Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ballpoint pen drawings of a lily - renderings for an artists book.

This blog post consists of more ballpoint pen drawings for my new work, an artists book, as mentioned in previous entries. The drawings are of flora selected for their close associations with the character in the book I am referencing.  I refer to Des Esseintes, the hero in the Huysmans’ novel Against Nature (A Rebours), in particular his expressed preference for the artificial as appose to the natural. 

His choices affirmed a decadent approach with regard to purchases – leaning towards all things artificial, his choice of pants included Caladiums and the Cypripedium (to mention only two varieties) - not featuring on his list was the extraordinary variety of corpse flowers (image on the left and below). The colours of which formed the inspiration for my drawing (above) featured here step by step. 

By way of introduction I chose to render the Lily, as they are sculptural and lends it self to be easily altered and modeled.  Through shading (cross hatching) one is able to alter the leaves to imitate a variety of textures and surfaces, whilst retaining its inherent attributes. 

I also explored a variety of colour options – testing a range of ballpoint pen brands to achieve the desired effect. This is a step by step account of the drawing process, the different pens and available colours. I tried to embrace the hero’s fixation with flora that imitates the look and feel of the artificial (fake), as mentioned below and contextualized by McGuiness in his introduction to the translation of Huysmans’s novel by Robert Baldick.

‘Nature…. has had her day, he muses, seeking the copy or the mechanically produced, not as a substitute for the natural but in preference to it.  His is an artificial world; abstracted and decontextualized, full of gadgets and refined objects, custom-built and chemical (McGuiness xxxi; 1956).

Des Esseintes had a passion for flowers, the author dedicating an entire chapter to define the hero’s obsession with absurd looking varieties – ‘choosing real flowers that seem to imitate artificial ones, thereby reversing the relationship between natural and artificial, copy and original’. 

McGuiness in his introduction refers to the influence of Baudelaire (his art writings) – ‘nature was what pushed human beings to kill and brutalize each other; the authority and civilization that maintained humane values were themselves artificial: laws, religions, moral codes’.

They both supported the notion that Art should not merely imitate; endorsing art’s liberation from a slave to nature. The hero admired the work of Gustave Moreau (1826-1898) – ‘the luxury of his conceptions and the methodological dimensions of his paintings, and for his removal from the ‘hateful period’ in which he lived (he belonged nowhere). The ‘bad dreams and fevered visions’ reflected in the mysterious paintings of Odilon Redon (1840-1916) also found favour with Des Esseintes’ artistic tastes. Reference is also made to the work of El Greco and the Dutch engraver, Jan Luyken – specific reference is made to his renderings of suffering and anguish.

I am particularly interested in the way the renderings are digitally altered (scanned images) into creating wallpaper like patterns –  working from a photograph, the ballpoint pen renderings of flowers and or plants are transformed into patterns that taken on a life and meaning of their own.  Abstracted they transcend their lifelike counterparts; metaphysical renditions of thwarted dreams of isolation, power and discovery. 

On completing his purchase of flora the hero had this to say about his collection of plants. These plants are really astounding, ‘he said to himself, stepping back to appraise the entire collection. Yes, his object had been achieved: not one of them looked real; it was as if cloth, paper, porcelain and metal had been lent by man to Nature to enable her to create these monstrosities. Where she had not found it possible to imitate the work of human hands, she had been reduced to copying the membranes of animals’ organs to borrowing the vivid tints of their rotting flesh, the hideous splendours of their gangrened skin’ (Baldick, 2003; 87).

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Featuring the beautiful Lotus flower at Ditan Park in Beijing

On my recent trip to China I was hoping to see a flowering Peony. As they featured in my animated ballpoint pen drawings projected onto the ceramic installation. Not that it was high on the agenda. Spring had come and gone, it was almost summer and to my surprise the lotus flower was an unexpected alternative. These images were taken at Ditan Park (Alter of the Earth and home to the Peony Garden) in Beijing, after a visit to the Lama Temple, situated across the Andingmenxibin River. 
In the three-storeyed section of the 5th hall is a 23-meter high statue of Buddha, carved out of a single piece of sandalwood. We do associate the Lotus flower with Buddhism. It grows in muddy waters – it’s stems rising above the water, symbolizing the rising and blooming above the murk to achieve enlightenment (rebirth). The Buddhist culture stems back to 563 B.C. when its leader Siddhartha was born in Nothern India – a fertile strip of land amongst the foothills of the Himalayas. Overcoming personal frustrations and pain – desires, that inhibited spiritual enlightenment, he experienced the earthly foretaste of Nibbana (Nirvana). From now on he was the Buddha, the enlightened one.

The first phase is when the flower is closed – represents the time before the Buddhist finds spiritual rebirth. The final phase is a fully bloomed Lotus representing full enlightenment and self-awareness. Hence the fact that most sculptures of the Buddha, features him seated on a flowering Lotus (image above). The first time I saw a flowering lotus was at Hylton Nel’s garden, when he was still living in Bethulie. 

It was a welcoming surprise after a long journey from Johannesburg, on route to the Cape (annual recess excursion). It was beautiful to say the least – the flowering lotus is a rare sight in this part of the world. Making my first encounter a double blessing if you like. Hylton has green fingers – but even he was overjoyed at his success - to grow the plant and get it to flower. 

For me the annual stop over (almost half way), presents a turning point in more ways than one (the end of another year) – the journey and stay at his home always has a wind down effect (hectic Jozi city life).  It is also generally a time to reflect and contemplate life’s opportunities and for me to consolidate creative prospects for the next year or two (if need be). At the time, the flowering lotus plant made the experience that much more special. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Authentic Artist Book, Hon's First Step

Ballpointpen drawing of Cockchafer larva
 also known as scarab beetles or spring beetles
I have done the initial research, reading and compiling of mind maps and visual realisation of my next creative output. After weeks of catching up, to do lists that never seemed to end, I am ready to share my latest creative endeavour - a step by step account of my first authentic artist book - here are on this blog, on a weekly basis (as the creative process unfolds). 

The book will hopefully meet the complex artists book criteria, whilst capitalizing on my unique approach to ballpoint pen drawings and will also include ceramic products in a befitting way. I have investigated blogs and read papers on the subject of artists books and will feature aspects and approaches to this growing complex art form, as the need arises and in response to my creative output – the application of the theory in practice.

My creative intention is to draw parallels between one of my most inspiring reads ever, Joris-Karl Huysman’s Against Nature (a Rebours) and contemporary life – seen in the context of a information age and cyberspace. Analogies will be drawn between the main character in Huysman’s book, named Des Esseintes, in particular his response to life at the end of the 19th century. In describing the situation, Patric McGuiness wrote in the introduction of one of the translations in my possession (image on the left), ‘that the Romantic heroes had travelled to exotic places in search of themselves, only to discover that it was themselves they were trying to escape (McGuinness: xviii).’ In the Hero’s case, ‘the quest terminates indoors, the final bastion of the privacy that feeds on itself until there is nothing left’.(McGuinness: xviii)

"Des Esseintes thus becomes the exemplary Decadent figure: the last, sickly scion of a once great family, his mind addled by fantastical luxury and his body wrecked by abuse, he retires from the nineteenth century – the “American Century” as both Des Esseintes and Huysman call it – to build his own fortress, Against Nature is the Tale of his obsession (McGuinness: xviii)".

"We notice how, despite his tirades against the ‘American Century’, modern consumerism and ownership, he takes advantage of all these. He owns, and money is rarely far from the surface of this book ostensibly about the ascetic and cultured life, the search for the uncontaminated pleasure of pure art. Indeed, his passion for reproducing, commissioning copies, having finely bound books and made-to-measure interiors is uncannily like that of the early 20th century (American) millionaire: buying, transporting, transplanting (McGuinness: xxix)

However 'he is also a book fetishist, in whom the bibliophile – the lover of the book as object – overcomes the reader. He does not read, states McGuiness, instead he prefers 'to wax lyrical about the paper quality and bindings (McGuinness: xviii) ….. Against Nature, the novel, 'is a hybrid, composed of different modes of writing: catalogue, inventory, case study, encyclopedia and scholarly treatise, while the chapters are arranged as compartments or glass cases' (McGuinness: xxxiii). All these qualities will be applied to create an artist book that integrates text, renderings as well as origami  - addressing the entire structure thereof – the book as object (container for netsuke based ceramic products).

Ballpointpen drawing referencing the caterpillars abode;
 a rolled leaf in which it takes refuge.

The initial concept (book as object) is premised on the idea of the disintegration of the book, being devoured from within, as consumed by the reader (notion of the bookworm), until only the memory of the experience remains. The digital age has had a serious impact on printed matter - the hardcopy. Against nature is ultimately a “novel” of alienation and insurrection. 

Des Esseintes, the novel’s hero, sleeps during the day, to take advantage of the still of the night – ‘holding that night afforded greater intimacy and isolation and that the mind was truly roused and stimulated only by awareness of the dark…….the world is dark, silent and dead. The information superhighway (social networks etc.) is a means to escape reality - surfing the net in search of self-fulfillment – in itself an alienating experience (withdrawing into ones own fortress).  The time of day is of no consequence when one surfs the superhighway.

Against Nature is a novel of surfeit; surfeit of knowledge, sensation, culture; and it culminates in a surfeit of self. The artist book I will produce will exploit these issues in an innovative and meaningful way. 
The goat-moth habitat