosshatched areas. Corot constructs the forms of the trees with large masses, blocking in the leaves with sweeps of colour or tone. The branches are drawn and painted working their way from the ground, zig-zagging upward and disappearing into the leaves.
Corot finishes the study by working into the highlights on the tree trunks and branches with a white material (probably white Conte). The paper tone being tan allows him to develop both darks and lights. Importantly, you can see that Corot was most concerned with developing the intricate forms of the trees to the far right and the leaning tree in the center. Because of that, his time making this drawing ends without the whole page being rendered edge to edge. However, there is still a large amount of information captured, which probably allowed Corot to reference his memory of this situation as he needed in future paintings where trees like this were desired. Studies, like this one, were often done as a form of research, some being used for future paintings, and others just remaining studies done for study sake.
I decided to work from a photograph I have taken whilst in one of our national parks ( Mokala) during early April this year. I was after rain during the night, and early in the morning. There was fog hanging around our campsite and the Camelthorn trees looked earie in this landscape. I will attempt a monochrome study. I prepared a piece of copper plate I have, with acrylic paint and then blended charcoal powder onto this. I let it dry for a hour and then made my drawing with white and black chalk/ The plate has some texture of the charcoal powder as well, and a left some areas free from charcoal. I used scraping to create the mud pool in the middle ground. At a stage the drawing reminded me more of a moonlit evening in the bush.
I had to keep in mind that because the fog creates an upshot of light, diffusion means that objects within and behind the fog or mist begin to lose their detail, colour saturation and value in proportion to the density of the mist and the distance those objects are from the viewer (in this case me, the photographer) . I had to get the branches softer, cooler and paler as they recede into the background.
My next drawings will be of Rhinos in the landscape: I had the opportunity during June 2018 to spend a few amazing days in a game reserve with a team that cover the field of Environmental Crime Investigations. Rhino sightings as part of the Big Five game viewing in the South African landscape, are changing more and more to carcasses found in our nature reserves, due to an intense and increased poaching operation for a demand in rhino horn consumption, driven mainly by countries in the far East. This poaching has lead to alarming lower levels of these animals in Asia as well as Africa.I visited rhino crime scenes ( rhino carcasses illegally poached for their horns) with these teams.
The key area of such a crime scene investigation is a legal process with forensic and ballistic principals, ballistics and DNA examinations. The investigators from the SA Police services works together with the Environmental Crime Investigative team of Nature Conservation. A crime scene could be a fresh or older to very old rhino carcass ( or more than one rhino on a crime scene), bones, skin and other body parts of these animals strewn and (half) eaten by other carnivores and or found by Nature Conservation Fieldrangers on patrol or by real life interaction with poachers. The process I observed was:
- mapping of crime scene areas by the first responders to be visited by the investigators;
- visiting and finding ( walking, driving, flying to) the crime scenes according to the list of mappings and location and doing the investigation of the crime scene
- photographing the crime scene by the SAPS investigator
- Metal detecting for ballistic founds
- marking of exhibits and recording them
- correctly tag and bag exhibits for forensic and DNA examinations
- notes of crime scene
I try to place the rhino skeleton as the foreground and , with the rhino in front of it in the middle ground (safety) and the background of trees in the veld as well as clouds in the sky.
This foot sole of a rhino was found next to the bones of the carcass on a scene – the team took samples for DNA testing. The bullet was find a few metres from the skull.
Photo by Alaister Russel taken from The Times Live website ( published 7:50 on 9 January 2018)
Above photo shows members of the Environment Crime Investigation team preparing for an autopsy on a scene of a poached rhino in the Kruger National Park, an attempt to collect forensic evidence. This is also a ‘fresh’ carcass – in these cases the team has to be weary of hienas, lion, wild dogs and vultures trying to eat on the carcass. The way this rhino is lying indicates that he probably died of a head wound.. which again could indicate an experienced ‘gun’ user – poachers mostly kill these rhinos at night with heavy calibre guns that could be equipped with silencers.
At this stage I feel that my experience within this landscape in the wilderness where rhinos are poached at an average rate of 3 day, should reflect a ‘window’ into the criminality of this illegal market into Asia, and not just the plight of rhinos and wildlife as victims. I am contemplating at how these drawings could be presented as part of a landscape scene. This is a landscape that is disturbed and managed in an almost ‘un natural way’, as the ‘game keepers’ need to fight a war against criminals and the poacher is used by criminal syndicates to kill of these animals. The rhino horn has become part of illegal animal products being moved into the market by highly sophisticated international and local criminals and has a high financial return for the criminals orchestrating this market. The demand is further influenced by cultural beliefs, affluent lifestyles and corruption. From a conservational view these cultural beliefs and consumerism is of big concern and efforts are being made to change behaviour – but it is bound by geographical lines and political powers. My drawings need to explore this truth we all know, but agree not to talk about.
The elephant in the room:
In 1814, Ivan Andreevich Krylov (1769–1844), a poet/writer, wrote a fable entitled “The Inquisitive Man” which tells of a man who goes to a museum and notices all sorts of tiny things, but fails to notice an elephant. The phrase became proverbial. Dostoevsky in his novel ‘Demons’ wrote, “Belinsky was just like Krylov’s Inquisitive Man, who didn’t notice the elephant in the museum” Mark Twain also used the term : In a story written in 1882, “The Stolen White Elephant”, which slyly dissects the inept, far-ranging activities of detectives trying to find an elephant that was right on the spot after all!
Wikipedia explains the usage of the term as follow: “The term refers to a question, problem, solution, or controversial issue which is obvious to everyone who knows about the situation, but which is deliberately ignored because to do otherwise would cause great embarrassment, sadness, or trigger arguments or is simply taboo. The idiom can imply a value judgment that the issue ought to be discussed openly, or it can simply be an acknowledgment that the issue is there and not going to go away by itself.”
I thought of the idea of a pink elephant ( part of the incredible sight idea line in helping to cope with thoughts and subsequent repression) The theory behind the Pink Elephant: This is actually an adaptation from the classic study by Wegner, Schneider, Carter, & White (1987) The experiment was to ask people not to think of a target (e.g. “white bear”) for five-minutes but if they did to ring a bell. After this, participants were told to think about the target for five-minutes more. Compared to those who had not used suppression there was evidence for unwanted thoughts being immediately enhanced during suppression and, furthermore, a higher frequency of target thoughts during the second stage, dubbed the rebound effect (Wegner, 1989)
Then I read the following about the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein who used an example of a rhinoceros in the room to show the impossibility of proving negative existential statements. The crux of his dispute between Wittgenstein and Russell appears to be a thesis held by Wittgenstein at the time concerning ‘asserted propositions.’ According to Russell, Wittgenstein maintained that ‘there is nothing in the world except asserted propositions’ and refused ‘to admit the existence of anything except asserted propositions.’
If I could get a consumer think of the “red rhino”… could I influence consumption behaviour? Can I leave a viewer to fill in what needs to be there? At least I enjoyed the thoughts of this experience and the warm red colour brightened the landscape of my thoughts.
Looking at above image I feel the drawing could be more expressive – this is a dead rhino after being shot and its horns were hacked off. Fresh blood provoked me to draw this scene in red – I worked on a charcoal study initially.
I later googled paintings of rhinos and found the following colourful print
I developed the drawing of the rhino skeleton further after a few days of looking at it.
The following information and photo was found in an article by Africa Geographic Magazine of two sisters, Vicky and Ness Wiesenmaier, of German origin who were born in Cape Town, South Africa. They both love the bush and were struck by the severity of the rhino situation while on a three-week holiday in Kenya back in 2012. Two years later they decided to embark on a cycling adventure of epic proportions in April 2015 to create awareness about the rhino poaching issues in Africa. Their aim was to sow a seed of change in key consumer markets in South-East Asia, even if they could not change a whole culture. They visited 8 Asian countries on their mountain bikes. This is what they say: “We firmly believe that creating awareness and educating the Asian public is the most crucial step towards saving the rhino. The war against rhino poaching will be won in Asia, not in Africa.”
Taken from an article in the Africa Geographic Magazine, 25 March 2016
As the slogan of the well-known organisation WildAid states: “When the buying stops, the killing can too.” I am motivated to contribute as this problem definitely has to be tackled on different levels, including effective conservation, international collaboration, the strengthening of law enforcement on a global level, and a fast crack-down on criminal syndicates. For my my art will have to develop within the ‘Evidentiary Realism’. I have seen work curated by Paolo Cirio. It refers to art that, in his words, “portrays and reveals evidence from complex social systems.” The works in this fourteen-person show attempted to heighten our awareness of the foul social and political infrastructures that seem to be dominating much of the world today. The artists engaged in investigative, forensic, and documentary work. Evidentriary Realism can be a evidence-based aesthetic approach . Evidentiary Realism” focuses on artworks that prioritise formal aspects of visual language and mediums; diverging from journalism and reportage, they strive to provoke visual pleasure and emotional responses.
Contemporary sharing and processing of information in an open global collaborative environment entails an amplified sense of reality. Leaks, discoveries, and facts are collectively verified and disseminated among numerous distribution networks. Techniques of presentation and engaging the public have been evolving in the same direction: through reconfiguration of media and languages, the evidence is presented in a variety of strategies and artifacts in dialogue with contemporary art practices.
In the exhibition curated by Paolo Cirio, that I referred to, the evidence is presented through photography, film, drawing, painting, and sculpture, with strong references to art history. In particular, these artists also theoretically articulate the aesthetic, social, and documentary functions of their mediums in relation to the subject matter they investigate. Some of the evidentiary realist works break down visibility to abstraction to underline the limits of seeing, while others use figuration or synthesis to enhance insight. The encoded information and nuanced details behind the works point to large, highly complex realities that come into focus through the factual evidence shown. Yet these enigmatic and seductive works serve as evidence of the opaque and intricate apparatus of our reality.
The process of translating investigations and documents into artworks underpins the exhibition. Such practices adopted by emerging and established artists of today can be traced to the works of Hans Haacke, Mark Lombardi, and Harun Farocki, who were some of the first artists invested in decoding complex systems of power and conveying them in bold artistic forms.
The creation of evidentiary artworks is the realism of today’s world, which is trying to control, predict, and quantify itself. Evidentiary realists examine such complexity to condemn, document, and inform through compelling artworks, giving form to a particular documentary and investigative art practice.
More information: http://nomegallery.com
In Mary Carter Resorts Study (1994) Mark Lombardi, known for his diagrammatic work, piles on the evidence linking organised crime, politics and intelligence. He achieves this by mapping the interconnections of global power, starting from the specific case of the Mary Carter Resort in the Bahamas.
At this stage I am contemplating using an aerial picture of rhinos as a landscape study. I