Gandt at The Woodmill
by Helen Barker
From 15th March to 8th April 2011 I enjoyed being Artist in Residence with Gandt at the Woodmill Studios. Having filled out their quirky application form with a proposal entitled “There’s a hole in the week where the rain gets in”, I set out to uncover a space in time and find a loophole in my day. I was unsure of my beginning, all I knew was that I had a studio space and a number of days.
Things began slowly, with several cups of tea. I read a lot of books about painting, and a lot of comics. Gradually, ideas began to filter through my mind and two strands of my practice began to emerge – still life & computer game narratives. They were not as isolated as they might seem. For some time now I’ve been interested in Dutch Still Life, having a slight obsession with early 17th century painters such as Johannes Vermeer. I love the secrecy that unfolds in their carefully staged images, the act of looking over a particular point in time and noting the fluctuations between light and dark. I find, within these images, a space to uncover some mystery of the unknown. And, most of all, the dedicated hand of an artist toward his practice. Time slows down for me when I observe still life images, and I am intrigued by the language that emerges from this space in time. Somewhere in still life is a hole, where the drip drip drip of an unexpected and gently rising thought gets in.
As for computer game narratives, they have been with me for some years. Collecting old Amstrad CPC464 games has been an hobby of mine for a while. I have several now. I rarely play on them these days, mostly I spend my time reading the inserts they come with which detail the background stories to their worlds. Games of war, theft and danger – each with their own faux-history. Some based on truths, others complete fantasy. The pull of narrative has me held fast in its grip and during my time with Gandt I allowed msyelf the sheer indulgence of its fantasies.
As my thinking occupied these two arenas I began to work on two seemingly separate (and very different) bodies of work. For the first week or so I carefully went through a process of still life, observational painting. I painted an image of a hat and a clock, I loved the circles generated in and between the two objects and the shadows cast by them. The hands of the clock became graphic and linear, the shadows on the hat were sweeping glazes of fine colour. I imagined a whole room outside the one I chose to capture and when I had finished I felt that rare but beautiful sense of achievement one gets from good, honest hard work! For the second week or so I paused for thought (and worked on The Retrospective), until I eventually began work on an extremely spontaneous wall drawing/mural. Based on the Amstrad narratives and my interest in comic drawings I created a linear narrative around the room. The pace was fast, mistakes were many but could not be erased. This work came largely from imagination, using only a few images and words to spur itself on – much unlike the hat and the clock, which was a study of life and a lesson in looking at something.
Two exercises, both vastly different in approach. And out of the two I found myself slipping through that proposed gap in time I had begun with – that hole in the week where the rain gets in. I continue to look for that space, as I immerse myself in new work. What was most productive about my residency with Gandt, was a freedom in expression found through the act of trying-out.
I seem to have a continuing fascination with the way that language and image are necessarily at odds with each other in order to produce an imagined and new world. In still life I find that the unspoken is so rife, in the silence of the objects and the emissions of those not chosen, that I begin to construct a whole narrative from their gestural relationship to the surface of the canvas. A story is found, and I am free to be the one who finds it. In drawing from imagination I am able to tap into the linguistic force of line as image, crafting and honing a narrative only to be interpreted on reflection (and perhaps by someone else). I force the disjoint of dialogue, written text and illustrative image to a point of forced reconcilliation, where something must be said, something must be seen.
The problem with my initial proposal for Gandt (To find a hole in the week where the rain gets in), was that it was already fulfilled. The answer could be found in the very question – however it was read. Language is just as slippery as image, between the two their is a joyful discovery of imagination. What was the hole in the week? It was an idea, a thought, a flight of fancy into the creative output of a residency. It was the trying out of ideas and the looking back at them.