Saturday, 12 December 2015

Tacita Dean's Alabaster Drawings

In my last post I talked about having a surface, upon which to illustrate, that was a prepared ground and so I have pursued examples of illustrations or drawings on prepared grounds. While reading Tacita Dean's book Analogue I found a series of drawings that she did on alabaster. These were dry point directly on to the burnished flat surfaces of alabaster stones which depicted detailed cloud forms or a marbled effect.

Dean was enthralled by the qualities of the material and the details of the surface began to guide her drawing;

                "All I could do was trace what was already there. And it became about mapping. Suddenly it looked like a desert map, because it had this colour to it and there were these deep black pools looking like oil, almost like an X-ray of the desert."

When she scored into the stone it created white lines which she used to map the "landscapes contained within the alabaster". She listened to the radio as she worked and was influenced by the political events from 2002 as she worked, but the works are named after sleep and depth and time and suggests the hypnotic or therapeutic nature of the process.

Hypnos/Thanatos 1 (2003) dry point on Agatha alabaster 55x55cm
What's interesting here for me is the resulting mapping of the planes she discovered in this beautiful material and how the surface guided her. Having previously, in the drawing workshop (see last post), considered the construction of my own grounds, I found this natural and complex ground intriguing. Could it be possible to find a surface that was of nature or conceived of natural materials that related to the subject matter of the poems I was illustrating? Would I even need to seek the ground or would I simply stumble upon it if I exposed myself to trying to work on a range of credible surfaces?

The forming of the shapes in the alabaster was by a natural process over millions of years. Geographical upheaval had created this beautiful effect that Tacita Dean had then interrupted within her own systems, a process influenced by her subconscious eye and the stories of the moment. She saw images and relationships in the movement of the cloud like forms within the stone and put her interpretation of stories there. This was a drawing but yet potentially an illustration of a story found within the alabaster that could translate something of now.

Detail of Limn (2005) dry point on white transparent alabaster 61x61cm
The delicate nature of the dry point on the stone makes the drawing appear like silver threads or intricate contours. At times shafts of lightening cut the scenes and the desert background appears like a withered torso or the swelling of an orange thunderstorm as the drawing on the surface is cast in sharpened relief when you recognise the crispness of the mark. It's cinematic in nature, a drama that moves in and out of the eye's focus, which is not surprising as Dean chooses film often as her preferred medium. Here she seeks a narrative even though they may be unconventional.

These intriguing works yet again make me question the use as white or cream as a background. The richness and heritage of the effect is impressive and adds a cinematic tor de force to the work that draws the viewer into something majestic and entrancing. The question is though is this something that would work within the meaning and scope of the poetry I am illustrating?


DEAN, T. (2006) Analogue: Films, Photographs, Drawings 1991-2006. Germany: Schaulager Steidl

No comments:

Post a Comment