Tests, Sketches & Process

Over the land freckled with snow half thawed

The speculating rooks at their nests cawed

And saw from elm-tops, delicate as flowers of grass,

What we below could not see, Winter pass.

Edward Thomas




RIDGE AND FURROW

Testing photographs for my 1,100 x 30 cm artist’s book, Ridge and Furrow, I chose a manipulated version of my photograph Walking home, the third image in this sequence, because the gradation of tone in the image allowed me to fold it where dark meets light. The effect, when walking alongside the book in one direction, is for the eye to be drawn to the wild, dark grasses at ground level. But turn around and walk the other way and the image is suddenly of a bright, open sky.

Dusk, digital print
Barley walk, digital print
Walking home, digital print

I’m always drawn to rich, high contrast monochromatic imagery. Studying Bill Brandt’s images (detailed on my contextual research page) led me to experiment with another, even earlier methodology: wet plate collodion. Working with experimental photographer Almudena Romero in her East London studio, using a 10 x 8 camera, I produced two tintypes and one ambrotype. Her images favour the same high contrast aesthetic which I admire in Brandt’s work. She’s also starting to work in the field of experimental photography with plants, using the chlorophyll printing process. This is something I intend to research in the future since it’s chemical-free.

The slow, physical, highly demanding method of cutting the glass and tin plates, edging the glass with egg white, coating the plates evenly with collodion by tipping them along four different planes and then sensitising them with silver nitrate, makes for an intense photographic encounter, one which is far removed from the immediacy of the digital.

Left to right:

  1. Me working in Almudena Romero’s darkroom, pouring collodion onto glass and tin plates.
  2. My tintype taken on a 10 x 8 camera and developed using the wet plate collodion method, 13 x 10 cm.
  3. My tintype of an early-twentieth century Stanley miner’s compass which I also use in my video Coordinates.
  4. (Below) My ambrotype, developed on glass.
Barley, ambrotype, wet plate collodion on glass, 13 x 10 cm

Translucent ambrotypes form part of my exhibition proposal. I plan to use them as a way of inviting the viewer to lean in, look at and then look through to what lies beyond.

The missing core from a Stonehenge sarsen stone © English Heritage

In July it was announced that scientists, who’d recovered a missing core from a sarsen stone at Stonehenge, had finally identified where the giant megaliths had come from. The missing core – a long, slender archive of ancient history – made me think of the layers of sedimental experience accreted over time. I decided to create my own sarsen stone core, experimenting first with plaster. I’ve already produced many etchings and relief, embossed plaster prints but now I wanted to escape the confines of the rectilinear form to produce something cylindrical in shape. I lined a large cardboard tube with paper lithograph plates and poured wet plaster inside: disappointingly, the result was blurred, dull and dead. I repeated the experiment with Actisol-soaked laser prints, and although the image was more resolved, the outcome was no more interesting than the first (see the first image below).

Clockwise, from top left:

  1. Sarsen stones. Actisol transfer and paper lithograph on plaster, 30 x 10cm and 40 x 8 cm
  2. Walking Sticks. Painted hazel and white graphite drawing, 48 x 2.5 cm
  3. Fotminne (detail). Hand-moulded porcelain, 4 x 2 cm
  4. Ridge and Furrow, Hand-made artist’s book. Digital print on Somerset paper with book cloth and board, 1,100 x 30 cm
  5. Fotminne. 300 pieces of hand-moulded porcelain, 1,200 cm (4 x 2cm)

Having failed with my plaster sarsen stones, I turned to hazel sticks, gathered on daily walks during lockdown (image 2 above). (I go into more detail about my research into the use John Newling’s and Richard Long’s use of sticks on my contextual research page.) I’ve been researching the ‘Wood-Wide Web’, as it’s known, and the magical properties of mycorrhizal fungi. These lines of fungi lie underground, forming a mesmerising network of interconnected, mutually supportive threads. They’re another form of footpath, but one which lies beneath the surface of the ground. I realised that fine, botanical drawings of mycelium on my collected, painted sticks would make far more powerful core archives than the dead, dull plaster had. Having experimented with a few sticks, it struck me that they resonated with the moulded porcelain work Fotminne I’d already embarked on (images 3 and 5). In the past I’ve taken casts from the inside of bark from dead Elm trees. The marks are the traces left by Elm beetles who kill the trees as they tunnel behind them.

The inside curve of a piece of Elm tree bark, chiselled into by Elm beetles

My early experiments with Elm tree bark were in cast plaster, but my latest work is in hand-moulded porcelain which is a more organic, sensitive material. There are aesthetic echoes and unifying principles between my porcelain Fotminne, my Ridge and Furrow artist’s book (image 4), and the mycelium sticks: all are forms of footpaths and tracks which lie at or under our feet, forming lines, channels and what Kerstin Ekman, who devised the word ‘fotminne’, calls ‘memory vessels’.

THE SHADOWLINE PROJECT

Capturing the shadows of trees on fine taffeta en plein air.

I’ve created many more shadow paintings in recent months. As Paul, Jo and Leo have said in tutorials, ‘it’s vital to produce a lot of work around the same idea. You have to repeat yourself to gather an audience.’ Shadowline is painted on light, translucent taffeta for the first time, to give the work more strength when it’s caught by the wind. With dimensions of 1,300 x 150 cm, the painting would have been torn by the wind if I’d used Japanese paper.

Researching the right place to float my painting into the sky took me to a remote part of East Sussex. The geometric lines of the cropped wheat field and the curving lines of the landscape beyond accentuate the sinuous folds of the painting.

EMBODIED LAND

In recent months I’ve been thinking not just about the land but about those who’ve lived on it and those who are yet to come. The body itself is, after all, a form of surface/sous-face archive, and my work is concerned with the kind of environment we bequeath. To express my sense of past and future generations, I made a collection of full-sized clothes in Japanese paper. Paper is an ancient, natural surface, as well as one which can be simultaneously delicate and strong, ephemeral and long-lasting. For some of the clothes, I painted metres of paper with shadows first, before cutting and stitching it; for others, I made the clothes and then took them outside to capture the shadows of leaves and branches in ink on the folds, ruffles and seams. The application of salt to small areas of wet ink makes for a fine, dappled effect.

Preparing to hang hand-sewn, ink-painted Japanese paper clothes
Hanging the installation in an East Sussex field.
Detail from Yet to Come: Ink and salt on Japanese paper. Length of this individual piece
155 cm.
Detail from Yet to Come. Ink and salt on Japanese paper. Length of this individual piece,
92 cm.

UNDERGOING

While researching a possible location for my exhibition proposal, I visited the Garden Museum in Lambeth to see the Derek Jarman exhibition. I was so intrigued by what I saw that I travelled to Dungeness in Kent to see the landscape which so inspired him for myself. The shoreline is uncanny, with strewn and discarded objects, derelict boats and strange, surreal plants erupting out of the gravel, all of them overlooked by the nuclear power station in the distance. Ultimately, the visit resulted in the footage for my video Undergoing. The territory is wild, even alarming, and expresses my sense of landscape as a magnificent but potentially threatening place.

Prospect Cottage, Dungeness, digital print
Dungeness, digital print

NATURE’S RECLAMATION

I considered producing a body of work focused on the way that nature is reclaiming the derelict eighteenth-century buildings in London’s Gunnersbury Park. The buildings are striking and the strange weeds erupting from tiles, windowsills and gutters are wonderfully defiant. Ultimately, though, I decided that they’re something to consider in the future rather than now.

Nature’s reclamation, Gunnersbury Park. Digital print.
Graffiti in Gunnersbury Park. Digital print.