This month, writer and artist, Ed Boxall, hosted our workshop at the De La Warr Pavilion, looking at two exhibitions, Project Art Works’ ‘In The Realm of Others’ and Cy Twombly’s ‘Quattro Stagioni’. Here Ed shares his own responses to the art and his own creative process, as well as the exercises he used with writers on the day.
We focused on the Project Art Works for the first half of the session and were delighted that one of the artists, Michelle, was there to answer some questions. Michelle paints and draws extraordinarily complex colourful images that at first look abstract but are in fact wonderfully patterned portrayals of animals, people and objects. The interview helped us to get a real sense of her involvement in the process of making and her pride in her finished work.
I asked writers to gather 10 words in response to the show as a focus for their thinking as they looked round. Then we wrote concrete poems inspired by the show. Concrete poetry can be very playful and process based like much of work on display. It also consciously explores the relationships between form, content and process.
I gave writers a choice of options for their concrete poem:
- transform a particular artwork into a concrete poem
- make a concrete poem based on the 10 words collected, focussing on any aspect the writer chose.
- make a concrete poem inspired by the questions that visitors had written in response to the show – there was an area in the gallery where visitors had done this and questions were displayed.
I encouraged writers to be playful and open to being simple, direct and childlike. I asked them to set aside concerns about what the audience might think. The idea was to get as un-selfconsciously immersed as possible.
I began the task myself and immediately found it difficult and very engaging. I sat in the room of Albert Geere’s paintings and thought about what his radiantly coloured houses (with the doors always closed) meant to me and what they might mean to Albert. I enjoyed the absolute, elemental facts of his colours and struggled to put the experience into words and word-design. I enjoyed the struggle and felt the struggle brought me closer to the pictures.
Of all my scribblings I wrote one phrase I quite liked:
“When I get there,
the door in the hill will open,
and all the rooms will be familiar”
I feel like I could write in response to Albert’s pictures forever…discovering an endless source of thoughts and reflections.
We got together and shared the work we had done – nothing was complete but everyone who shared had, like me, immersed themselves in the task and enjoyed the struggle. There were a lot of very positive comments about the artist’s joy and directness and delight at seeing the artist’s workspace in the gallery. There was also some bittersweet reflections about how we often put up personal barriers to being creative, barriers that Michelle and Albert seem to happily lack.
The second exhibition at the De La Warr features Cy Twombly’s, Quattro Stagioni, huge,semi abstract, gestural, highly layered paintings containing fragments of hand written text from poetry and a recurring (but highly obscured) boat motif. These paintings share much with the art downstairs – rich layers of mark making, repetition and a similar sense that the artist immersed himself completely in the moment-to-moment process of making.
The similarities and contrasts between the content and presentation of both shows inspired a lot of discussion becoming as much a source of inspiration as the exhibitions themselves. I asked writers to do something quite different in the Twombly; to write constantly in response to the pictures without stopping. I asked them to try to document their every thought and response as it happened. On first seeing the exhibition I found it difficult to think about the paintings, but writing in this flowing, non-edited way provided a focus that helped enormously. It helped me think of one thing at a time. I found, after a couple of minutes of this ‘steam of consciousness’ writing that I was sort of falling into the pictures, as if a barrier had gone. I wrote:
“…there are places of pressure where fingers and lines cluster in one point like brains full of striving where there might have been a blank space. Fingers made these choices. These choices are mostly about colours, the fact of this dark autumn pink. It couldn’t be any other pink…this is that pink we all know from those dying leaves in the park…”
One writer said they started to (quite literally) smell the autumnal smells of the picture as they wrote in this way. I was quite surprised that one writer who liked the PAW a lot reacted negatively to the Twombly – seeing it as overrated and lacking meaning. This led to discussion about how the presentation of both exhibitions conditioned our responses. We talked about how the two shows were from such different worlds- one from a world of reverential priceless art and the other from a world of untrained, unrecognised artists. We talked about the possible good and bad of the ‘churchlike’ presentation of the Twombly. I found the sombre walls and perfectly balanced lighting a great help to my enjoyment. However the reverential presentation and existing artistic reputation of Twombly builds up expectations that are hard for the work to live up to.
For me, the afternoon was all about opening up to ideas, processes and discussions. It was a beginning to really promising trains of thoughts that could be developed into finished work in many different ways. Participants might finish the concrete poems, develop phrases from the ‘automatic’ Twombly writing, or write about the context and presentation of the contrasting shows. I’m really looking forward to seeing the writer’s work, and continue with the pieces I began.
Thanks to Ed for hosting. Drawn To The Page will be back at Towner Art Gallery on December 5th for a writing workshop with the Julian Germain and John Napier exhibitions. More info and booking here with New Writing South.