In the seminar series this year I found the lectures on socially engaged art to be the most inspiring. Claire Hamilton’s lecture on Place Making and a Socially Engaged City was particularly poignant for it contextualised my multifaceted creative web of studio practice and socially engaged community work. It explored place, the importance of community, educational reform and the role of the artist. She mentioned Joseph Beuys' famous quote, “Everybody is an artist,” meaning that each person has a multitude of pathways for their artistic expression, and even the mundane and ordinary can be art. My work is largely connected and interwoven in this similar pursuit for creativity, through my studio practice (exploring colour first, then line and eventually form), my research into process-oriented methodology and the improvisational aspects of facilitating a community group.
My daughter has recently begun drawing circles, “Look, there are windows!” she exclaims. Anthroposophist Michaela Strause describes how drawings relate to child development, and that circles are the initial forms children draw, big rings and expanding ribbons, where the movement takes the line further than the page or starts beyond the edge of the paper (Straus, 1988, p.13). Pythagoras also noted that among the five simple and perfect forms the circle was the deity of all, the universal form (Birren, 1961, p.10). Circles symbolize completeness, comfort, a focal point and a safe place to explore and develop from and recently, in my exploration of colour and form, I instinctually stumbled upon the circle as well. Deleuze & Guattari (2013) associate the possibilities of creative growth not with the calculated step-by-step development of a tree but with the growth of a circular rhizome-like stem which extends horizontally underground, putting out roots at adventitious intervals. “Most modern methods for making series proliferate or a multiplicity grow (that) are perfectly valid in one direction, for example, a linear direction, whereas a unity of totalization asserts itself even more firmly in another, circular or cyclic, dimension” (Deleuze & Guattari, 2013, p6).
The rhizome therefore is more resilient than the tree as each part along its stem is connected to the source and it is continually building new connections between “semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles” (Deleuze & Guattari, 2013, p.7). This is a growth field where everything is connected to the circular focal point, i.e. the doer, but the doing is heterogeneous in expression. In my artistic practice, I am similarly expanding out in a rhizome-like way from the comfort of my own circle and my known themes and methodologies, challenging my practice with new techniques, exploring existing and emerging themes and increasing my understanding of my own process. For instance, for the past few years I have been exploring a botanical theme in oil and photography but, through my recent study of colour and form, I am now working on abstract pastel pieces and a watercolour series which touches upon social and political issues. I am also facilitating a creative and socially engaged community group, which I see as part of my artistic development.
I began my MA by contemplating why I was drawn back to mark making after a long hiatus. I started by considering the fundamentals of 2-dimensional art, colour and form. I dove into colour by eliminating form from my work, looking at Goethe’s colour theory (Schindler, 1964), Cage’s Colour and Meaning (2000) and others. I experimented with various mediums: watercolour, oil, acrylic, dying cloth, printmaking and I researched colour field painting, abstract expressionism, contemporary use of colour in painting and installation work and various artists of interest. I picked up pastels and found that the pure pigment lent itself to the exploration of colour, which I was then able to experiment with on a large scale.
Goethe’s research initiated the study of colour phycology, with the aim of uncovering colours secrets. (Pipes, 2008, p.171) I found that light quickly became one of these secrets in my own work with colour, for without light the pieces seemed dull, flat and lacking substance. Colours are seen more clearly when there is light, (Kalderon, 2015, p69) revealing themselves “…as a moving interval between the unseen creativities of light and darkness.” (Collot D’herbois, 1979, p.17) Therefore, once I added light (and subsequently darkness), my pieces took on a more dynamic nature. Through this development, along with others, I started to find out what interested me about making art and one of the responses that arose was simply: process.
I began deconstructing my process of mark making through the process itself, the more I created the more I learned about my practice and the importance of ‘process painting.’ Practice comes before theory (Albers, 1963, p.1) for through the making the theory can then be discovered. The analogy with the rhizome and the tree is an ideal paradigm for my practice, for I find the intuition-based route of making more inspiring than the intellectual design of a project. There is some intangible element of creative unknowing that is compelling when embarking on an improvisational work of art.
“Finally, one opens the circle a crack, opens it all the way, lets someone in, calls someone, or else goes out oneself… launches forth, hazards of improvisation” (Delouse & Quattari, 2013, p.311).
This leap into the unknown is a “radical moment of rethinking,” (Douglas, 2012, p.2) where intuition takes over and the play of improvisation begins. It is a delicate dance, stepping out from the comfort of the circle, between the familiar and the foreign. Douglas and Coessens (2011, p.149-50) describe this state as the interval between two levels of expression, a known stable “aboutness knowledge” and an experiential “withness knowledge” which allows for change and at the same time continuity.
It was therefore liberating to improvise with colour, to experience it physically through scumbling and blending pigments, to sense its pictorial content and then to stand back and intellectually contemplate the final product. In my developing understanding of colour I began to realize that colour has difficulty living alone and that there are numerous elements that affect it: light/darkness but also hue, complementary colours, saturation of colour, juxtaposition, extension of colour and depth (Itten, 1973).
“Method is a kind of route to something, a pathway towards something.” (Nelson, 2009, p.100) I work predominantly with this improvisational methodology where the materials lead the way, and my work transforms as the materials change. I follow through intuition like the sensitive nerve fibres in the rhizome that feel their way through the creative process: growing, making connections, and enlivening the surrounding area. I believe that “discovery and invention are the criteria for creativeness” (Albers, 2013, p.9), and through focusing on the process of making through improvisational methods of learning and playing with the materials, development and growth naturally occur and the work slowly develops and moves into new innovative areas.
Artists can be stereotyped (Kaprow, 2003) or become stuck in the repetition of their practice, as I was stuck in my past theme and methodology. “New names may assist social change. Replacing artist with player, as if adopting an alias, is a way of altering a fixed identity. And a changed identity is a principle of mobility” (Kaprow, 2003, p.125). In order to relinquish the past and create new avenues for creativity the artist can think of themselves as a player, for “play” is the essential key in an improvisational method, and it was through play that I returned to line and consequently form again.
Line & form:
More recently in my practice, I have been rediscovering line. After having explored colour for some time I intuitively fell upon the importance of line and found through experimentation that “colour is integral with form and cannot be divorced from it” (Birren, 1961, p.11). Line is the natural development of form, even for children, for lines are used in abstract shapes that appear “flowing rhythms which gradually materialize as a symbolical language of forms” (Straus, 1988, p.13). I had stumbled upon circles without knowing their significance as a universal form and the foundation for development in drawing. As I worked with this form for a while the line slowly changed, naturally breathing into space and off the page, then widening and straightening. It was as if after my break from art, I needed to first consider the foundations of colour, and then to investigate the fundamental form of line: circles.
Paul Klee described drawing as “taking a point or a line for a walk” (Pipes, 2008, p.17), with the picture becoming a testimony to the movement of line from one place to another. The circular form represents unity, expansion from current methods and themes, and my line is still developing through the process of investigation. The question subsequently arose: is the act more important than the final piece?
Movement is integral to my work as well, and with the circular form spiralling beyond the page or the abstract line filling the space, a performative element arises. Performance theorist Peggy Phelan says that “Performance's only life is in the present” (Phelan, 1993, p.146), and for the moment I am more concerned with the present for myself than with the performance for others, though residue of the present lingers on in the pieces. How can one line say something in an abstract language or in a pictorial one? Jackson Pollock initiated action painting, initially inspired by improvisational jazz, by pouring paint directly onto the canvas and allowing his “unconscious mind to determine the outcome” (Pipes, 2008, p.239). His pictures were spontaneously ‘drawn,’ while contemporary artist Gary Hume, in his water paintings, intentionally used line to create form, which then became indistinct, morphing into a milieu of social commentary. There can be a subtle line between representational form and abstraction and I find that my work is between realism and abstraction, between the discreet and the continuous (Douglas & Coessens, 2011). The question then ensued, what form? What would you like to comment on with your form? Recently I have started a watercolour series to help me digest current news articles, be it about migration, poverty, drugs, politics, racial crimes or child labour. A question arose for me while considering the function of line, can I transform this line into another form, can it depict something personal or incorporate something bigger? What if the beauty of colour and form were to transcribe something tragic, would it help a viewer re-consider that subject? Lecturer Claire Hamilton spoke about activism, saying that it is important for artists “to push back in society and to think about critical questions”. This is a quiet protest, currently evolving in the studio, that hopefully will find its way to fruition as it evolves.
In contemplating the possibilities for social change as spoken about by Claire Hamilton and other lecturers this year I began considering what it is I feel strongly about and what I can bring to the local social environment. I recognised that creating social change begins with individual beliefs and small daily actions such as buying organic food or baking bread from scratch, up-cycling, making natural toys and not adding to the production of plastic, keeping a positive outlook, and finding a peaceful path through life and especially parenthood. I realised through the various lectures on Socially Engaged Art that these elements all culminate in the group I started a couple of years ago.
Socially Engaged Art:
Through Jonathan Baxter’s lecture on Dialogical Curation, I came to understand the varying degrees of artistic expression, from the artist as experiencer, reporter, and analyst to activist (Lacy, 1995, p.5). At the moment I am an experiencer but I realised, after grasping the concept of socially and creatively engaged more fully, that I too am an activist working in a socially engaged community project. As a foreigner I have struggled to find my place in Aberdeen and Claire Hamilton’s lecture brought up the importance of place making and how our layers of community assist in affirming that place. She spoke about the local culture and how artists can help Aberdeen become a more Socially Engaged city. Dr. Nuno Sacramento’s lecture on Deep Mapping was also a creative way of finding place, through contemporary means of mapping experience. One of the aspects that has been helpful in establishing place for me as a foreigner has been the Seedlings Parent & Child Group.
I believe that education is a direct means towards social change (Male, 2006, p1) and in 2014 I created a space for parents and young children to share in a Steiner-Waldorf inspired pedagogical group, centred around alternative education, wholistic childrearing, and a health-oriented philosophy. The Seedlings families are offered a home-like environment where they can be inspired creatively: through crafts, music, storytelling, sharing experiences and ideas, open-ended natural toys which stimulate the child’s senses, inspire movement-based learning and lay the foundations for analytical thinking and creativity. The group is parent-led so that it may be community-run, with the facilitator laying the background for discussion, work and play, by setting the foundation for interaction but leaving the parents and children in freedom to add to the existing structure and develop new elements. As lecturer Jon Blackwood mentioned ‘curation’ comes from the Latin word curare which means ‘to give care’ which is what the facilitator undertakes to do. Similarly, Claire Hamilton stressed the importance of making spaces “where people are free to be more human,” and this is precisely what I aim to do here in my own small way: to be socially engaged and strongly passionate about a subject, which can hopefully inspire others to take action. The groups aim is to cultivate creative methods of parenting, by promoting artistic projects, meaningful work, giving space for a resourceful exchange of ideas, encouraging inquiries into child development, nutrition, alternative medicine and promoting progressive education methods.
Everybody is an artist: children, parents, teachers, etc. The importance is finding creativity in what you do and using improvisational methodologies which stem from play. Through play, the child develops creative ways of interacting with the world (Jenkinson, 2001, p.16). I hope that as adults children will be able to enjoy their work, and their work can become their play (Mendizza, 2003 p.42). Offering parents and children a place to find community, creativity and a moment to play at this time in their lives is key to sustaining them in a healthy way.
“A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance. The tree imposes the verb "to be" but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction, "and ... and ... and... (it represents) another way of traveling and moving: proceeding from the middle, through the middle, coming and going rather than starting and finishing (Deleuze & Guattari, 2013, p.25).
The creative process is interwoven with the projects and interlaced with the substantiality of the artist. I have come full circle, and my artistic practice is still developing, moving onwards, spiralling out towards new prospects. “Within improvisatory practices, by questioning the certainty of art, by breaking with continuity, a new potential emerges to establish something radically different from what went before” (Douglas, p.11). Structure holds my practice in place through materials and place, with exploration of new techniques and further development of known ones, and through intellectual inspiration from various lectures on socially-engaged community work. Ultimately, it is the freedom that holds my interest, the freedom to improvise and play, the investigation into the process of painting and creativity for myself and others. All creativity stems from one source and can be used in a multiplicity of ways to interact dialogically with the environment, from the private place of the artist’s studio in the exploration of colour and the search for form, to the open spaces where children play.
References:Albers, J., 1963. Interaction of Color. Yale University Press, New Haven. 208 pages.