Zen In The Art of Archery was recommended to me by the late Tony Carter when I was postgraduate student and he was both Principle and leader of the Fine Art MA at The City & Guilds of London Art School.
Last week I found a used copy which reminded me that I needed to read it – after thirteen years. During that time I have developed both my understanding of Buddhism and a strong daily meditation practice, which I believe puts me in a better position to understand the subtleties of the book.
Tony Carter’s understanding about the connection between Zen, archery, and artistic practice has become apparent to me on page 46 of the text. At this point the author, Eugen Herrigel, has convinced a Zen Master to teach him archery. He has spent a year learning the correct breathing technique for drawing the string of the bow. Having finally understood how to breathe and relax his body he is struggling to let the string of the bow go without jerking the bow, and thus missing the target.
‘You have described only too well’, replied the Master, ‘where the difficulty lies. Do you know why you cannot wait for the shot and why you get out of breath before it has come? The right shot at the right moment does not come because you do not let go of yourself. You do not wait for fulfilment, but brace yourself for failure. So long as that is so, you have no choice but to call forth some thing yourself that ought to happen independently of you, and so long as you call it forth your hand will not open in the right way – like the hand of a child: it does not burst open like the skin of a ripe fruit.’
I had to admit to the Master that this interpretation made me more confused than ever. ‘For ultimately’, I said, ‘I draw the bow and loose the shot in order to hit the target. The drawing is thus a means to an end, and I cannot lose sight of this connection. The child knows nothing of this, but for me the two things cannot be disconnected.’
‘The right art’, cried the Master, ‘is purposeless, aimless! The more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal, the less you will succeed in the one and the further the other will recede. What stands in your way is that you have a much too wilful will. You think that what you do not do yourself does not happen.’
… ‘What must I do, then?’ I asked thoughtfully.
‘You must learn to wait properly.’
‘And how does one learn that?’
‘By letting go of yourself, leaving yourself and everything yours behind you so decisively that nothing more is left of you but a purposeless tension.’
How often do we too ‘brace ourselves for failure’ instead of ‘letting go’ in all aspects of our lives. In relation to artistic practice this notion of ‘letting go’ can be applied such that one is no longer trying to make a picture, or indeed produce a good one. By letting go of the outcome we can feel the brush or pencil and be at one with it in the moment, unhindered, so that the brush is moving without will power, it is automatic like the muscle memory used by sports professionals.
When I learned windsurfing I was told that by breaking down the manoeuvres and practising the movements required I would be training the muscles to remember how to perform the sequences on their own, without the need to think about it. So that when the wind came up and speed together with the correct movement was required the response would be automatic. By letting go of the need to control the equipment the body would feel and respond to the wind directly without requiring any input from the mind.
For the author, the thought of letting go of the string is becoming a block to letting go well. Letting go well would prevent the jerk of the bow and therefore the target would be hit directly. Therefore by not thinking about the goal we would be better able to achieve our goal.
The Master’s comment that ‘you think that what you do not do yourself does not happen’ relates to our ability to let go and to be able to trust. Setting our intention and then letting go of it is essential for manifestation. We need to be able to put our trust in the right outcome happening without straining for it with will power.
I believe that Tony Carter was talking about going with the painting and allowing it to happen without force. Being in the moment, being in the painting, working automatically.
12 September 2017 – 21 January 2018
The exhibition of Rachel Whiteread’s work currently on at Tate Britain is a real treat because it is the biggest survey of her work ever shown, spanning 30 years of output. This abundance really brings attention to the extensive range of materials she has mastered in her practice during that time.
It features large-scale sculptural works in industrial materials such as plaster, resin, rubber, concrete, and metal alongside smaller works on paper, which are rarely shown publicly and usually only seen in books. Whiteread’s intimate drawings hold a fascination for me because of the variety of mark making techniques she employs; a mixture of varnish, pencil, ink, correction fluid, watercolour, and collage on a range of supports from graph to cartridge paper. She describes her use of correction fluid as being about building up layers, almost like ‘casting a drawing’. By laser-cutting into plywood her drawings have evolved into 3d forms.
Whiteread has said that drawing for her is a core activity that she uses as a visual diary to explore her thoughts and ideas on a daily basis. I feel inspired now to do this myself as a daily practice to let go and see what can come up from my subconscious.
What is particularly interesting for me about this exhibition is the way it brings together her obsession with the domestic, starting with four early sculptures from her first solo show in 1988; a dressing table, a clothes cupboard, the underside of a bed, and a hot-water bottle – which was the starting point for the series of ‘torsos’.
Whiteread became known for her unusual casting technique when she became the first women to win the Turner Prize with ‘House’ in 1993. Traditional casting methods always seek to replicate objects as they are seen, but this ambitious work was a concrete cast of the entire interior of a terraced house in London’s East End.
I have always admired her way of making negative space a solid form because of the way it toys with Freud’s theory of the uncanny by rendering the everyday into something strange, and threatening. As well as exploring the negative space around domestic objects such as tables, beds, bookcases, boxes, and architectural features including stairs, floors, windows, doors, and sheds she has also cast the invisible space inside objects like bottles and mattresses.
These works challenge our perception, creating a conceptual flip that causes us to question our sense of reality.
London Art Fair 2013
Business Design Centre, 52 Upper Street, London N1 0QH
15 January to 20 January 2013
Stand 18 – Long & Ryle Gallery
Long & Ryle will be showing two new drawings which take film as point of departure:
House by the River, references Fritz Lang’s gothic noir film of the same name in which ominously billowing curtains move out of the shadows to strangle a murderer.
The Conversation, considers themes of obsessive secrecy, privacy, and the ambiguous nature of a conversation overheard in a hotel room taken from Francis Ford Coppola’s film of the same title.
Other Long & Ryle artists being shown on the stand include John Monks, Katharine Morling, Simon Casson, Geoff Routh, Helen Napper, Su Blackwell, and Ramiro Fernandez Saus.
The 25th edition of London Art Fair brings together over 100 leading galleries from across the UK and overseas. Museum-quality Modern British art is presented alongside contemporary work from today’s leading artists, covering the period from the early 20th century to the present day.
Tues 15 January (Invited guests / Preview & Six Day Ticket Holders) 6:30pm – 9:00pm
Wed 16 January 11:00am – 9:00pm
Thurs 17 January 11:00am – 9:00pm
Fri 18 January 11:00am – 7:00pm
Sat 19 January 10:00am – 7:00pm
Sun 20 January 10:00am – 5:00pm
A feature on my work written by Martha Alexander was published in the September 2012 edition of Artists & Illustrators magazine.
Dark Places by Martha Alexander
Artist Fran Richardson is always on the look out for new and unusual ideas, so her award-winning drawings are inspired by everything from saints and architects to ‘uncanny’ psychology.
Looking at her large-scale charcoal drawings of domestic interiors, your assumption might be that Fran Richardson is a stickler for disciplined realism and absolute accuracy. And though that’s true to a certain extent, what you might not appreciate is that while they are flawless in their execution, they actually portray imagined spaces. “I take ideas from different places,” she says. “I am interested in the way that perspective is disrupted. Quite often the composition will not follow the laws of perspective and it brings up the idea of looking strange or unreal. It’s all deliberately done with the intention of people looking at it and thinking, ‘that’s not quite right’.”
Viewers often comment on the photorealistic finish to the drawings and it is an observation that Fran welcomes. “The idea it that it looks real but when you look closer it looks wrong,” she explains. “It can be very subtle.”
Fran’s approach is borne out of an interest in the idea of psychological or dream spaces – in other words, imagined settings comprised of the jumbled up elements of a variety of domestic interiors. Her interest in the concept came about as part of the research for her BA in painting from the City & Guilds of London Art School. The artist has always had an interest in psychology and it was only then that she began reading about dream theory. “I found out about the link between the house and the mind,” she says, explaining how the psychologist Jung had dreamt of a house with multiple levels – cellar to attic – and how he related these levels to the subconscious. “Then I went on to read Freud who wrote about the ‘uncanny’ – when the familiar suddenly becomes strange or threatening – so those two lines of enquiry became a starting point for all the drawings in my BA show.”
Fran’s reading has naturally slowed down a great deal since she graduated from her subsequent masters course in 2006. However, given that her work is so anchored in psychological concepts, research is an integral part of her practice –even if some of it does sound slightly surreal to the point of bizarre. “A year ago I had my first solo show at Long & Ryle and the basis for that was [prominent 16th –century Spanish mystic] St Teresa of Avila, who described the spirit as like a crystal. She related the crystal to being a castle with many rooms.”
Nevertheless, such unusual and multifaceted starting points help to keep Fran’s work fresh. “Every so often something crops up – I read about it and it directs my drawing into different areas, but I don’t deliberately go out to read lots of theory.”
Her training at City & Guilds of London Art School wasn’t all purely theoretical however: “The schools is unusual in that it has a lot of focus on drawing as a basis of research and the tutors really support drawing.”
Life drawing classes were offered to students on two evenings of each week and observational drawing was likewise encouraged in the painting department. Unusually, despite studying both a BA and MA in painting, Fran’s affinity for draughtsmanship was such that her final degree show consisted entirely of drawings. That body of work has since formed the basis of the work she is producing now: “My masters and beyond was all about developing the work.”
Fran’s large-scale drawings are underpinned by collage: she collects old books and magazines, the pictures from which will often end up forming part of her completed works. “I tend to keep my inspiration in files so if I come across a book or magazine feature that might be useful, I file it away for reference so I can come back to it later,” she says. “My studio is full of works in progress, notes to myself or just white walls.”
Visiting old building to sketch is an important part of her process. Where possible she tries to get permission to take photographs, too. Fran especially likes Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. Situated in the legendary Bank of England architect’s former home at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the museum now houses his collections of art and antiquities. “It’s a depository of history and a brilliant starting point,” says Fran. “Not only the objects in the building but the way [Sir John Soane] changed and altered buildings to manipulate light sources. He would have a really dark corridor and put a skylight in to bring a shaft of light down to focus on the different areas. He was playing with chiaroscuro and that’s something that’s still filtering through my work now.”
That use of tonal contrast in her drawings might be inspired by classical architecture, but it is very much down to her, given that the rooms she depicts are ultimately imaginary: “As the drawing develops, I’ll move the light source around and make it very dark, black and velvety.”
Fran was recently shortlisted for the Jerwood Drawing Prize and her pleasure at the acknowledgement goes beyond simply the prestigious nature of the prize itself. “It was really nice to be selected by Rachel Whiteread because I looked at her work a lot when I was working towards my BA dissertation and wrote about the uncanny. Her sculpture came into it – the way she subverts the domestic. I really admire her drawing, too.”
In just five years since graduating, Fran has also been awarded the drawing prize at the National Open Art Competition and a visitors’ choice award at Brighton Festival. Buoyed by her success, she now feels it’s important that artists who focus on drawing are given the recognition they deserve in open art competitions. “To be exhibited alongside painting and sculpture is a huge development if you look at the history of drawing. It was always considered to be secondary to painting and sculpture and it was seen as just something that came before them. It’s good that drawing is starting to be considered as work in its own right.”
For a PDF version go to: www.longandryle.com
The 15th National Open Art Exhibition
10 – 29 December 2011
Open 10am – 9pm daily
Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester PO19 6AP
‘Il Gattopardo’ has been selected by Gavin Turk (artist), Catherine Lampert (former director of the Whitechapel Gallery, London), Lisa Wright (2009 winner), Rosie Emerson (artist) and Francis Hodgson (Financial Times) for the 2011 exhibition.
All work is for sale, admission is FREE.
Panel Led Discussion
19.00 15 December
Piers Ottey (artist), Prof Ed Chaney (expert on the Grand Tour), David Lee (Jackdaw), Steve McDade (Head of Fine Art at the University of Chichester, and Mandy Shepherd (artist) will all discuss their views on contemporary art and the exhibition.
Tim Sandys- Renton and Piers Ottey talk you round the exhibition.
18.00 12 December
12.00 14 December
12.00 19 December
12.00 21 December
“Drawing Room” is one of the 73 pictures selected from 3500 entries for the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2011. The selectors were Iwona Blazwick, Director, Whitechapel Gallery; Tim Marlow, writer, broadcaster and Director of Exhibitions, White Cube; and Rachel Whiteread, artist.
The Jerwood Prize exhibition will be at Jerwood Space, London from 14 September – 30 October 2011.
The exhibition will then tour nationally including BayArts, Cardiff and the Burton Art Gallery & Museum, Bridport.
The following artists have been accepted for the 2011 Jerwood Drawing Prize exhibition:
Ka Wah Liu
Bethan Lloyd Worthington
Exhibition: 10 March – 8 April 2011
Gallery opening times: tues. – fri. 10 – 5.30 + sat. 11 – 2:30
Nearest tube: Pimlico
This exhibition of finely rendered charcoal drawings takes the celebrated 1579 book by the mystic St Teresa of Avila as a point of departure to propose a visual contemplation on perception, memory, and the symbolic nature of interior space.
During a meditation Teresa had a vision in which the soul was ‘a castle made of a single diamond … in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions.’ This body of work explores the opulent splendour of the various rooms through which the soul in its quest for perfection must pass before reaching the innermost chamber, the place of complete transfiguration. We are invited as voyeurs to enter a private world of intimate spaces imbued with hidden meaning and complex emotions.
Building on previous series of interiors, Richardson continues to explore the representation of psychological space by blending architecture and furniture from different sources through a process of appropriation, selection, collage, and re-presentation. The fragmented imagery is transformed by design elements such as cropping, reversing, and redrafting. Perspectival irregularities are exploited to subtly disrupt the final composition, suggesting a sense of unease that questions our perception of reality and the enigma of appearances.
The drawing process facilitates the manipulation of tone by employing a meticulous technique that carefully distributes deposits of charcoal onto the surface. Value is achieved by controlling the extent to which the texture of the ground shows through the spread of black: in this sense we are presented with the materiality of the surface as much as the image. For Richardson drawing is a primary activity and a stand-alone medium; these works are not the evidence of a preliminary stage that serves painting as a conceptual aid, they are finished works in their own right. Charcoal was selected because it is receptive to minor adjustment permitting subtle gradations in tonal value and sharp contrast between the pure white of the paper to the dense, velvety blackness of the shadows, conveying a sense of ethereal, atmospheric mystery that references early film noir.
By combining the imaginative transformation of appropriated imagery with a realist language that evokes the naturalistic qualities of light, space, and atmosphere, Richardson works in the Dutch tradition of painting imaginary architectural portraits. All works on paper are professionally framed to archival standard in hardwood box frames glazed with Water White ultra clear glass, which is anti- glare, anti-reflective, and UV protective.
Richardson was recently awarded The Arts Club Charitable Trust drawing prize at the National Open Art Competition, the Brian Sinfield Fine Arts Award at Pastels Today and the Visitors’ Choice Award at the Brighton Festival Selectors’ Choice exhibition. Drawings were also selected for the Manifest International Drawing Annual 4 and Drawing Room II, a survey of contemporary drawing at the Royal West of England Academy. Fran Richardson is represented by Long & Ryle, London and is a visiting lecturer at the City & Guilds of London Art School, London.
Please contact Emma Wingfield or Sarah Long for further information.
LONG&RYLE 4 JOHN ISLIP STREET LONDON, SW1P 4PX
Monday 23rd – Monday 30th November
Pallant House Gallery, 9 North Pallant, Chichester PO19 1TJ
‘Untitled – Bed 7’ has been awarded The Arts Club Prize for The Finest Drawing in the Show and will be exhibited at Pallant House Gallery with the other 17 prize winners.
Saturday 7th November – 21st November Open 10am – 9pm daily
The Minerva, Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park Chichester, PO19 6AP
‘Untitled Bed 7’ has been selected by Gavin Turk (artist), Catherine Lampert (former director of the Whitechapel Gallery, London), and James Stewart (Zimmer Stewart Gallery, Arundel). All work is for sale, admission is FREE.