Tuesday, June 26, 2012

'Built" : recording and responding to the construction process

I've had my braincells stretched and given a good workout today.  That's because I've been at the 'Construction: Knowing through making' symposium which accompanies the current 'Built' exhibition at the Mall Galleries - which opened yesterday and continues until 7th July

It's really refreshing to attend an intellectually stimulating event linked to an exhibition of contemporary art which makes you really think about how people work and what is actually going on.  I can think of a few people who know me who would have loved to attend this event and see this exhibition.  One chap at the end commented that it had completely changed his life!

Built - in the Threadneedle Space at the Mall Galleries
So this post is about:
  • 'Built' the exhibition
  • 'Construction: Knowing through making' - a symposium which addressed the very special challenges facing the four artists in the exhibition
'Built' - the exhibition
Built showcases the work of four prominent British artists who have made drawings paintings and sculpture recording, depicting and responding to the construction of signature buildings in the UK.
Recently I've been highlighting how small groups of artists are getting their work shown by working collaboratively to put on group exhibitions at respected galleries.

The group of artists exhibiting work in the new Built exhibition (Threadneedle Space @ Mall Galleries Mon 25 June - Sat 7 July 2012, Daily 10am-5pm) are another such group.  They're also distinctive insofar as for the most part they have all had to work collaboratively with construction teams in order to generate their drawings.

It took a little while to work out how they all got together. I won't bore you with the details, save to say groups like this emerge from those who are passionate about the way they work and who stay alert to others who are doing similar things.

In short - the exhibition is about artists who draw buildings - going up and coming down.  That focus on the built environment and iconic / signature buildings gives the exhibition a terrific sense of unity and coherence.  The artists all work in different ways - and yet work in ways which very much complement one another.  It took me all of half an hour for it to dawn on me that three out of the four work in dry media and most of the work in the exhibition is drawings.  Anybody ever doubting the impact of dry media or the power of drawing should come and look at this exhibition and see what it looks like when done well!

They also all focus on creating artwork which represents the building - in whatever state it is in - in a figurative artwork sense.  However all of the artists have a painterly approach which is interested in picture-making and mark-making - and not one has produced work which anybody might mistake for a photo!

I cannot emphasise enough how complicated the subjects are that these artists draw and paint and the way in which these works have terrific impact in all sorts of different ways.

Art under hard hats:  The process of getting access to these buildings is something initiated typically by the artist and can involve a long collaborative process with the others working on the site.  It can be beset by logistical issues - such as what you have to shin up to capture a particular view while at the other end health and safety matters can become 'challenging'.

Incidentally the exhibition also looks exceptionally good in the new Threadneedle Space at the Mall Galleries.

First a short video I made of the exhibition and then I'll review the contribution of each artist in turn

Pastel drawings, paintings and sculpture by Patrica Cain
Threadneedle Prizewinner Patricia Cain had the idea for this exhibition and has acted as its curator. Tricia spent three years on the construction site of Dame Zaha Hadid's acclaimed Riverside Transport Museum in Glasgow.

Tricia's drawings of the Riverside Museum have been the subject of an acclaimed exhibition at Kelvingrove Museum and have won both The Threadneedle and Aspect Prizes. (see Patricia Cain wins £25000 Threadneedle Prize 2010 - Making a Mark 16 Sep 2010).

She is currently resident on site at Hydro arena at The Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) in Glasgow - which is due to open in 2013 - and some of the drawings were only completed a few days ago!  Patricia is also the author of Drawing: The Enactive Evolution of the Practitioner.

The exhibition and today's symposium also reveal her as somebody who also makes things in 3D.  She learned the process of ship drawing and used processes from shipbuilding when making 'Building the Clyde' a piece for her solo exhibition at the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow.

Tricia very much regards her work as research pieces of art and notes that it's incredibly difficult to get funding for research work which is not done within the context of an academic environment.

Her experience of working on site threw up some interesting issues regarding collaboration.  She found it easiest to work with the engineers who are very used to working as part of a team and the give and take that this involves.  At the same time others who were less used to team working presented difficulties when it came to getting the work done and the exhibition up and running.

She noted that the people who got the biggest kick out of her exhibition at Kelvingrove were the construction workers who loved the fact she had recorded what they had constructed.  Those who were less enthusiastic were the people concerned with whether or not she might have recorded some thing which should have been built differently!

Jeanette Barnes - Charcoal Drawings of The Olympic Stadium, the Shard and the Aquatic Centre
Jeanette Barnes used to teach me how to draw spaces within large buildings and is a past Jerwood Drawing prize winner and Hunting Prize award winner.  Her primary focus is on recording the construction of seminal buildings in the City of London and the Olympic Park - and her studio is two minutes from the Olympic Park.  Included in the exhibition are her splendid and very large and impressive charcoal drawings of the Olympic Stadium, the Aquatic Centre, the Velodrome and the Shard.

Jeanette has also had another version of the Olympic Stadium which has been recently selected for The Threadneedle Prize.  I'm inclined to think it must stand a good chance of being shortlisted if the work in this exhibition is anything to go by.

Jeanette explained her method in outline as she has to her students in the past. Sharing doesn't mean people can emulate what she does - it's far from easy!
  • she has no idea what the drawing will end up looking like when she starts - her drawing is a process of discovery 
  • she starts by making lots of studies and notations using a 4B pencil on site; she also takes a lot of photographs for context.
  • most of her drawings are done from multiple viewpoints and hence when they're incorporated into the charcoal drawing they help create a scene which is not visible as such on the ground - from one place
  • the size of her drawings are only limited by what can be got out of her studio!  Her large charcoal drawings are all done on rolls of paper which is 151 cm wide - Jeanette is 148 cm tall!
  • her compressed charcoal is tied onto the end of a long pole and she works from her studies in constructing her very large drawings.  She sometimes used white chalk to restate areas which have become too grey with constant reworking.
  • the process is one of recording and erasing.  Her overall intent is to work out what is the minimum she can say about the construction of a building in a very large drawing.  Forms become skeletal and objects become hidden within the drawing
  • she is also concerned to show how a building connects to its environment and in some instances to the people who use it or move around it
  • Ultimately the drawing is not about what something looked like in one moment in time.  It's a cumulative process over about six months and her drawings are representations of the process of building
Reportage - documentary drawing of the construction of
Liverpool John Moores University's Art & Design Academy
© Julia Midgeley
Julia Midgley R.E. (Julia Midgely Drawings) is a past winner of both the Rainford Trust and Printmaking Today Awards.  Her particular interests are reportage and documentary drawing.  She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers and an exhibiting artist.

She is currently a Senior Lecturer and Reader in Documentary Drawing at Liverpool School of Art and Design which is part of the RIBA award-winning Art and Design Academy (ADA) designed by Rick Mather (who is also responsible for the recent extension to the Ashmolean Mueum in Oxford amongst numerous other projects)

Her experience of working on drawings of buildings has been very different. She made a proposal to her employer and became the Artist in Residence during the construction of the Art & Design Academy. Her wall of drawings are mainly executed in reed pen and acrylic ink and limited use of acrylic.  These are just a selection of the 80+ drawings and paintings that she completed during the course of its construction.

As an artist she is unique in the sense that she drew the building during its construction and then went on to work in it!

Anthony Eyton: Pastel drawings and oil paintings of Bankside Power Station and the Eden Project
It was a complete delight to meet 89 year old Anthony Eyton RA, to see his work in pastel and to hear about his experiences as the Artists in Residence at:
I came away with a copy of the book about his work Eyton's Eye.  I need to study his approach to using pastel as it's very much in the style I've tried to work towards in the past.  He maintains a dynamic line and a freshness of a sketch - but on a large scale.  His inclusion of people in his drawings is impeccable.

Tim Smit was unable to make the symposium but has said in the past (see Eminent artist Anthony Eyton, RA, to exhibit ten years of work at the Eden Project)
“In the years he has been recording our progress I’ve noticed something remarkable about Tony’s work. The construction pictures for instance, when just completed, were impressive, but as time passed and the construction finished you started to notice that his paintings had a life and movement which truly captured our experience of the frenzied building process far better than any photograph ever could.

For those that had the privilege to be here at the start, it is a lesson about the nature of art and the attributes of it that convey an ‘essence’ nothing else can."
'Construction: Knowing through making'

The central theme of the symposium was that working on site and being part of the construction process is fundamental to each exhibiting artist’s process.  It considered why the learning of skills is so fundamental to creativity and imagination. The event was part of the London Festival of Architecture (LFA)
‘Their work is not about representing the building as an artefact, but very much evolves from the experience of being there, recording and integrating with those who are making the building. In effect, construction is both their subject matter and their method.

‘The themes of the symposium extend this. They are about coming to know through making things and the notion that mindsets are shaped and altered during often collaborative processes in ways that it’s not possible to describe linguistically.’
Besides the artists, other participants/speakers were top notch and included
  • The collaborative partnership of Architect Will Alsop and Bruce McLean the artist/sculptor in conversation 
  • Richard Wentworth, professor of sculpture at the Royal College of Art and the ex Master of the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art
  • Dr Ranulph Glanville, whose work as an architect and academic is based in the notion that each of us constructs our own world.  He discussed the difference between "knowledge of" and "knowledge for"
  • Charles Walker, newly appointed head of architecture at the Royal College of Art.
I've got notes but, given the mind-bending involved, I think I need to reflect on them before I write anymore so will come back and finish this post off in a day or two.


  1. I saw the exhibition of Eyeton's work on Bankside a good few years ago now and thought it was absolutely wonderful. I met him some years later at a talk about his work series done in India (which again I'd seen in London) - as you say, a delightful man and incredibly talented.

    This whole show looks fascinating.

  2. wonderful review. I had the joy of watching Anthony Eyeton working when I did my foundation at Camberwell. It was like his eyes and hands (he uses both when working from my recollection, more 35 yrs ago!) were invisibly joined together. Apparently he was very hard of hearing, so the noisy distractions of having students milling around him didn't disturb his focus. Jeanette Barnes drawings seeming to be literally evolving as they are done, almost like a living being. Looks like an amazing show.


COMMENTS HAVE BEEN SUSPENDED AGAIN due to very silly ignorant people who leave spam comments without realising they have no benefit for them.

Please feel free to comment on my Facebook Page as my blog posts are always posted there (but please note anonymous comments are not published and I block and report spammers to Google and on Facebook)

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.