on found drawings and lost paintings

i went out for a little lichen reconnaissance yesterday; i had to remind myself just how diminutive these living, symbiotic organisms called lichens really are, having lost somewhat any sense of the true scale of the situation… but whilst there i discovered some particularly fascinating found drawings

i shall try to explain why these are unlike the usual accidental, scrawled & scraped textures which may aesthetically be regarded as a found drawing (or a found painting, the matter of which may need further clarification in a future post), in the accepted meaning of physical marks visually recorded in response to something else, usually made on a surface…

these are drawings made by ivy. one can clearly see the eroded traces of its prior existence, the pattern of growth, aerial roots in search of water and nutrients, the clamouring for light in every crooked twist and turn… the following four images were found in two different locations on the outside of a church and the drawings (as i perceived them to be) bore noticeable differences in their designs, which made me ponder…

these first two images are close-up sections of the wall shown above. this roughly rendered facade faces east and is sheltered to the south by a brick wall and to the north by a dense boundary of trees. this very convoluted impression of the ivy’s growth seems coded with some meaning, worthy of some visual analysis – wonderful whorls, contour lines, tight coils and concentric circles, a lasting (but not everlasting) imprint of nature at work…

one could easily make visual associations with topographical maps or satellite imagery of the earth, but i was also reminded of ancient inscriptions, lexicons, symbols or hieroglyphs… look unto these walls…

this is another wall, from the same church; it faces due south…

here the ivy drawing seemed more fluid and calligraphic in nature, the lines stretched out more elegantly, creating a much slower, meandering path across the wall’s surface, perhaps following the course of a hairline fissure in the render (or else it was one of its own making, such is the tenacity of ivy).

there must also be some relevancy, i thought at the time, to the differences in light and moisture in this south-facing location, when comparing these found drawings to the much busier drawings previously seen on the other wall… it was something to think about…

a phrase that has been rattling around in my head recently is intellectual rigour… i thought that i had read it somewhere (or maybe i am just imagining it) but i actually heard it on radio 4 yesterday, serendipitously while transfering the photographs of the found drawings to my computer – so perhaps i am just ‘tuned in’ to it, wherever it occurs. whilst i think there is some conceptual grounding to the found art idea i do not think it has enough intellectual rigour…

BUT, what if i were to create a situation where i grew stuff, such as ivy, or mould or whatever, and then either feed it or deny it light, water or nutrients, how this would control the pattern of growth and influence any resulting ‘accidental’ traces of their organic activity on a pre-defined surface, assuming this to be a way of forcing nature to make some art… any intellectual rigour suggests that one should be more academic and methodical and leave no hypothetical stone unturned (but what wonders i should find underneath real ones…). i did actually find a recipe for encouraging lichens to colonise on various surfaces but it would be quite a wait for any form of art to emerge from it…

an artist that came to mind who intervenes with or uses nature as a means of making his own art is tim knowles. i first came across his work in a little show in the cut gallery a few years back. he is one of those more scientifically-minded artists, a little bit heath robinson, making complicated contraptions, devices or drawing machines, harnessing the powers of nature (natural phenomena such as the wind or light from the moon) to make ‘his’ art (is it a creative collaboration or is nature the real artist here?).


tim knowles, tree drawing (willow), 2006

i realy like the concept of knowles’ tree drawings and his website is well worth a look, but you don’t get to see much detail of the finished drawings, more the machines that made them – this is an important part of the artist’s practice, the systems or methods employed to create the work. another artist worth a mention in this context is the norfolk-based artist roger ackling, whose work i particularly admire, as it is very delicately crafted, often small in scale, combining found materials with a very intricate, controlled method of drawing using the power of sunlight…


roger ackling, voewood, sunlight on wood, 2008

so, here i am, re-creating in my spare time, but with quite unusual art materials (chalk, soot, metal powder, sand, dust or plain ol’ dirt), the seemingly ephemeral traces of rust spots and encrusted striations, the pattern of lichens on stone or the subtle blooms of mould on a wall… i wonder what is lost or gained in the translation…

a few years back i wrote in an email to an artist (who had first emailed me regarding my paintings) that i would like to leave my canvases out in the elements and let nature do its beautiful/ugly workings, let them go to rot, so to speak – the only problem being that rot is, in the end, rotting and rotten – there is no archival permanence to it, it makes things more fragile, fugitive, transitory, ashes to ashes, dust to dust and all that…


detail of a lost painting, 2010

what i wanted to do was to make permanent (for myself) these signs of impermanence as i experienced them, but simultaneously i wanted to be drawn into another world or landscape that i perceived just beyond the immediate surface, perhaps just a reflection of my altered state of mind at the time, and not just recreate the raw materiality of the object… i also wanted to conceal some of the made by human hands aspect of the process of creating a painting, to de-personalise it (again for myself, in order to rediscover or re-live the initial aesthetic experience) – thus, the use of various materials and methods to apply, layer, alter, blend, blur, cover up or reveal, slowly embedding a secret (and vital) history into the surface… as i wrote once before, it’s colour applied; some of it lived and some of it died


another detail of a lost painting, 2010

i know that in the end the current lichen paintings will evolve to be something quite different from their initial source (the source being, by its very nature and location, separated from my own place of work) – formally synthesized, abstracted and distilled (a word that i probably overuse but it conveys the raw ‘essence of seeing’), my own re-creations, that come to exist in themselves and won’t knowingly have their contextual twins in the real environment…