The First New Drawing

I’ve been working on a new drawing for a while – the first of many, I hope. Even now, it’s very much a work-in-progress, but in making it I have had lots of ideas about how to proceed. It’s time to put the first drawing out into the world, and move on to the next.

Compartmentalisation (The First New Drawing) (2012) (unfinished).
Pencil, watercolour and white chalk on paper, 80.5 x 56.0 cm.

After making my Cell Paintings in the first and early second year at Falmouth, I found it difficult to find a subject matter that interested me as much. The Cell Paintings were copied from books such as Gray’s Anatomy: I didn’t understand the images I was copying, nor did I understand how to make the images myself. This bothered me. I made enough work to get through my degree, but soon after this my painting and drawing almost completely ground to a halt. I began to follow up the only lead I had – to understand the images I had copied for my Cell Paintings, and this quest absorbed me for many years.

In a few weeks, my PhD thesis will be examined and I’d like to think I now understand the histological tissue sections and microscopy images I pondered whilst at art school. Mission accomplished.

I moved house a few months ago, into a bigger place, and have finally reclaimed all of the possessions that were distributed around the lofts and spare rooms of my family. I came across a box of my old sketchbooks. With fresh eyes, and with hindsight, I could see that the key was there all along. My sketchbooks were filled with drawings, photocopies, photographs and magazine cuttings of images that I found interesting. Individually, each feels out of context and meaningless. But flicking through each sketchbook in turn, I could see that each was part of a whole.

This first new drawing begins to bring together the seemingly disparate elements: a photograph of a settlement of the Dogon people, who live in the central plateau region of Mali, and plans of villages in Chad and Cameroon, with a drawing of a circuit board. Villages have functional compartments, such as kitchens and sleeping places; the components of a circuit board each have an essential purpose and function in the whole board. It is these ideas that are important in my explanation of how each protein in our body cells has a specific function, and these functions may be compartmentalised by membranes or the targeted distribution of degradative enzymes. My work will be a conceptual response to how life operates at the molecular level.

The problem will be how to combine these different images, whilst still retaining a sense of something recognisable. It would be too easy to lose everything but the shapes, to produce an abstract painting. It would miss the point. The paintings should make us think about the complexity and beauty of life. This must start with a reference point, something familiar.

Compartmentalisation (The First New Drawing) (2012) (unfinished).
Pencil, watercolour and white chalk on paper, detail.


In the end, I decided to press on and finish this drawing – perhaps partly out of fear of starting the next – and I’m pleased that I did.

Compartmentalisation (2012). Pencil, watercolour and white chalk on paper, 80.5 x 56.0 cm.

I was concerned that the circular group of buildings (large farmhouse enclosure, Cameroon) in the top-right of the drawing would dominate, but in fact it doesn’t seem to. This might be due to the blue watercolour underneath, which I used to play about with the composition in the beginning, and also due to the strength of the aerial view of the village in the top-left (Dogon village, Mali). There is a peculiar sense of movement associated with the Cameroon farmhouse enclosure that I didn’t anticipate – as though it is being sucked towards the left, down into the Dogon village.

It was difficult to make the circuit board in the bottom-right work together with the three groups of African buildings, and I can now see that this is because the electrical components need to be a similar size as the buildings to allow them to be equivalent. The colours used also separate the four elements further; I didn’t intend to address the issue of colour in this drawing.

Compartmentalisation (2012). Pencil, watercolour and white chalk on paper, detail.

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