Serendipity & Community

THE PLAN of INTER-ACTION: present people with catalysts and materials, encourage mutual imagination… find them in unexpected spaces, far from the whispering galleries, invite involvement, ignore the defences and protests of those who claim not to be ‘artists’, even without eyes or fingers you have ideas and imaginations, you’ve seen lines falling at angles between the earth and sky, felt the tension between a beginning and an ending, you doodle in class or in the office… working together we can create what could come from neither mind alone, there’s much to discover, and a joy in the doing, lets do.

This project took the form of a myriad of experiments… I presented people, many friends and strangers, with as many art materials and surfaces to work on as I could fit in the crate on the back of my bike. Paint, pastels, pencils, inks, charcoal, cloth, thread, varnish, all kinds of paper torn, patterned, printed and plain, smooth and rough.. on and on… 

With each person and place I tried to adapt to the situation in order to make the process of a ‘visual conversation’ inviting and accessible. Once begun, most every person got very into it in their own way, sometimes they directed me with materials, other times we took turns, or worked simultaneously. Some used words, some were humorous, some concentrated seriously, others just enjoyed playing with colour and composition for the first time in years… 

here’s one example:

  • Duarte and Andre, two strangers at a table next to mine ask what i am unpacking, I show them piles of paper and pens, paint and crayons, cut outs and inks and invite them to chose a paper and join me in creation.
  • First they say they are not good with art, they are “no good” at this stuff. But they choose a sheet with photocopies of painted leaves printed on it and soon we are palm deep in paint. They are intent on our composition.
  • We work on the piece simultaneously, drawing from each other’s techniques – hand prints that mirror the leaf prints, using straws from the bar to create marks. Sometimes they want to create an effect or image and I suggest directions and methods. 

This project sprang from many fields that interest me, particularly philosophies of serendipity, of imperfection and my ever strengthening sense that engaging with one another to physically make things and have an interactive creative culture, not just a passively receptive one, is incredibly important.

I found a lot of inspiration in the work of John Berger, The posts of Douglad Hine (Tools For Serendipity), and the book ‘You Are Not A Gadget’ – Jaron Lanier, amongst others (see the Garden of Ideas)

Recent Posts

Hockney: Ode to Invisible Blue


Hockney’s Retrospective at the Tate Britain.

hockney self p

I used to draw when I visited galleries, but these days I tend to lean less on the pencil, and more on the pen, making word impressions where sketches will not suffice. With notebooks overflowing and piling up around me I’ve decided now to share these reflections, not posing as a critic, but sharing and exploring experiences of art as I have encountered them and felt compelled to pen them from time to time.  

Hockney’s exhibition at the Tate Britain was the first thing I went to see back in London when I got home. I had so many notes that I planned to write a walk-through of the exhibition, a fascinating journey through the work of an ever changing artist. But in the end I found I had enough to say about a single painting for one post. What was surprising was that it was a painting I had seen reproduced, and did not expect to find fascinating. This reminds me that a large part of the ‘work’ that makes an artwork work is that it takes time, attention, and presence. It is the work of the viewer, as well as of the artist that creates an experience. After a long while of looking I felt very attached to this painting, not it’s miniature reproduction on screen, but the vibrating body of the canvas itself. 

Portrait of an artist 1972 – Pool With Two FiguresDavidHockney-PortraitofanArtistPoolwithTwoFigures. - light


First of all I need to note that although I have put the image here for reference, it is inevitably limited in in capturing the impression of the real piece which I would estimate to be around three meters wide and two high. The colours also are different in real life, some are brighter, some deeper, some subtler. I’m including a black and white image because I think it leaves room for the imagination to project the impressions described.

DavidHockney-PortraitofanArtistPoolwithTwoFigures. - bw


Summer Skirt Mountain

The use of colour in this picture edges on an impressionist realism, using the standard optical tricks to create spatial illusion, purple mountains, receding objects becoming opaque, tending towards blue and contrasting with the bold, bright, warm colours of the pool and the figures, pitching them to the front of the canvas. The stones around the pool are subtly coloured, and there are remarkable white lines with flashes of yellow in the water that truly seem to dance. These things are not just symbols – they evoke the scene through an artful illusion. And yet the whole effect side-steps realism. Two things stand out to me, the intensely saturated blocks of colour in the water, skin tone and salmon jacket, and the stylized patternation of the middle distance mountain, in floral pastel hues that put me in mind of an old fashioned tablecloth, or a faded summer skirt. These things flatten the spacial illusion. I found this over and over again in Hockney’s work, the play between depth and flatness that makes his pictures self aware, breaking their fourth (or only) wall sometimes harshly, sometimes, as here, with a gentle whisper.

Draft Line, “I drew this…”

Although the foliage of the mountains to the fore is more detailed, varied and realistic, the initial sketch lines of their gradients show through the trees that have been painted on top. In an image so consummately painted, controlled and detailed, leaving evidence of the drafting process can only be intentional. And so with this, and the domestic patterned mountain the painting becomes self aware, self conscious of its draftsmanship and decorative potential. The painting says “See this scene.” it also says, “I drew this scene, and then I painted it.”

We, The Watchers

The draft line of the ridge on the right passes behind the head of the standing man, tracking his gaze and drawing our eyes down to follow his view of the swimmer. It is a line of tension. We watch the swimmer with the man in the pink jacket at the pool edge. The sense of watching, and waiting, is static in a way that might be broken at any moment, like the surface of the pool. We are drawn into the scene as participants, sharing a view, “Look”, says the picture, “Let’s watch and see…”

Invisible Blue

I am most impressed by the heavy, soft blue of the body of water that hangs in shadow above the swimmer. It functions so well that it took me a long time of observing the painting to really notice it, despite being a potentially dominating colour and hue, and so boldly placed right across the middle of the canvas. It is a quarter of the painting’s height and two thirds of its length. And it’s almost empty, courageously so. There is some colour shift but no detail, nothing happening. It is painted quite roughly in comparison to other parts of the picture, and it is that emptiness and vagueness lets the eye pass over it without catching. Like meeting the pole of an opposing magnet, your eye rolls over the thick blue mass and lands instead on the bright colours and stark shapes that surround it. The deep hue, the soft and solid nature of this block of water in shadow throws the ephemeral swimmer and streaks of living light out towards the viewer. This blue is the drummer in the band, the broad base line off which the colourful melody plays. Or perhaps it is the silence, the space between notes that allows them to strike out with such clarity. Although as a portion of paint in itself, gloriously and deeply blue, it does not display the finest of Hockney’s talents, it is used in exquisite harmony with its surroundings and demonstrates his deftness with both colour and composition. So I make this short stock of observations an ode, to the invisible blue.

By happy chance today I came across a history of blue pigments

I cannot find a digital reproduction of this image that satisfies my memory of this blue. In the picture at the top of this blog it is far too light. Screen reproductions, besides being flat and small, also play with colour and tend towards brightening everything. The more I learn about colour theory the more I realize that the mixing of colour through light (screen) and pigment (paint) are fundamentally different. The picture below has a better sense of the blue, though all else is much too dark, you get a better impression of the light and shadow in the water.

DavidHockney-PortraitofanArtistPoolwithTwoFigures. - DARK bluejpg

If you have a chance to go and see the actual painting, (and get your own impressions!) and the whole exhibition then please do go. It’s on at the Tate Britain until May 29th. And besides this picture there is a wealth of artwork from Mr. Hockney’s varied and fascinating works.

I would very much like to write about Hockney’s in terms of his relationship with photography but…. He has written and spoken so eloquently about this that first and foremost I suggest anyone who is interested see his documentary on the historical use of camera obscura and camera lucida by many of the revered artists of the past, “Secret Knowledge”. I honestly couldn’t recommend this more if you have an interest in the history of western art and the ways we have learned to see, understand, and construct the world around us as a culture.


Thanks for reading my first ArtNotes post.

More soon from BlancheEllisArtNotes  


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