Writing, Drawing, the Subject, Communication and Representation

Posted in Writing by robbiekarmel on May 26, 2011

I’m planning to expand this website to include more than my weekly project, starting with some writing.

A few weeks ago Yolande Norris wrote this piece after visiting me at my studio. It has been great to see some of my ideas that had previously been fairly abstract and amorphous filtered through conversation and someone else’s understanding into something more coherent. We discussed the act of drawing, why and how I draw, why I make art at all and the difficulties and hurdles involved in maintaining a practice.

Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about my work and process and feel like I should begin to document not only the work but the accompanying thought processes as well. Hopefully this will allow me to understand my own processes more, give viewers an insight into the work and perhaps give future work more focus. What follows is my first attempt to order some of the ideas and theories I’ve been thinking about recently. This week it’s about the difficulties I find in making art and selecting a subject, in the future I hope to write about my processes, influences, ideas I don’t have the resources to implement and anything else I happen to be thinking about in relation to art.

Thanks for reading, any feedback or questions would be most welcome.

On Drawing, the Subject, Communication and Representation

What I find I have grappled with the most has been the question of why I create work and the act of creating the work. Primarily I consider art making, and in particular drawing, a form of communication. Yet when I am compelled to draw or am forcing myself to generate work and do not wish to communicate anything I find myself at a mental standstill. I wish to draw but do not wish to communicate; I am petrified of selecting any subject that may be construed by the viewer as something symbolic or an object with personal significance. Thus I often retreat into the mundane or incidental, that is, anything immediately at hand. I find, however, that even if I have attempted to choose a subject with no inherent meaning one can always be found or applied by myself or the viewer. It is impossible to find a neutral or unloaded subject.

In selecting such irrelevant subjects I also find that the work become about everything but the subject. It become about the act of drawing. It becomes about all of the subjects I avoid or am not willing to address; physical objects I avoid drawing for fear of associations they may have; emotional or personal subjects I avoid because I feel they are too kitsch, hackneyed or do not wish to address directly through my work; and ultimately the overwhelming nature of everything but the mundane subjects in which I have sought refuge.

In an attempt to counter any meaning attached to the subject I try and make the means of communication more interesting than what is being represented. This often takes the form of imposing rules and strategies upon myself while making work. Working in this way serves me in a second and possibly more important manner as well: imposing rules upon myself gives the working process structure and imperative, making it possible for me to attempt to overcome the difficulties I have in initiating and maintaining the process of producing work.

I feel that in focusing intensely on the act of making work rather than focusing on the subject, materials, accuracy of the depiction, aesthetic value of the work or the glamour of the finished piece I am in a position where what I am attempting to communicate is that act of making itself. It is also an attempt to analyse, document and ultimately communicate the act of communication, or representing the act of representation.

For me the most interesting element of using visual devices such as drawing or painting to represent a subject is the way we can translate a three dimensional space or object onto a two dimensional surface, and that a viewer may be able to look at the depiction and decipher the series of marks and understand what has been represented. Even more interesting is that often the artwork will bear such little resemblance to the original object.

Take for example the drawings of a cowboy boot I did a few months ago. These were done blindfolded entirely by touch, so using my sense of spatial awareness I translated a three dimensional object into a two dimensional representation of the object. The end product, the drawing, bears little to no relationship to the subject. It is constructed from different materials and it has none of the colour, form, depth or any other characteristics of the boot. I would even go as far to say that I have done a poor and messy job communicating these qualities as I could not see the image I was drawing and had no interest in accurately depicting the boot or capturing an ‘essence’. Yet despite all this the viewer can still discern that it is a drawing of a cowboy boot.

During this process I was much more concerned with the act of drawing; translating the touching an object, tracing the surface through three dimensional space, and attempting to kinesthetically translate that act onto a two dimensional surface. I have set myself an impossible task with no intention to succeed, and it is the record of the action that I wish to represent and communicate.

The question remains as to whether I have been successful in my attempts to communicate the act of attempting to communicate, or if I have simply represented a cowboy boot in an intensely laborious and inefficient manner. But given my practice seems to have become primarily concerned with difficulty and adversity it would mean I was doing something wrong if I were to succeed at everything on the first attempt.


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