Waiting for the Sibyl by William Kentridge
Waiting for the Sibyl by William Kentridge
It is so true that possessions do not make one happy, as it is equally true that having a plethora of art materials at hand does not necessarily make one a good artist. Before lockdown I could not go past an art shop without buying something, kidding myself that it was just that one pencil what I needed to produce some amazing drawing.
At the moment I have no access to the small studio that – after months of careful consideration and a considerable amount of self-generated guilt that took a long while to shift (but that is another story) – I rented from a company that provides studio space at reasonable rates for London. The studio holds ninety-five per cent of my art materials, including tools and supports, paper, canvas, and a folder containing a collection of scraps of paper and images that I use to make collages. Having a sense of what was going to happen, on my last day in the studio in mid-March, I nearly took the folder home. I didn’t in the end, as it was heavy, and I felt lazy about taking it on the bus. I immediately regretted it, and for a while I thought I could not possibly continue to make art without my folder or my supply of materials. Let alone the space.
Also, I believed there had to be a shift in the ideas I was exploring and felt bereft of inspiration and empty. In fact, a few weeks on, I realised that I did not have to abandon my ideas and projects after all, I still stand by them, but I also realised that sometimes there is nothing truer than the saying ‘less is more’. I am enjoying not having much to play with, not only finding new strategies to convey those ideas but also reusing some of the work I have made in the far and near past. Everything can be cut up, and collaged, or worked on. I still miss my folder, and my tools and paints, but in a way, I learnt to let go.
P.S. Before submitting this entry for the blog, I sent it to a very good friend to get his opinion. He picked the word ‘play’, asking if it was a deliberate choice and if making my work was for me a form of play. I had pondered upon this myself, but the answer I gave him was that play is the right word as it reflects an attitude whereby rules and common sense do not matter. We cannot go back to be children, but we can seek to recreate – even by failing – that sense of wonderous freedom and fearlessness.
During these difficult and destabilising times, our greatest challenge is going to be to find ways to maintain our creatively community, to come together and make together at a distance. The discipline and structure of your art practice may well become significant in the coming months, but continuing to self generate and sustain meaningful artistic activities is going to take some careful thought.
I want to share with you are some thoughts about how we might re-tool our artistic activities to take account of this new situation. I know our heads are full of the many uncertainties we face, but if possible continuing to work is a priority because creativity needs to be actively stimulated. You have to do something.
Over the course of this year we’ve talked extensively about the importance of a creative process, working through a medium, how your method isn’t neutral but comes to shape your output. This is a real difficulty in the current situation. Most of us have a practice built around activities that require access to a studio or have come to rely on particular materials which may no longer be available to us.
The first thing we have to be is realistic, accepting that our output is going to take a hit to begin with. But it’s worth noting that the tighter the constraints are, the more inventive and ultimately creative you are going to become in developing your practice. I have a friend who lost his studio some years ago and began making miniature paintings at home. By popular consent these were significantly more interesting than his previous output and completely reshaped his practice. Before we continue making though, we’re going to need to take a little time out for reflection.
We’re fortunate in that we’ve all established a fairly defined sense of what’s at stake for us in our work. This is where you need to start, thinking about intention. The creative processes we established earlier in the year were about helping to determine it. Now you need to think about resetting your creative process in response to it. You need to look dispassionately at what is currently available to you and in a sense think about beginning again.
It’s really important that you don’t simply try to work with whatever is to hand. You’ve arrived at your method and use of materials through careful negotiation. For example, if drawing is the mainstay of your practice, picking up a phone camera and immediately trying to make images with the same degree of refinement using photography isn’t going to work. The medium doesn’t function in the same way. Photography captures an image in one ‘take’ rather than putting together lots of individual ‘looks’ as you do when you draw. In this situation, you’d want to be clear about your intentions and set up an open-ended creative process utilising photography in response to them. So rather than trying to make a complete statement, instead establish a new mode of working, acknowledging that it will have an effect on your thinking.
If your work accents medium and process, the first thing you need to do is characterise the attributes of that medium that define what yo do. Does it need to be elastic, heavy, light, transparent, absorbent etc. Once you have a list of the material qualities that are important to you, start to think about how you might improvise with domestic materials. For example, right now Alex is devising a possible sculpture project for Year 1 Tuesday students involving soap carving and casting with household materials. For me, the domestic context and associative meanings likely to arise from the use of household materials re-imaged are far more likely to kickstart creative thinking than working with more formal materials.
What is going to be required of you is real creative thought to shift your understanding of what an art material might be and how you can work with it within a domestic setting. We may also have to consider the final format your work takes and ultimate means of dissemination. As I say, if you carefully define your immediate objectives, this is something we can focus on in your tutorials.
When you have to change some of the fundamental aspects of how you work, what you work with, when you work, how you share your work, and how much time you can devote to your work, it begins to steer your output somewhere different. In many respects the current situation forces us to adopt strategies artists normally deploy when they are ‘blocked’, where practice is changed to to create uncertainties and new takes on existing concerns. At this point in your year it’s obviously frustrating to be blown off course but, in the longer term, knowing that if things ever dry up you have a way to start again is probably no bad thing.
March 2020 (sent at the start of lockdown)
Please send material you would like to share to us and we will post it on here.
We, the CLFA team, would like to invite all CLFA students to participate in an exchange, that will take place on this blog whilst we are dealing with the uncertainties and difficulties of the current situation. We thought it would be great to keep in touch not only through our sessions and tutorials but also on this platform. We would like you to post links, texts, pictures, and whatever you want to share with the rest of the group. We hope this blog becomes an interesting diary of the crisis we are living through and most importantly it will help you to share thoughts and ideas related to your art practice. So let’s get started!