Flowing Ground

This new series has grown out of a twin impulse, the wish to explore the visual field with the most direct means available – minerals, matter, water and paper – and to do it by taking one patch of ground, a small island, and looking at it deeply, again and again, to see what it yields.It is also a private and radical response to a larger problem – namely, how to picture the world and what media to adopt as the most valid vehicle for its exploration?  This question has become more complicated as the range of technical possibilities open to artists both expands and becomes more rapidly obsolete, and as the language and terms of one method – painting, photography, digital media – is infiltrated and overturned by another.

Painting especially seems to have lost ground in this accelerating process, increasingly prone to critical judgements which signal its demise on one day and its new ‘triumph’ on the next. So to return to drawing at this juncture – the impulse that lies at the root of so many visual systems – is also to return to first principles, to start over with the simplest contact between hand and eye, as an unencumbered way to locate and map out the subtle complexities of our response to the transient nature of the seen world.  It is a matter not only of acting, but of receiving.  As my deepening experience of one place – Osea Island in the Blackwater estuary –  is overlayed with new responses, so the need to work directly in the territory I am exploring has grown.  The island has become an extension of the studio, a space where thought, memory and action arise simultaneously.  As this series has grown over the last two years, so the distance between the world outside and the world in the studio has all but vanished.

The island is a contained world, a parcel of earth illuminated by sky and water and shaped by tide and wind.  Its interior is a wilderness that mutates with the seasons, the vibrant buzz and fecund bloom of summer fields disappearing beneath the stark silhouettes and white mists of wintertime;  while at its margins, a potent liminal space arises from the constant tension between liquidity and solidity.  On some days the fractured tracery and meandering lines of its soft boundaries spill outwards into glistening black space;  on others, the water rises up to meet the sky, dissolving the surface into a vast expanse of blue and silver light.  Being there, moving through it, is to become progressively immersed in its elemental rhythms, the drawings  a natural  result of this engagement.  A sheet of paper is worked on – sometimes urgently, sometimes with measured slowness – using pens, crayon, ink and pigment, but also  river water, mud, dust, grass and rain.  The mental picture  instinctively combines with the random event.  The drawing is both a representation of, and an intense submersion in the moment.  It hovers between the thing seen and the sensation evoked.

The marks on the paper slide in and out of recognition, acting both as rapid transcriptions and abstract notations.  They combine near and far, exploring the surface while also touching  the distant space above and beneath it.  The specifics of the visual world are unpicked and reassembled, the resulting images covering a spectrum of possiblities as they arise: some drawings returning to the closely observed,  others drifting through non – specific passages of light and dark, evoking a less tangible space, often less seen than felt.
The drawings mark the beginning of a process but also the process itself.  How they evolve is as much about the materials used and how the medium works on any given day as about a specific visual starting point.  Whether a reflective reacquaintance with familiar ground or an instinctive response to some unexpected stimulus ( a shell, butterfly, blossom), they are about the significance of looking,  remaining alive to the transience and mutability of that act of perception.  They travel not so much widely as deeply, absorbing and probing the natural flow of phenomena and the passage of time.  From the lines, marks and washes emerges a landscape where much of ‘what is essential is invisible to the eye.’

Luke Elwes
April 2005