Artists Apart

Two exhibitions in Swansea this weekend: Sarah Poland who has a residency in GS Gallery, and Frances Richards at the Glynn Vivian.

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Sarah Poland’s mark making using inks made from oak galls has a zen-like quality. I love how she combines this with photographic images she calls ‘moon-drawings’, made by using a long exposure on full-moon nights in the woods.

Oak Gall Ink – nick-named Ink of poets and Kings – is a very expensive, beautiful, indelible black ink. But for me, the process from start to finish, from gathering the oak galls in an ancient woodland in west Wales, to making the ink, to using it in my work is an important process in the work. At the very least because I can control and play with the viscosity and texture of the material. The work is about exploring drawing through making and using oak gall ink as much as it is about the place and the experience of where they were found. I am working it on paper, canvas and gesso panel.

-Sarah Poland

Moon drawings and oak gall ink.

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Sarah Poland with work made during the residency

Frances Richards: An Artist Apart at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery – 15 June – 1 September 2019, concentrates on this visionary artist’s  embroidery collages, drawings and monotypes, executed during the war and previously unseen until now, as well as the figurative and flower paintings of her later years.

Richards studied at the Royal College of Art from 1924 to 1927, specialising in tempera and fresco painting. She admired the early Italian renaissance painters Giotto, Piero della Francesca and Fra Angelico; the British artists Samuel Palmer, William Blake and David Jones; and the poetry of the Psalms, the Song of Solomon, George Herbert and Arthur Rimbaud. On display at the GV gallery is the collection of her Les Illuminations – illustrations to prose poems by Arthur Rimbaud lithographs.

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Dawn
1973–5

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Bottom
1973–5

Bottom 1973-5 by Frances Richards 1903-1985

Bottom
1973–5

An Artist Apart highlights the perspective of a hugely gifted female artist and how she responded to the dark mood of wartime Britain.

 

 

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Frances Richards, On Being Alone, 1963, Watercolour on board

 

Chance and Creativity

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Using the notion of chance in art and writing  has been a useful and popular tool in creative wellbeing sessions. Participants like the way feelings can be expressed indirectly, for example by using pre-existing text and cutting it up to form their own poem, or drawing with eyes closed.

This group piece was created from pages of a picture book. All participants were given the same photocopied page and circled words they wished to use, blacking out the rest of the text. On another occasion, a dice was used to choose a word from each sentence on the page.

Using these processes introduces an element of fun as well as chance, allowing artists to bypass inhibitions of the conscious mind. It was interesting to see the way that different people working with the same limited text produced different tones and moods depending on how the words were placed.

The technique was promoted by Tristan Tzara, a Dada artist in 1920s Paris. Here are his instructions:

To Make a Poem

Take a newspaper
Take a pair of scissors
Choose from the paper an article as long as you are planning to make your poem
Cut the article out
Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up the article and put them in a bag
Shake gently
Next take each clipping out one after another in the order in which they left the bag
Copy conscientiously
The poem will look like you
And there you are — an infinitely original author endowed with a charming sensibility though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.

Hans Arp was another founding member of Dadaism. The Dada artists experimented with new approaches to art that could undermine the existing cultural mentality and confused logic that had led the world to the edge of annihilation. “Dada aimed to destroy the reasonable deceptions of man and recover the natural and unreasonable order.” – Arp.

Arp used chance through methods such as circling words at random in a newspaper, or drawing them from a hat. Similarly, William Burrough’s use of cut-up composition, and some of Bowie’s lyrics.

“What I’ve used it for, more than anything else, is igniting anything that might be in my imagination. It can often come up with very interesting attitudes to look into. I tried doing it with diaries and things, and I was finding out amazing things about me and what I’d done and where I was going.” – David Bowie

Bernadette Mayer is a wonderfully innovative contemporary poet using chance techniques. Mayer’s record-keeping and use of stream-of-consciousness narrative are two trademarks of her writing, though she is also known for her work with form and mythology. In addition to the influence of her textual-visual art and journal-keeping, Mayer’s poetry is widely acknowledged as some of the first to speak accurately and honestly about the experience of motherhood. For examples of her writing experiments see here.