The Body I am in

Drawing Correspondence Programme

I first saw a drawing of Anita Taylors in 1989 when studying on the Fine Art MA in Birmingham, I absorbed some of her teachings vicariously through her students who had come from Cheltenham. The drawing stayed with me, a plaintive nude. It might have been an etching. I had followed Anita Taylor’s Girl Friday monthly art meeting on zoom during lock down and the Trinity Bouy drawing Prize. I went to the drawing symposium in 2019 in Salisbury where I was first introduced to Tania Kovac.  Studying at both Bath and Birmingham there was a sense of belonging to, be it tenuously and vicariously schools of practice.

I applied for a place and was awarded a bursary which meant I had the liberty to take part. My mother passed mid September. Inevitably this impacted on my drawing.

I started by presenting my drawing in Clay

Clay drawing, Whitstable studio September 2021

What I thought I would undertake

  • A deep dive into considering the relationship to my body through drawing
  • Revisiting thoughts on looking and the female gaze at my body and my looking at others
  • Considering the relationship between sex and my body, intimacy and my body, what I take in and push out from my body, the weight , mass and aliveness of my body.
  • Engaging in a  debate about what might constitute ‘drawing’
  • A focused period of time where I undertook lots of hours drawing
  • Meeting other artists and being under the guidance/tuition of the course leaders.

The following is an outline of the 6 week course and does not include everything e.g. running within it was a series of meet ups with the trainers and the participants, which were incredibly enriching and gave support to an intense process. It also does not include all the art work made between sessions, to make the most of the experience I devoted time to making throughout. To see some of this you can look at my Instagram during this period.

I could make a scatter diagram of my process which is far reaching and includes performance, sculpting as well as intense and brief drawing sessions. All the manifestations of my ‘drawing’ are valid.

 I am always drawing out the very tincture in psyche and life experience to offer up something of the human experience.

Bone drawing, Greece  October 2021

Week 1

We were allocated a body part for a composite body.  I had the left foot.   I have a ‘astral’ perspective on my body.  I was almost positioning myself in a ‘cut off’ place.  Dissociation. The internal body parts placed randomly outside of the foot suggests to me that approaching my own physicality was complex.

We were asked to present a drawing to start, I tried my hardest to make my ‘best drawing’.

More deep sighing. I was taught by Arthur Neal at Maidstone College of Art. We drew ‘relentlessly’ for hours until we were ‘stoned’ on looking. I used to emerge from the Art school feeling I was having visual disturbacnes as every leaf on every tree seemed to show itself in detail, my experience carved into light and contrast and mid one. Cars coming towards me foreshortened and the smell of naked bodies warmed by the two bar heater still in my nostrils from hours of life drawing.

I was ‘delivered’ into drawing through the lense of Frank Auerbach , Euan Uglow and William Coldstream, Roy Oxlade and Roger Hilton. The discipline, the working over and through until Artists and paper disintegrated was the modus operandi of the day in 1989.  I’m a big girl now and somewhat wordly and live in the age of instant messaging and selfies. I have studied and continue to study all the ways artists evidence their existence and express through making. I know of the work of Paul Moderson Becker, Kathy Kolwitz, Paula Rego, Nancy Spero and Francisco Clemente to name a few artists who have inspired me. It can all happen in the dogged study of looking at one thing or it can be held in a gesture.

We presented a drawing to share and from this a summary of drawing prompts were given to work from.

These drawing prompts resonated:  

  • Drawing a votive
  • Drawing an echo
  • Drawing using stitching.
  • Drawing daily self-portrait ( 10 minutes)
A drawing using stitching
Self-Portrait Greece October 2021

Week 2

Life drawing on zoom.

I had avoided this so far  and hadn’t drawn the nude body for some years. Having done nothing but draw the naked body on foundation when I went to bath Academy I was challenged, ‘what are you doing? This person is naked in a room and you are looking at them. My own shame around looking and a sudden feminist discourse put an end to ‘life drawing’ for many years.

Our models were Lili who was heavily pregnant and Ioi a dancer. Both women are young and beautiful. I never could settle the slightly uncomfortable feeling that I probably shouldn’t be looking at a naked woman for so long or so intently. I felt like a teenager. Lili’s beautiful tummy made me want to weep remembering my own complex pregnancy and her ease with her body bought up feelings of awe and some envy. Drawing Ioi was not easy either, together with a charged music sound track I almost wanted to run from the room. Intimate but not intimate, known but not known at all and my own very imperfect lumpy body as a comparison. This was difficult. Peeking through the screen into their living spaces.  Yet the women modelled out of choice, as a profession, everyone seemed to draw with ease why was I uncomfortable…

Week 3

I was going to be in Greece and knew I must take from the UK a piece of clothing that was significant to me. I chose the ‘christmas knickers’ my mother had bought me. Light to pack. I realised with some alarm that I would be modelling said knickers for my colleagues while describing a narrative about their significance. This transpired to be so painfully personal I cannot repeat my narrative. My shame was such that I put a paper bag upon my head. My colleagues noted that as I stood in bra, Christmas knickers and paper bag, that my hands twitched.

I am often cavalier and brave in my work and suffer afterwards. It’s fair to say I was vulnerable Although I was not alone in sharing significant details, related to clothing and the bodies they belonged to. I sent those who wanted them the drawing I had made of them in this session and received some back of me. This was startling to be seen and this moment to be given reverence by another artist was significant.

There was huge weight for me in this work, in me, in the knickers in the difficulty of asserting a boundary around my body and those gazing at it. At not knowing where I start in and stop. No sense of a perimeter. On being seen.

Week 4

Drawing on zoom with  Callen Mckeon from ‘Queer bodies’.  We drew Jarrad.  Jarrad chose the pronouns he/him. He posed naked for us. He was relaxed in his posing but I was lost to what Jarrad had undertaken to feel he is who he is. He has transitioned. I looked with so much ambivalence at his body. I still feel uncomfortable about my own gaze. I felt I was being intrusive. Jarrad was relaxed, why shouldn’t he be.

I turned my drawing over and distractedly joined up the dots that had bled through the paper. I saw a constellation of Jarrad. I wondered what it would be like for him to look into the night sky and see a constellation of himself there. Does a bear know it is a bear because there is an astral constellation of a bear in the galaxy. It is so hard to be self-defining without a mirror that reflects back, you are cherished as you are, however you are’. If we any of us…ok if ‘I’ can be who I authentically believe I am…what form will I take and what will be the consequences for me. Have I existed with a sense that all I am is mirrored back to me in a positive, accepting way.

I was made aware that although on this course, ‘the body I am in’, I was not looking at my body at all.

Breath Work

Tania looked at breathing and drawing with us. This was almost too much for me. My pen slipping up and own the page in rhythm with my breathing . A meditation that took me to my pleading infant self as my mum was dying, as sharply and steeply as that. No warning I simply fell. My line was reduced to a fat felt tip scrawl of ’no mummy no mummy don’t go mummy‘, words I whimpered as she bled internally. Somehow form turning cold and blue she warmed again and we had a few more hours with her, but that breathing and the last closing breath was haunting. 

Breath drawing and Jarrad

Week 5

We looked at self-portraiture with Anita Taylor who shared her work with us and then took us through some drawing exercises. Sounds straight forward doesn’t it…By now I was bracing myself for the unexpected. We had our hand mirrors and I was staring intensely at my face with a felt tip pen as if I were going in to surgically re-shape my nose. This was vivisection. I had the feeling I often have of not feeling I could see. I couldn’t see enough. It feels like my eyes don’t work even with glasses…there must be some loose connection between hand, brain and eye.

Anita spoke almost as a meditation while we drew. It was transporting as meditation can be. It felt soothing, maternal and it reminded me of the looking of babies, who transfixed by the mooning head above them reaching out to explore with fingers.

My mum couldn’t touch me, she would brace if I touched her and she had just died and the yearning to still want to reach out and touch her face was very present for me and made me sad and furious. You can’t put anything right when some one is dead. There is the fantasy or hope as children never stop hoping that things can be turned around but when they are gone, they go and the hope goes with them, the grief of all one has hoped for is part of the loss.

Self portrait with felt tip pen and spit. November 2021

Week 6

We had been asked to choose a single drawing and present for the publication. And then in this session we were to choose a drawing to share and discuss.

I made so much work around this course that it would require a further blog to share it.

The above drawing is a women in a chandelier as chandeliers are made up of many tiny parts and they are suspended in space in places of devotion or wealth.

The publication can be viewed here.

The piece I chose to publish was a figure I stitched throughout the course.  I started to make it after the second session. The fabric I had used in in a ritual. The hole was for a straw I could breath through as I was buried on the coast. The ritual can be discussed at another time.

I stitched an amorphous figure of a women into the cloth. Stitching is both an assertion of aggression and eachh stitch holds one still, it is a marker. It slows down emotional process.

I wanted to declare ‘ my body is sacred’, I was angry. This body should be sacred and should have been received into the world as a blessing. However even if I can stop external denigration I cannot stop the internalised loathing.  I stitched on both sides of a woven piece of vintage Greek fabric and I used words and drawing in my stitching. I wrote the derogatory things I often feel about my body. Things I say to myself so easily and with such vitriol it is shameful. I am in deed full of shame. Shame FULL. I let go of drawing, I let go of self-censorship, I let go of doing it right. I carried the piece around like a comfort rag. It can be felt as if it were brail and from the confusion and tangle of thread and intention there is some personal truth about ‘the body I am in’. I want to say, ‘sorry’ to this. To acknowledge the hate and hurt but know the reverse is also true.

There are the drawings that show I can draw beautifully. Then there are the drawings that give in to not knowing that seek some new way to express my truth. This was one of these drawings.

Tania noted at the outset that if we all wanted a best drawing badge we were not going to get one. Many of us secretly or openly admitted this sense of really wanting such a badge! She went on to say, your next drawing will likely be better than the last. This ache for validation ran as a theme for me. After the course Chloe Briggs offered, ‘ you don’t’ have to prove to anyone you can draw, you draw beautifully’ (aghhh did you see the virtual star badge there glinting!’ . Now although as I write,  it feels I was churlish,  a million times I am told by adults and children, ‘I cannot draw’,  ‘I’m rubbish at drawing’…it would seem that only Rembrandt and those blessed by the divine can draw….Poppycock. We can all draw.

Some of the things that happened:

  • I made a lot of drawings
  • I am still making even more drawings of all kinds
  • I drew in different media including bone, ash, clay, ink  and thread
  • I had so many inspiring heart and practice opening discussions
  • It has re-affirmed to get better at drawing  just keep drawing
  • Felt tip pens are amazing to draw with, I knew this at 5 years old
  • I made good friends with inspiring artists
  • I can draw beautifully but ugly drawings have their own beauty
  • Drawing with narrative is very powerful…
  • Drawing is a somatic and a psychological experience,
  • I can take up space with drawing
  • I can assert a boundary and also extend beyond constriction with drawing
  • Drawing is a wonderful experience  when shared with others
  • Drawing offers a way of looking and being present to another and is a ritual, a reverent act, a way to be intimate, can be an invasion, should be contracted unless it’s the dog.
  • Drawing is free..join Chloe Briggs free portrait drawing group on Monday morning 8-9am GMT find the link on her website.
  • Trust that others see our truth and see it is there in the drawing.
  • Don’t let anyone take your liberty of drawing away, away from your elderly friends or youngest.

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