Things Behind the Sun

Second Field project has been unexpected.  I knew it was coming, yes, but I didn’t realise that I had been put into this Field option which has been thus far surprising but if I’m honest I’m not totally feeling it.  It’s with David Fitzjohn (our head of Fine Art) so it’s particularly ethereal with loose concepts and seemingly directionless compared to having our noses pressed at the metaphorical grindstone over in Graphics.

I thought I had picked the photography module, an exploration of rivers and sequence and documenting change and flow etc etc., but I had not.  Our first meet up with Fitzjohn centred around a lengthy powerpoint which discussed ‘What is a Landscape?’ and other questions lacking tangible answers.  I enjoy Fine Art, and certainly the freedom it gives you is something I relish from time to time, but at degree level it’s something I have often found daunting and at some points something that I can struggle to get to grips with and relate to because it’s so far from my comfort zone.  I’m looking forward to it and will certainly try my hand at anything, but so far I’m quite on the fence about this one.

This project offers students from any discipline the opportunity to explore the concept of landscape as a source of inspiration, with specific focus on the experiential, the sublime and the role of reverie in the creative process and how this can be related to a studio based practice.

Students will be offered two contrasting experiences of landscape.  One a mediated ‘planned’ environment and one a ‘wild / natural’ environment.

By physically experiencing the landscapes through walking, recording and reflection, students will generate primary research in the form of drawings, photographs, writing etc. in both locations. These outcomes will then be processed and developed through a series or ideas and skills workshops either individually or collaboratively depending on the student’s particular needs back in the studios. Ultimately it is intended for students to use the results of this exploration to generate work beyond the boundaries of the five-week project.

The talk yesterday did help me in understanding further what was going to be asked of us and what we were to be exploring over the coming weeks.  I love being outdoors, documenting, and just generally observing the things that I see and really taking a great deal from being outside in more rural areas.  I grew up in a rural area so it’s something that I love, and I thoroughly enjoy spending my time wandering about and seeing what I can find which is what I have gleaned from David’s talk.

We are going to the National Botanical Gardens of Wales tomorrow and have been asked to complete 100 drawings in a sort of note-taking exercise.  We’ve been told to not be too precious about them, we’re not drawing landscapes, we’re taking notes.  Notes of textures or shapes or anything of particular interest that we think we’d like to document obviously to explore further down the line.  This is quite daunting because my own work is quite meticulous – my symmetrical sketchbook with clean space and rational thought throughout it is my pride and joy, and the way I work might be at odds with the nature of this brief?  I can’t tell yet but I think it might be something I struggle with.  I like rough note taking and quick drawings but the way I organise my process has to be laid out in such a way that I can refer to it.  Coherency is my friend, otherwise I find myself babbling but in sketch form and words jotted down and I can’t make sense of it and everything that comes out at the end can turn into a mess also.  If I can’t look back through my work and see what I was clearly thinking or the direction I was heading then I get lost, and if I’m honest, bored out of confusion.  This is something I may have to abandon.

Joseph_Mallord_William_Turner_-_Snow_Storm_-_Steam-Boat_off_a_Harbour's_Mouth_-_WGA23178

We were shown some work by Turner, whose light and ghostly paintings are of course a stalwart of landscape painting.  I thoroughly appreciate his work, but for me there’s something gritty and real about a landscape.  What you’re looking at before you has edges and lines and sharp bits and rough bits and all the other bits that make up the view as a whole.  I personally believe that to wash over this does the landscape an injustice.  Yes, Turner’s work communicates a power (particularly the seascapes and stormier ones) but I think there’s something so important in the detail.

There was also work from an artist who photographs the landscape as he sees it, warts and all.  Often this includes bins, rubbish, bits of plastic and other litter that usually covers part of what you’re looking at.  The burnt out car in a lay-by in a conservation area or the overflowing bin.  David expressed that what we choose to leave out is just as important as what we leave in.  When we take photographs we use the viewfinder to find the ‘perfect’ picture, or what we perceive to be the best bit of whatever it is that we’re looking at.  With photography this is interesting as it’s something I’m passionate about, and these decisions are ones that I make regularly.  When I’m out and about taking photographs I often find myself photographing the ‘unseen’, or the unsightly things, or the bits that nobody else is looking at.  In much the same way as a family photo album doesn’t have pictures of you crying because you fought with your sibling, or the time you broke your arm.  It’s what we choose to keep in or keep out and the decisions that get us there, and those decisions are important when documenting the landscape.

We were also shown work by Ansel Adams (I’m a huge fan), which to me are more about the reality of the scene.  They’re real and powerful and awe-inspiring images, and personally I think these come a lot closer to expressing the sublime aspects of nature than a Romantic landscape painter.

Adams_The_Tetons_and_the_Snake_River

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