Detail in the Distance

August 22, 2010

For twenty years I have worked almost exclusively in graphite and silver ink, trying to project an indefinable personal imprint upon a landscape made from memories and motifs from the places where I’ve lived or visited. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that for the past twenty-odd years we have lived in some form of countryside, from a typical North Downs Kentish village, via a small Southern French town surrounded by vineyards near the river Herault, to the near empty and very rural Gers in SW France.

But the twenty-five years before that were spent in suburbia — in setting and outlook, somewhere in which, as soon as I reached adulthood, I knew I could not thrive. I followed Alpha — raised in provincial countryside but held in West-London ‘hell’, post-university, thanks to our relationship — back to her roots to escape. I see and live life from a kind of rural perspective, drawing from the same, but I’m still intrinsically tied to the detail, the banality, the expanse and horror of Suburbia — a place I know so well. At present it is still difficult for me to explain the intention of the work but I am aware that it is a kind of catharsis. Some reviews see cityscapes, urban decay, etc., but for the record I have found it very difficult to take inspiration from ‘the City’ itself. Living in the countryside, ‘the City’ is for holidays; in my waking, working hours, Suburbia reigns.

And then around the time of the American Folk Art Museum exhibition, Brooke introduced me to the work of Paul Noble and, despite the dismal images on-line (I have yet to see his work in the flesh), I fell in love with Nobson Newtown. It seems that his approach to suburbia is from the City itself, which makes logical sense as I believe he has lived in London for a long time. But it’s not the “nuked look” or satirical eye that so much intrigues me… Though it pains me to give The Telegraph free publicity, their review of the show at the Whitechapel Gallery I found particularly interesting, being the only one I have read that alluded to the complex point that I’m trying to make:

Noble draws things so small that the human eye can hardly make them out, and panoramas so sprawling that we can’t take them in without moving our head. The result is that we look at a work by him from close to and from a distance, as though from both ends of a telescope.

When you go to the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s show of Noble’s recent work, watch how other visitors respond in front of the large-scale drawings. Restlessly, they move back and forth, unable to find a comfortable place from which to look.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/3623954/A-town-made-of-nightmares.html

I am sure that this was one of the artist’s primary intentions and not just the accidental result of making a vast landscape from minute detail. And the impact of this vastness is the landscape of Suburbia, where the ‘people’ of the city and the ‘nature’ of open country are hidden in the immensity. In the behemoth that is Suburbia, there is no room for these essential motifs but they have still got to be there somehow. In Noble’s Newtown, the overall effect seems to show a bombed-out city; in my work, or so ‘they’ say, it is decaying cornfields and strangled trees. But both are a kind of ‘self-portrait’, each from an opposite socio-geographical standpoint, drawn by artists intrinsically linked to their respective, current abodes.

Maybe it is because of the media we broadly share — not to mention the similar methods of creation — that it’s easy to identify with Noble; maybe there are other artists with whom I have much more in common, but whose work I cannot look at or appreciate in the same way… but I can’t get away from the feeling that we both create in a ‘feminine’ way that is rare, even in female artist peers; just as my figures are representations of aspects of myself (not ‘objects’ as certain — mostly male — journalists try to imply), his motifs are playful and personal. There is a humour in our art that is frequently ignored or misinterpreted; the drawings act as a kind of ongoing journal — intensely tied up with the everyday — and for that to be possible, there has to be a cathartic element, along with room for human detail.

Chris Hipkiss

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