Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Drawing Underground

A quick post to explain my interest in drawing in new locations.  While researching Artists’ sketchbooks for an AHRC funded project I ventured into the Tate Archive to look at Turner sketchbooks.  After an hour or so silently turning the pages and onto my second Turner notebook I found, in the Yorkshire 4 sketchbook, a drawing that snapped me out of my reverie Inside Yordas Cave, 1816. What a peculiar drawing!  It’s wild and jagged, lacking Turner’s customary measured precision.  Another, a few pages on, is more extreme, like a section from a seismograph.  Of course they were drawn in restricted light.  At the time Yordas Cave in Kingsdale, North Yorkshire was a show cave on the Victorian tourist trail, complete with local guides carrying candles and torches. 

Having now drawn in Yordas I know that even modern head torches provide only sufficient light to gather broad impressions but not enough to uphold the supremacy of vision.  Other senses are levelled up and bear greater influence on perceptions and responses; I felt this effect powerfully, and I think in part, this explains the look of Turner’s cave drawings.  Is he drawing the whole experience? Perhaps inadvertently, is he drawing what it feels like to be there?

My interest in the Turner drawings is balanced between gaining purchase on how we might understand the Yordas drawings, and pursuing a way of working that I find difficult but fruitful.  On the one hand I’m curious about the cave drawings as ‘embodied drawing’ as evidence of Turner ‘being or becoming’ in that place at that moment, and possible relations to Ruskin’s dictum in the preface to his The Elements of Drawing (1857) where he asserts drawing as an instrument for gaining knowledge rather than an end in itself:
  I believe that the sight is a more important thing than the drawing; and I would rather teach drawing that my pupils learn to love Nature, than teach the looking at nature that they may learn to draw. (Ruskin, 1970, p.13)
This, and developing a ‘first hand’ exploratory practice that can sit alongside a growing corpus drawing languages, many relying on the free circulation of mediatised images, that can contribute to a plural landscape of drawing ideas, debates, approaches and outcomes.  Moreover, one that engages peers and audiences in visual and conceptual experiences that are engaging, meaningful, even exciting.
These images are from my most recent trip underground to County Pot in the Easegill system with cave guide Chris Chilcott and art historian Ian Heywood. 

Gerry drawing in County Pot, Easegill West System.  May 2013

County Pot.  Folded stream cut cave walls and pillar.

Over the last few years curiosity about drawings relationship with sight, haptics and kinaesthetics has led to a variety of graphic approaches with different forms, materials and scales, and to drawing in a range of controlled and imposed conditions - from total darkness and mostly submerged to conventional and comfortable.


County Pot.  Large passage entered through opening in the roof.

The drawings attempt to depict what’s actually there, but are equally informed by the shapes I have to make with my body and the disorientation created by uncertainly about which way up or down one is.  Alongside capturing the complexity and texture of rock formations other impressions crowd in and present their own unique challenges.  How to depict the non visual whilst also retaining a sense of site; how to draw the taste of fellwater, coldness, sounds of cascades and drips, smells of earth and ionised air; how to represent the feeling of ‘being there’ within a drawing of a location and its particular geology?

County Pot.  Large chamber called 'Ignorance is Bliss'.

Old Ing Pot.  Passage and pools leading to flooded sump.

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