Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In an ideal world

The element I treasure most from my university years is the discussion: intense, light, ranging, questioning, unbelieving, revelatory, ... the constant to and fro of ideas. 
Seeing both sides 2005
I have been in one way or other seeking that level of discussion ever since.  After committing my time to pursuing my desire to make art, I was lucky enough to meet an artist who similarly craved discussion, and we formed a duo-didactic relationship which we continue to the benefit of both.
Conversation by the sea 2005
Being greedy, however, I always crave more: a diversity not only of input, but diversity of conversation, discussion, building and meandering dialogues which ebb and flow - and like the tide wash up diverse detritus.  Of course such dialogues and discussions take time - but I keep hoping that blogs for instance will deliver more conversation.
Well, this morning I finished reading a wondrously stimulating conversation, conducted by email and skype by two artists: Simon Lewty and Susan Michie.  My encounter began with a post written by Eirene on her visit to the Leamington Art Gallery re-hang.  I was immediately drawn to the work The men who Lie in the Road by Simon Lewty as shown in that post.
Simon Lewty: Dartmoor, Known and Unknown 1998 (from here)
I was immediately struck by the combination of dream-like figures and shapes with handwriting.  The look of a map, enticing me closer to the surface and the meaning: to see and read the story.  Straightway I loved it, and wanted to know more about the artist, about whom I had previously not heard.
I found that a book is available from Black Dog Publishing: The Self as a Stranger, and so without hesitation I ordered it, and have now finished reading it.  There are essays by others, but the gems are the two pieces towards the end: one an essay by Lewty himself entitled The Self as a Stranger.  The pinnacle for me, however, is the dialogue at the end between Lewty and Michie.  There is just so much packed into this dialogue, this exchange of emails discussing art in general as well as their art in particular that I will doubtless read and re-read it many times, pealing the layers. This is what I have craved from blogs (I probably have been looking in the wrong places, or just not looking hard enough) and has given me much to ponder while I hunker down to doing solid stitching work over the next few weeks.
I have also found a paper, Writing Silence which Lewty has written about Susan Michie's work, here.  Reading this will help me to fill in the background of the other half of the dialogue.  I have not been able to find many examples of Michie's work online (there is one here) apart from on here and here with Lewty.
Talking it over 2005
I hope that my duodidactic friend will enjoy the book as much as I have, and we shall have so much to talk over.
Meanwhile Simon Lewty continues to generate a buzz in my brain.  There is an interesting video of him talking about his approach to making work on the Art First site.  And here is a quote from that dialogue with Michie:
Whatever it was, that 'something' that led me to become an artist and still makes me persevere year in and year out, in what ... is an incredibly private journey and a very limited lifestyle, was not I think primarily fame  or big money or celebrity.  No, I think what drew me was a kind of magic, and I just knew I didn't want to do anything else.  It was the magic in art, and making that magic that fascinated me, not the thought of being a magician.
I find that so affirming: it's the making, not the being that matters.


  1. You are lucky having such a friend! And I love that last quote.

  2. Marja-Leena, I am extremely fortunate, you are right. The dialogue is full of fascinating quotes - two artists talking seriously about art - such a wondrous opportunity to be a fly on their wall!

  3. Thank you for this post Olga, so much to think about, and to savour. First of all the discovery of Susan Michie: I loved Coming to the Surface and as to Regrouping, words fail me - it's one of the most powerful pieces of art I have seen in a very long time. So, please, if you come across any more of her work, and you remember, do send me the links.

    I found Writing Silence a great joy to read and there's so much to think about in the essay. His outline of Michie's process of thinking prior and in the process of making her art is fascinating. I found the comparisons with Hesse and Martin (two of my favourite artists) very interesting and appropriate. The whole concept of the 'grid' and the way Lewty distinguishes Michie's practice of the grid from Le Corbusier's grid - real connections here with the work I am doing at the moment and the question of 'is there an ecriture feminine? Defining a feminine practice of writing is related to a feminine practice in art and as a first step in both cases, grounding it all on the body. The contrast of the 'masculine' grid as an instrument of division and control, as opposed to Michie's use as an image of relatedness without hierarchy and of integration within the world. Ahhh! there is so much here.

    Michie's realisation that 'she was expressing textiles' and how Lewty connects that to the silenced and consequently lost history of women's work, and of course, how all that connects with your work.

    And other bits that struck me: Martin's reply to the question of what was the difference between one of her drawings and a piece of graph paper - 'love'.

    Lewty's assertion that Michie's art can be 'read like a page of writing'.

    I think that I have no option but to acquire The Self as a Stranger
    so thanks for that. And finally, thanks for the mention.

  4. Eirene, I am so pleased that you have found so much relevant and interesting material in Lewty's Writing Silence. I was so delighted myself not only to discover Lewty and his work, but also Susan Michie too. I shall certainly try to find more about her work, and of course will pass on the links or other information.

    The link between text and textiles was made in a lecture I attended years ago at a conference on Japanese textiles. I must look it up again. Strangely I was thinking about that conference only yesterday when I found out that the architect Kathryn Findlay had recently died - she also had lectured at that conference (she had a practice in Japan with her husband Ushida).

  5. Olga,

    Once again I am struck by the similarities in our needs as well as the differences in our exposures, practices, and outlooks. We both (and others who read your blogs and follow your links, I'm sure) need the duo-dialectic. I know that I work off other people's ideas and comments; they stimulate me; I steal them without knowing I've done so; I build on them; they nourish me; they propel me forward. I was never meant to be the isolated artist or thinker or, indeed, human being. No desert hermitage for me, no matter how much the desert as landscape excites me.

    On the other hand, the little bit that I read of Lewty on Michie, which was fascinating, of course, made me want to enter into the discussion; I went into an argumentative mode in my head. I am female but have never understood the "feminine"/ "masculine" dichotomies that are sometimes set up (I have always liked V. Woolfe's take, on the subject of "uni-sex" accusations; she says something like: two categories of sex in humans is inadequate).

    Moreover, while I very much like Agnes Martin, I have enormous trouble working on a grid without wonking it up. I even have trouble with contour drawing, not just because I'm bad at it (I am) but also because it feels confining. I know I should get it right (and oh how I envy you and other friends, as your next blog and past ones show, who do get it right). But the thought of working to get that confinement correct seems so diminishing to my real desires, which are to break the contours, that I end up being careless rather than working to become adequate at draftsmanship.

    I also feel confined by the inchoate bits of writing on the art by Lewty that I saw (I still have to explore more with him and with Michie) and with the eternal internality that results. If I were being more disrespectful, which I can't do until I know a whole whole whole lot more, I would call it "naval gazing."

    I feel like a light-weight saying that. And just now, when I went to the studio for a moment, I felt some relief that the near-void of my panoramic playa lake was coming to an end and something of a more human landscape was hoving into view on the end panels. So I am not immune to the grid nor the containments which console and create, but they don't lift and excite me like the near voids that I keep dabbling at. Grids are comforting rather than exciting, and I suspect I look for excitement in the making and viewing of art.

    Nor do I think of myself as anything but female, a category which must be enclosed in the "feminine" (or is it the other way 'round?). At any rate, I think there is a place for a lot more external examination than the eternal internality that so much art and thinking of the 20th and 21st century has given us. But that's a whole nother set of discussions that could go on and on and on -- if we could find a year or so of face-to-face time and activities to keep ourselves going:-)

    It is possible that my energies are too limited to begin to understand adequately all that I should. It is possible that my brain and heart are too limited to feel fully what I need to to be completely human. These concerns are good for me -- they don't make me feel smaller in a bad way but rather they keep me looking and asking and wondering. Which is why I so enjoy reading your blogs. For me, the elephant in the dialogue you so eloquently depict in the next blog is the elephant of aging and death, the thing that we all face, feminine, masculine, and other. It hovers there, as well as at the edges of my voids. No words exist there for me; it's a shadow, unmarked, except by the outlines of regrets and sorrows and memory and nothingness.

    And on that cheerful note, I'd best stop:-)

  6. June,
    It’s great that you do engage in dialogue – not only that, but you throw up so many threads to follow! I’m not complaining, except for the lack of time to pursue all that I’d like to. Like you, I find other people’s ideas stimulating, nourishing, and forward moving. I do crave a kind of camaraderie which I have encountered from time to time, but on the other hand I do flourish on my own too. Well, almost on my own: I am lucky to live with a quiet husband who similarly is absorbed in his occupations.
    I find Simon Lewty’s work and writing fascinating for two general reasons. First, I love the look of writings, typographies, handwritings, calligraphy of different kinds in different languages, and especially when mixed with drawings on the same piece. That is what attracted me initially, and then I was drawn in by his fluidity of expression. The dialogue with Susan Michie, another artist, was a bonus. I so enjoy reading artists talking about work; it seems so much more valuable than reading the thoughts of critics or historians. It does not matter if I do not necessarily accord with whatever the artist says – I find that the stimulus to think about art making is what I enjoy, in fact disagreeing is often an even greater stimulus to thought. So, even if Lewty’s writing and thinking revolves round what could be called navel gazing, that’s fine with me. I could not be an artist with the same impulses as Lewty – nor indeed as Susan Michie, but I found their dialogue enlightening and thought-provoking.
    I find Agnes Martin’s work intellectually attractive. Her pieces would not be on my desert island, however. The ideas are interesting, and for a long time I used to think that I was failing as an artist in that I could not bring myself to make art like this – but I finally realised that art is self-expression, and minimal art would not be an expression of myself. You talk of ending up being careless rather than working to become adequate at draftsmanship – I have recently signed up for a term of life drawing, which largely aims for correct draftsmanship. However, at yesterday’s session I was most delighted by a group of blind drawings I did in response to mucking up a head by overworking. I agree that we need to develop and improve our skills, but we do not necessarily need the same core skills.
    As for being a female – well, a whole lifetime of discussion can be involved here! I very much enjoy being a female, but am not traditionally feminine, in that I never wanted children, don’t spend a fortune on shoes, don’t wear makeup, etc. In the early 70s I certainly was paid less than a man in my job, and would not have been able to take out a mortgage on my own, etc. etc. so understand feminism. On the other hand, I always felt equally concerned about men who were expected to support a wife and children, were expected to clear the gutters and mend the plumbing etc. etc. So, I have never been a Feminist to any serious extent. Also, between me and my brother, I am the practical one, a realist, a doer, a solver of problems – while he is the fantasist, impractical, creater of problems – so the male/female divide is in my own experience not so clear cut.
    I hope that you do keep looking, wondering, asking no matter what your energies. I learned when I was totally at my lowest when caring for my mother that just taking a few moments each day to look closely at insects on the path, raindrops on leaves, the variety of colour on one petal, small details in the garden on my way from the main house to the granny annex just to ground myself in the wider world. I agree about the elephant, which gets bigger far too quickly, but just imagine how comfortable it might be to lean back against that great solid beast, and look out of the view from there. Please do not regret. Just think of all the amazing experiences.

  7. Hi Olga,

    Thanks for the extensive re-sponding. It is not only what I deserve (in a slightly sardonic sense), but what I love (in a totally non-ironic sense).

    So, as is almost always the case, if I'm not totally with you, I'm running to catch up. I was impressed by your blind drawing. As I was going through some old notebooks today I found some blind figure drawings of my own. Alas, they are abysmal. Yours are far more worthwhile. I'm pondering how you have such a connection between your unsighted mind and your working fingers. That really intrigues me. It means that you've got something that I don't but of course, that doesn't mean I couldn't, had I world enough and time. I'm playing with a digital format lately and this week's challenge is to do something along the lines of a graphic drawing, making contours, trying for interesting lines. I may have to even resort to pencil to achieve a good line, which is OK 'cause I can convert it to a graphic image and move on from there (as you often do). So this is where leading with my chin and forgetting the elephant gets me this morning.

    I loved the notion of leaning against the elephant to catch my breat. Indeed that is what I sometimes do and to good effect. I'm not much of a regretter, in fact (I think that might be a made-up word). And I've even stopped trying so hard to catch up. Notice I said "so hard" -- I can't stop trying. So I shall try to lean back a bit more -- it's perhaps better for my posture --snort--.

    And as I was an early card-carrying feminist, I insist upon calling myself that, even though I've got some of the same attitudes as you. The backlash against the language and the delving into the differences, calling them masculine and feminine, are to be expected and can evolve some interesting discoveries and observations. So while I squampel, I know I could easily be accused of overdoing it. Thus age doth make curmudgeons of us all.

    I'm so glad you (in the later blog) showed the landscapes of Susan Michie -- as I said, I hadn't checked out her work at all. I guess I was leaning on that elephant much too much.

    When I read the blog of a thinker such as yourself, I am transported back into the old excitement about ideas and discussions -- such excitement, because usually in quiescence, turns on some kind of gusher of thoughts, related and unrelated, in my brain. The dialectic can result in weird sytheses, and when I see where I've gone, I tend to continue a dialectic with myself. And so it goes. Mostly I'm talking to myself, about my ignorance and my need to understand. I'm chiding myself for those lacunae, such that which resides in my desire to make writing read textually rather than visually. I try to squint and see, but truthfully, it's all a theoretical exercise.

    However, when I'm 80 I'll be perfect (this is my favorite take-off on Susan B. Anthony's remark to Eliz. Cady Stanton) So maybe then I'll be able to meet you on your own terms.

    Until then, many thanks. The elephant will have to wait his turn so long as I keep reading your blogs.