Polystyrene balls and shredded corrugated cardboard might seem an unpromising starting point from which to make sculpture but they are the raw materials of Aisling Hedgecock’s unnamable, language-defying work. From these waste products emerge organic, amorphous forms, which suggest mutations, bio geological growth, coral, or cell structure, stalactites and stalagmites. A garden of earthly delights of proliferating cells out of control, except that the whole structureless structure is exceptionally carefully controlled, from the selective coding in “colour waves” of the individual parts, to the sizes of the chunks of glued balls of polystyrene which are also graded in size, to the painted steel structures in which they are housed.
Post Royal College of Art, Aisling spent two years at the British School in Rome, as a Sainsbury Scholar followed by a stint in the hills of Andalucia where the simplicity of Moorish architecture was a significant relief from Roman Baroque churches and the Spanish landscape, a welcome change after the noise and excitement of Italy’s capital. She read Lorca’s essay on the Duende and the spirit of evocation and gradually the experiences of the southern Baroque settled into layers just below the surface of her conscious thought, digested and ordered, freeing her to explore both in her most recent work.
Recycling of materials is part of Hedgecock’s practice. The Third Stellation 2010/11, below, was constructed from ten years-worth of large monochrome drawings, cut, reshaped and remade into a spreading spiky form which crept across the surface of the floor of the Galerie Gabriel Rolt in The Netherlands in 2011.
She has used polystyrene since 2005 but the corrugated card is new as are the fabricated steel structures which she is using to contain her unruly forms. They still grow and appear to have a life of their own, escaping the bounds of their geometric constraints. Occasionally a skeletal hand-claw will attempt to clasp the bubbling teaming mass but it escapes between the stick-like fingers. Elsewhere dripping shards plunge into the forms or emerge from them hanging downwards like stabs of frozen water.
Inextricably linked to the sculptures are drawings of fluid dynamics, dendrology and Rorschachian blots which she develops using her signature language of comets, drips, dots and tails. They explore the concept of memories carried in physical world.
In her studio, a huge monochrome drawing fills a complete wall and has been growing in tandem with the new sculpture for months. Starting appropriately with the skeleton of a beaver, itself a creature totally at home in the water, she has been gradually building up the surface with marks and circles. The embryonic form is not quite contained within a grid, just as the sculptures are moving beyond the steel bounds, which are not really attempting to contain them. Drawing and sculpture seem to be having a conversation about balancing form and formlessness, accepting that neither achieves supremacy. The structures are open allowing the amorphous forms the flexibility to flow and develop, fall apart, disintegrate and respond to circumstance, just as water reacts to changes in atmosphere, weather conditions and erosion.
In her work Hedgecock explores formlessness and fluidity and things that are impossible to pin down, She plays with her audience and their expectations, offering a structure but deliberately allowing the coloured mass to escape, not even really letting the geometric cage of steel to challenge the thing growing inside it. She goes further, leaving gaps in the bars and distorting the rigid rules of geometry. There is something essentially anarchic about this work in its concept, in the way it is constructed and in the artist’s choice of and use of materials.
© Fiona Robinson 2013
Article first published in Evolver, May/June 2013
Aisling Hedgecock is a selector and invited artist for the 161st Royal West of England Academy Autumn Exhibition. Sculpture and and a large drawing will be on show at the RWA in Bristol from 24th November until 26th January 2014.
Nadja McDevitt After life dry 2
When the concept of art weeks was invented, Oxford and Dorset being two of the earliest, they generated huge excitement. Here was an opportunity to visit artists in their studios, to talk to them face to face about their work, their processes and their ideas. Art weeks and open studios have come a long way since those days. Every small town now seems to have its own art week event and anyone is able to participate. With new events happening every week, ironically, despite the choice many events lacked variety and the public was left unsure of where to go and what to see. What was needed was an injection of quality and new ideas. Somerset Art Works started hosting a biennial Art Week in 1994 and then in 2009 initiated a Festival event in the intervening year, consisting of small exhibitions in public spaces and non-art venues rather than in artists’ studios. This not only gave artists a break from the relentless march of feet across the threshold of their studios but also drew punters into cafes, shops, restaurants, hotels, pubs and anywhere else where the public might be likely to make a visit. A location based rather than studio event boosted the tourist trade and significantly increased the footfall in these venues and it also drew some of the commercial galleries back into the fold. Traditionally buyers have often seen Open Studios as an opportunity acquire works at a significant discount undercutting gallery prices. This culture is changing though, as artists and buyers begin to acknowledge the important role that many galleries play in supporting the arts and promoting the work of their stable of artists. Hauser and Wirth, a major player in international gallery terms, are currently constructing five gallery spaces for contemporary international art in Bruton and the director Alice Workman will be talking about their plans during the festival. This new complex is bound to raise the profile of Somerset as an art destination.
Somerset Art Works has continued to evolve, searching out new venues and innovative ways of bringing quality art to the public, encouraging people to leave the virtual worlds of laptop screen and ipad and go and look at something tangible. Maybe get their feet wet or even muddy in pursuit of art sited in a garden, a farm or a field. Autumn being the time of harvests and the mists of mellow fruitfulness, ‘abundance’ is an appropriate buzz word for Somerset Arts Weeks Festival 2013
Collaboration and inclusivity are important elements this year as the festival diversifies. The National Trust, the National Gardens Scheme, the RSPB, commercial enterprises, local suppliers and producers of paper, stone, willow, wood and leather have all been drawn into the mix. The Abundance Art Trail curated by SAW and developed in collaboration with the National Gardens Scheme will take visitors through a range of different experiences, making connections between the creativity of gardeners and that of artists through newly commissioned installations in eight different gardens. Schools are involved too. A ‘pop up’ garden full of wire and willow flowers, butterflies and bumblebees created by children from Taunton primary schools with the help of artist Freya Morgan, will appear at various locations in the town during the fortnight. The Brainwave Centre, which specializes in unlocking the potential of children with a range of disabilities, is showcasing artwork made by their children.
Many of the exhibitions and venues are multi layered. There are crossovers between architecture, food, plants and local communities. The Abundance Art Trail leads from the work of a plants man or woman, through an artist’s innovative response to the location of the garden, to the community surrounding it, through to the visitors who come from far away. Alison Cockcroft uses the walled garden at Cannington as a frame so that visitors actually enter the artwork rather than viewing it from outside. At Aller Farmhouse Leah Hislop creates a woven labyrinth, in response to the winding pathways of the garden itself and invites visitors to lose themselves in her created structure. Gillian Widden”s Horn of plenty at Little Yarford Farmhouse invites visitors to experience the six foot opening of the horn.
There is plenty of the standard fare which makes Art Weeks events appealing: landscape painting, colourful still lives, pottery, photography, glass and textiles. But these are balanced by other offerings that intrigue and entertain, ask questions and provoke. As an organization SAW delights in introducing visitors to new ways of looking at and thinking about art. In typically challenging fashion OSR Projects in West Coker are hosting an exhibition by a mystery artist group taking a sideways swipe at the celebrity culture at the top end of the art scene. As part of the Abundance Art Trail Sue Palmer takes as her subject a garden that no longer exists. She traces the journey of some of the seeds and plants, which were removed when Hadspen Garden near Castle Cary was dismantled. Her screen-based response can be seen at the National Trust Garden and house, Tintinhull. Some exhibiting groups like that at Shave Farm are already part of an existing studio complex and the artists’ work alongside each other all year round. But most of the groupings are a one off opportunity for artists to come together to exhibit for two weeks thus creating a new dynamic and making connections not only between themselves as practitioners but with the venue as well.
Melanie Tomlinson Left: ‘The Waiting Forest’ Praxinoscope and Right: ‘Somerset River’ Praxinoscope. Photos © Richard Battye 2013
In a specially commissioned SAW project ‘The Company of Cranes’, Melanie Tomlinson exhibits pre-cinema objects including zoetropes, revealing through illustration and the moving image, her journey from the collection of crane eggs in Germany to the eventual re-introduction of these birds, after an absence of 400 years, onto the Somerset levels. At Barrington Court, ‘Make the Most’ is another collaboration, between SAW, the National Trust and Craftspace from Birmingham who curated the exhibitions. Site-specific installations by internationally –renowned makers are scattered throughout the building and alongside these is an exhibition by more locally based makers. The inclusion of high profile artists and a range of work from cutting edge contemporary to quality crafts is a deliberate policy by SAW to raise the level of all the work on show and to encourage emerging artists to become involved. SAW is keen to continue to attract the public funding which is essential in facilitating many of the commissioned projects.
All this exciting stuff takes advantage of existing organisations, businesses and venues in Somerset. It places work of international, national, local and emerging artists in the same arena allowing a cross fertilization of ideas which is enriching for all those involved. This is part of an holistic approach which sees the work that artists do as part of the rich life that exists in a place. It is part of the cultural life of these rural communities, cultural life in its broadest sense so that it includes history, the changing seasons, the growth of plants and animals, the making of art and music and the fostering of delight and excitement in all these things throughout every age group and every strata of the community.
Kirsten Cooke Ship Shed, Footdee
© Fiona Robinson August 2013
This article was commissioned by Evolver for Somerset Art Works and first published in Evolver 77, September and October 2013
Road 7 (going home) Oil on canvas, 2012. 150cm x 130cm
There has always been a perception that train travel is romantic. The distant sound of soporific rhythms across a darkened landscape that accompany strangers as they journey through uncharted landscapes is something that has inspired poets and writers. The hard cold road travelled by speeding cars has inspired a grittier type of writing. A modern tarmac-smooth, fast track to somewhere possibly soulless, an urban landscape peopled by uninspiring vernacular architecture. This imagery is the starting point for Natalie Dowse’s new body of work. However the title of this sadly short-lived exhibition “Going Home” at GASP, Art Space Portsmouth attempts to pull a metaphoric comfort blanket around these unyielding landscapes, offering an alternative interpretation which is not evident from the image itself. Dowse has never been afraid of narrative but even as the images step back from imposing her interpretation, the title here invites the viewers to take ownership of the story being told. The acute perspective leads the eye inwards to the back of the picture plane but stops abruptly, preventing the viewer from seeing what is over the horizon, what the future holds. In this new work Dowse has changed direction. Gone are the anonymous faces and city dwellers that peopled paintings that she showed at the culmination of her year long Jonathan Vickers Award Residency. These stark works rely on the absence of human presence, albeit their presence is strongly suggested by the rigid road furniture of crash barriers and straight white road markings. Occasionally there is a car but no people.
Road 11 (going home) Oil on wood panel, 2012. 30cm x 40cm
Dowse has consistently experimented with alternative ways of making images. Her interest in the dichotomy between painting and photography has led her to focus on the pixelated image and the graininess that is apparent in newspaper photographs, security camera footage and on film. The large and very small paintings in Going Home are crystal clear in their execution; more photorealist than her earlier portraits and the blurring has disappeared. Where blurring of the image appears in this work, although it owes something to the acknowledged influence of Gerhard Richter, it actually has its genesis in intentionally poor quality photographs snatched on the move often on a mobile phone. Her interest in the breaking up of images into pixels has led her to show two small experimental pieces using cross-stitch on tapestry canvas creating a further link from painting, this time to craft rather than photography.
Given the gender specific nature of the materials she is using, and the way they are displayed, unframed, pinned to the backing board with steel dressmaker’s pins they struggle to escape a feminist reading. The smaller, in fact tiny, cross stitched image is simple, just a road disappearing into the distance and much more abstracted than the larger one and consequently appearing to be the more successful of these two experiments. However she is clearly aware of the dangers of mis-interpretation and in the larger, more complex and ultimately more interesting, Petrol Station she counteracts this potential gender orientated reading by introducing archetypal male iconography. The density of the image and the separation of its components into cross-stitches make it tantalisingly difficult to read, a further nod to Richter. Another dimension is added by the entirely process-based making. Once the image is set on the canvas the stitching becomes mechanical, very different from the constant decision-making in her painting.
A small quartet of monochrome paintings is the most abstract and most recent work in this exhibition. They revisit earlier ideas by muting the tones in a way, which, if pursued, would eventually achieve a visually destabilising opacity similar to that seen in some of Richter’s work. The largest painting in the show Road 7 (going home), shares with the four small paintings on wood panel Road 1 3 4 and 5, Dowse’s signature visual language. A smooth paint surface characteristic of the type of photorealism in which she indulges, but which magically manages to retain a painterliness, which seems a contradiction in terms but somehow is not.
This is in the nature of an interim exhibition, part of the process of exploring complex and challenging ideas and deciding which aspects to pursue. These works need to be seen in the flesh, since the beautifully painted surfaces are both sumptuous and seductive, qualities that are flattened and destroyed becoming too photographic when viewed on screen. They cry out deservedly for a wider audience.
Road 6 Wood on panel, 2011. 60 x 80cm
Going Home Oil on Canvas 2005. 80 x 142 cm
© Fiona Robinson 2013
Exhibition at GASP, Art Space Portsmouth
until 2 March 2013
Exhibition Installation shot
The sea in all its moods, complexities and challenges is an obsession for artist Janette Kerr. She is well known for dramatic expressive paintings that border on abstraction but more recently she has been making large figurative drawings of Norwegian fishermen.
Sea of Fish. Charcoal and graphite on vellum, 80 x 100 cm. 2013
Janette has always worked outside in extremes of weather and light using oil on small boards to record her instant impressions, as well as filling sketchbooks with charcoal responses full of movement. Markmaking regardless of surface or media is part of her language.
Spume and spindrift. Charcoal, chalk, graphite on paper, 58 x 120 cm, 2010.
For her recent drawings she has been working on what the Americans call Mylar, an opaque film similar to tracing paper in its slippery smoothness, but tougher. She likes the surface, in particular the way she can work into it with a rubber. Working for weeks at a time at the Institute of Marine Research in Bergen in Norway she has gradually been absorbing other types of language into her paintings. The tumbling lines of a graph drawn by a professor of mathematics recording the flow of water, currents and waves at different levels in the sea, set her off on this trajectory. She now incorporates equations relating to tidal motions and dynamics of fluid flow into her work, viewing them as another form of mark making: “which are as descriptive of sea as my paintings”. She is fascinated by the way oceanographers and meteorologists view the sea and how they analyse it, charting extreme wave movement, recording salinity, temperature and weather conditions. HMSO pamphlets of ships logs from the 1860s of journeys across the South Atlantic are another rich source of information.
Four square towards the land. Mixed media on board, 30 x 30 cm.
We the undersigned. Oil on canvas with photographic element, 100 x100 cm, 2011.
Recently she has been working on a new aspect of the project. Returning to Shetland, one of her favourite haunts, she has been immersing herself in observing the sea in all weathers from the land and surrounded by the water, from a boat. Moving to a different location every day she had accumulated written and visual observations of the longitude and latitude, photographs and water samples and intends to marry all this information with weather reports and emailed satellite images from the Oceanographers in Bergen. The results of these researches will be exhibited in April 2013 in the Coastal Museum in Bergen.
It was during one her frequent visits to the research centre in Norway that she came across a box of 19th century photographs of Norwegian fishermen taken on boats in the 1920s. The limitations of contemporary cameras meant that they were unable to freeze movement in those conditions. Consequently there are double images, blurred areas and confusion between the men and their catch so that “the fish and the fishermen almost become one and the same thing”. Intrigued by these images Kerr started her series of charcoal and graphite drawings, deliberately merging the fish and the figures.
Fish-men. Charcoal and graphite on vellum, 80 x 100 cm. 2012
Shocked by the number of hand injuries she had come across in the photographic material she talked to men who are still fishing in Shetland and took photographs of their hands. These pictures are now being incorporated into a book. They are also appearing with increasing regularity in her paintings, printed on Japanese tissue paper. The tissue paper is so fine it fuses with the paint, so the photographic image has a barely suggested presence.
Hold fast the sheet. Oil on canvas with photographic element, 100 x 100 cm.
All of this is leading to ways of bringing together the different strands both of her practice and her research. She is making connections between the Norwegian and Shetland fishing communities; interweaving scientists’ data from Norway with that of her own records and research and combining information from historic weather maps and charts with contemporary ones. In her use of materials she is merging paper with canvas, abstract with figurative, and potentially interleaving drawing and hand written text by the simple device of layering sheets of tracing paper. She doesn’t yet know where all this is going but she sees it as a way of connecting the historic and the contemporary, the two locations of Norway and Shetland and the men who fish the sea with the scientists who record it and “Trying to put my visual description of the sea with theirs.”
Brimfooster 1. Oil on canvas, 122 x 152 cm, 2010.
Fingers curled into the waves.
* Header Image: Battling with the villains of Ure. Charcoal, chalk, graphite and gesso on canvas, 116 x 200 cm, 2011.
© Fiona Robinson 2012
Edited version of article first published in Evolver 60 September/October 2012
Fran Norton arrived at Fine Art via graphics, film, photography and 8 years in the music business but it was during her Postgraduate studies at the Byam Shaw School of Art in London that she finally managed to embrace the open mindedness required for successful studio practice. Her interests there were body related and medical photography but it was, “when I started drawing that I felt that my work was really beginning to take off”. The combination of fine strands of hair with shellac varnish in her drawings of 2010 onwards unapologetically suggest bodily fluids and lead, with a certain logic, into the use of sheep’s tongues as printing plates, blood fused with ink. Her work has a history of references, intentional or not, to the body. In her 2007 piece ‘Unfilled” made from graphite on polymer clay, the object is organic and disturbingly suggestive of unidentified body parts.
Print and bradawl drawing
Lick 1. Print
The tongue prints came out of her interest in behaviour, particularly with the processes of licking within the context of maternal grooming. In French the word for window-shopping is lèche-vitrine, literally licking windows, with all the connotations of drooling over objects of desire. For Norton the concept of licking and tongues, became so invasive of her mind-space, that she was impelled to invest in sheep’s’ tongues, in the absence of any human ones to examine in such detail. She became aware of what powerful muscular organs they were and that the part used for taste, sensation and licking is literally just the tip of this large structure. The prints that she made, rolling ink initially onto the top surface and then the sides of organs that had been torn, ripped quite brutally from the body of a dead animal was an extraordinarily physical experience. The marks created by the printmaking process had a clear relationship to her earlier work and she worked further into the prints with a bradawl returning them to the stable of drawing from which they had come. So although she almost succumbed to the seduction of printmaking she remained committed to drawing. Despite the visceral nature of the subject and method there is an extraordinary delicacy, which is imparted by the tortuous marks of the bradawl, itself an instrument associated with holes, gouging and piercing. Visually, the pockmarked upper surface of the tongues related to the bursting bubble type marks of her bradawl drawings. The later prints, where she has rolled cow tongues from side to side arrive at further references to human backs and garments. The phallic references in these images are inescapable although it seems almost trite to draw attention to them.
Universality (detail) Bradawl drawing
There is a clear trajectory from the delicate bradawl lines which she had been making in earlier drawings, to the added marks in the sheep’s tongues prints. “A dialogue began to be played out between the visceral prints and the aesthetic qualities of the marks drawn through them into the paper surface.”
In her embossed paper works, it almost appears as if bubbles have burst on contact and left little craters, whereas the drawing is actually made using a much more grounded, physically exacting process, very different from their apparent airy lightness of touch. So what does her process say about her intention when its physicality produces something so evanescent. As she explains, “Literally drawing in, into and on the physical environment, my mark-making develops the interrelation of sculpture, found object and artist with the material world.”
In her new work, repetitive drawing is continuing as she pursues ideas of interior space examining the poetic in domestic life. How error is developed through repetition is an important area of this exploration and she is interested in examining this in the context of the crossover between domestic and working spaces. The physical space, the space accorded to her ideas and the marks that she makes on the surface of the paper, all become part of the same thing.
Initially she was working in books, unpeeling the layers of pages, cutting and tearing, to reveal an idea of the merged spaces where she lives, works and draws. Now she is starting to examin the traffic from one area to another and the obstacles whether, walls, doors, windows, funiture or human interaction, which impede this free flow.
Active Drawing. Ink on paper
She talks about space that she inhabits as being ‘physical and walled’, but it is clear that ultimately it is defined by its function and the function is fluid, constantly changing depending on who is in that space with her. Whether is is herself, family friends or strangers and this leads to the sense that she has of overlapping boundaries. For her research she sometimes records her space in a way that does not have her personal markmaking on it, ie pressing paper into the gaps between tiles on her kitchen floor, and yet ultimately she will select from these a ‘drawing’ which pleases aesthetically and which works both artistically and compositionally.
Rooms, windows, tables and me. Pencil on tracing paper
Within Fran Norton’s domestic space, private and public, professional and personal are all interlinked. She has been working on exquisitely beautiful graphite drawings on tracing paper using the pressure of the pencil to create secondary embossed drawings on the layer of paper underneath. These small, intense pencil drawings, little squares and rectangles delineating different areas and furniture are dark and shiny and confrontational because of the physicality of their making. They are like the public face of her work, whereas the hidden, secret drawings created by the pressure of the pencil are intriguing, quiet, private and they could, potentially, stay unseen and undiscovered. Possibly inadvertently, these drawings in two layers on two sheets of paper; have started to create a sense of separation into the public and the private, the visible and the almost invisible.
Untitled. Pressed paper
© Fiona Robinson 2012
Veil – cement, polythene, house paint, acrylic and graphite on paper, 11 x 12 inches (28 x 30 cm)
Painting is a meditative practice for Andrew Crane. He is fascinated by the space in between things: the pause between words; the gap between numbers; the split second that is the present rather than the past or the future. He is intrigued by number, “both its mystery and completeness”, but there are inherent contradictions between his obsession for the tidiness of mathematics and the randomness of his working method. The surfaces of his canvases are littered with letters, numbers and scribbled bits of handwriting. He uses them like notation, borrowing their respective languages and appropriating them into his own visual language so that they come to mean something different. However all of these things “are incidental to my search for a certain energetic truth in my paintings”.
Basta – cement, varnish and acrylic on canvas – 30 x 30 inches (76 x 76 cm)
At first glance much of his work appears monochrome but subtle modulations of tone are enlivened by understated pale ochres and colour greys. He believes strongly in the energy of marks and their potential to draw a response from the viewer. Crosses double as multiplication or plus signs and arrows direct the eye across the composition. His surfaces with their scrubbed out areas and obliterated fragments of text are like the complex workings of a mathematician solving an equation.
He arrived at his present way of working by chance. Struggling with an unresolved painting he took tile cement and trowelled it over the canvas. He discovered that he “loved the surface” because it “had a bite to it and it took the paint really well”. He “likes working outside with the canvas flat” and the “imperfections and scars” left by the trowel become part of the composition. He is an instinctive artist rarely planning in advance, often being led by the process. Unsurprisingly he is strongly influenced by Antoni Tapies who worked with similar materials.
Outcrop – cement, polythene, house paint, acrylic and graphite on paper, 11 x 12 inches (28 x 30 cm)
Most recently, again by chance, a piece of discarded black bin bag has entered centre stage in his latest series of paintings. There are seven in all. It is still all about process and materials and the numbers are ever present, like characters in a play, part of a darkly present chorus, sounding only when necessary but always to great effect. Crane works fast. He has to since the cement starts to go off very quickly once he has trowelled it onto the support, accident is an important element. The combination of speed and chance, “forces me into the moment, I am not thinking about anything else, it really focuses the attention”. Andrew Crane moved from the soft South to the ruggedness of Northumberland three years ago and he has become increasingly influenced by the wild and beautiful landscape on his doorstep. He wakes everyday to spectacular views across the fields; he can just see the top of Hadrian’s Wall from his window. The weather is stark and windy and he is often to be found up on the leaky roof of the shed, which serves as a studio, making repairs.
Ocean Perk – oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches (92 x 122 cm)
There is a spiritual element to Crane’s work. His interests in dowsing, meditation and mathematics filter into his work. He reads widely across philosophy and religion picking ideas from sources as diverse as the Gospel of Thomas, the lyrics of Bob Dylan and Zen Buddhism. The bust of a Buddha accompanied by colour strips inspired by a Tibetan thangka which hangs on his studio wall has appeared in some paintings. In others, ‘Happy in my madness’ he plays with the meanings of numbers and words like four and fou, and juxtaposes scribbled charcoal marks with carefully hand-painted type traced from computer printouts. In ‘Phi (Approx)’ the proportions of the golden mean, seen in plants like passionflowers, become a structure for its numerical equivalent. Crane’s philosophical approach allows him to detach himself from the process and observe. “When the mind is still, without past or future, this is the place of true creativity”.
89-8 – oil and water-based paint on canvas, 40 x 50 inches (102 x 157 cm)
©Fiona Robinson 2005-2012
Andrew Crane’s next exhibition, ‘Two and a half dimensions’, will be at the Kihle Gallery, Horten, Norway – March 2nd to 25th, 2012
This Text is an updated version of an essay published in Fifty Wessex Artists by Fiona Robinson, published by Evolver Books, 2006.
Standing in Gerry Dudgeon’s remote studio the overwhelming sound is of birdsong. The walls are lined with paintings in his very distinctive palette. Terracottas, pinks and oranges sum up the pulsating heat rising off the deserts of Morocco.
Moroccan Hinterland. Acrylic, 76 x 86cm
Vibrant blues: ultramarine, cerulean and cobalt, suggest the cool underwater world which he encounters snorkelling off the coasts of the Greek islands and subtle muted hues express the cool landscapes of West Dorset where he has lived and worked for twenty five years.
West Dorset Snowfields. Acrylic, 51 x 61 cm
Down in the Valley. Pencil, 60 x 84 cm
The view from the studio double door is magnificent. Straight ahead, across lush fields, rounded hills cut into the sky and to the side the fringes of an ancient wood are undoubtedly the source of all the birdsong. Dudgeon loves this countryside and walks it endlessly, stopping frequently to make small drawings of his impressions in landscape-format spiral bound sketchbooks. His studio drawings are not topographical, they are “an amalgam of different sensations”, a record of his impressions of a place and the emotions it evokes. However he is a wanderer at heart and much as he finds Dorset entrancing the adventurer in him searches out the edgier more inhospitable landscapes of places like Morocco and India. As a student he hitched across the Alps into Italy in freezing December weather. He wandered the dark forests of Bavaria and encountered excessively decorated rococo churches. Now he travels to Morocco and Greece regularly and he made several trips to India in the 1990s. Attracted to North Africa by the exoticism of Matisse’s Moroccan paintings he researched Berber culture and delved into the complex history of the area. His repeated visits have developed in him a deep passion for the land and its people. His drawing of the stone vats of the leather Tannery in Fez, an aerial view of great pots of colour, carries the poignant undertones of his knowledge, that these workers will die young because of the caustic chemicals in the dyes.
Fez Tannery. Pencil, 25 x 19.5 cm
He finds the plateaus with their huge vistas of space, and the dramatic colour changes between river valleys and oases in the desert, extraordinarily beautiful. Fascinated by Islamic design, particularly “the way they handle geometry in ceramics and in ironwork”, he says of the Moorish vernacular architecture, “I love the way the buildings are crumbling and returning to nature because they are made of mud.”
Merzouga Mirage. Acrylic, 76 x 87 cm
Dudgeon’s work encompasses an exploration of pictorial space, form, tonal mass and line, but his investigations of these formal concerns are deeply rooted in a sense of place regardless of where he finds himself. Working exclusively in acrylic these days, “The paintings are studio based involving imagination and memory as well as perception”. The little drawings, done on location, which spill out across the pages of his sketchbooks are used as a basis, along with colour notes, for more abstract works which combine elements from different studies.
He works with graphite sticks and charcoal on cartridge, a surface that he likes because of the way that the graininess of the graphite picks up the texture of the paper. He finds that charcoal is altogether softer, complementing the hardness of the graphite and he often rubs back into the surface to reveal what is underneath the layers of drawn marks. This process of peeling back the layers in his paintings and drawings ties in with his lifelong interest in archaeology, revealing an equal concern with what is below the surface of the land and the sea, as much as what is immediately apparent.
Rockpooling. Pencil, 23 x 30 cm
The Chase. Pencil, 21 x 30 cm
A Walk in the Snow. Pencil 60 x 84 cm
© Fiona Robinson 2011
Gerry Dudgeon’s Drawings are on show in a group exhibition, Drawing: the visual representation of thought at Bridport Arts Centre, Bridport, Dorset, until 18th February 2012.