I have been working with memory, over the last two to three years, using art practice and research, to look through the eyes of “the Welsh Lodger”.
This “ordinary” man became part of my family, in Birmingham, when I was only 18 months old (1950), and died at my home, in Harlech (1999), by which time I had inherited him as my lodger. He was a cartographer with the Ordnance Survey, who went to work wherever he was needed. When he died, my brother and I were his only “family”, all his personal belongings were left to me.
In my studio, I begin by drawing directly from his photographs and making my own, closely scrutinized, new hand drawn versions in pencil, usually at the original size, investigating places and people I may never have seen or met, or those I knew very well, thus starting my own scopic regime.
The artist Colter Jocobsen calls this type of work a “clone” drawing, essentially a “verbatim” copy. He puts this away and weeks later, draws it again, from memory and then presents the two side by side. He believes that this experiment shows the dyad offers a window onto the landscape of human memory.
My use of the Lodger’s many photographs have led to questions and research about photographic images meaning different things to different people (tacit knowledge) and the influence that the person behind the camera unintentionally makes, subtly changing the reader’s subconscious experience.
Writer and philosopher C S Lewis, succinctly puts this into context, “Five senses; an incurably abstract intellect; a haphazard selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them – never become conscious of them all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through?”
Marcel Proust talks of “seeing someone we know” as being an intellectual process, where we “pack” a physical outline with our own pre-formed ideas.
Thus everyone’s own personal perception and reality differs. We are also subject to influence from outside. Professor Elizabeth Loftus has been studying “the malleability of the memory” whilst “in a susceptible state” for over 30 years, the processes by which “people come to believe falsely that they have experienced rich complex events that never, in fact, occurred”.
It is said of Sadiq Toma, an artist working within the boundaries of unconscious memory in his exhibition “Fragments of Memory” 2010 ,“…he like all humanity, is influenced by the past he is equally concerned by the present or futures which are both destined, in themselves, to be transformed into memory.”
I am celebrating these “influences” in my studio, welcoming mysteries, and embracing the unknown. Making mono-prints directly from my ‘pencil photographs’, printing onto his old maps, school reports and choir music, thereby mapping ,in my mind, parts of his life. Quickly drawn and loose they help to bring out the essential spirit and action, making a narrative. This then becomes a simulacrum for my larger and more studied abstract pieces.
Surface texture is important to me, I use thick paint in wild and soaring swathes and then, my alter ego breaks the surface skin with a sharp pencil (I accept the analogy to a surgeon’s scalpel), scoring constantly and repetitively, small marks allowing me to get inside the image. This dichotomy of working allows both the immediacy of full blooded feeling and the slower and more intimate way of making sense of what is before me, creating a more contemplative mood. The mark making is interspersed with intermittent periods of “obliteration” and “rubbing out”, only to return again to the slower paced investigation of the surface. Both, my intuition and the medium itself, play a part in the auratic re-creating of his memories and experiences, often finding they are my own.
The curatorial aspects of the “things” of his life are requiring me to examine his life as a compartmentalised whole, where the boundaries between one and another are sometimes breached (bubbling over). An example of this is, the tiny, but monumental photograph of my mother meeting his mother where two disparate worlds collide.