Artist and Director of Warwickshire’s ArtistsWorkhouse, Dawn Harris, received an Engine Micro Bursary to expand her drawing practice. She attended the three day workshop Magritte’s Umbrella: Drawing Upon the Subconscious at the Royal West Academy in Bristol in April. She shares her experiences below.
The brief explained that this three day course would focus on ‘finding’ structures, patterns, forms and objects through making marks, lines and gestures. Working on large surfaces, the workshop would encourage students to engage with the subconscious and create images from seemingly random patterns and textures.
I requested a bursary specifically for this course to help me re-engage with my drawing practice. My commitments to ArtistsWorkhouse, an artist led gallery and studio space, had meant that I had not been able to allocate time for making works myself.
The word used on many occasions by our tutor and RWA president Stewart Geddes was ‘generative’. Stewart hoped that the work we made during our 3 days, through the drawing from the subconscious process would prove to have a generative outcome, and not necessarily for it to produce a finished piece, the course managed to produce both outcomes for me. The work I made at RWA I entitled ‘3 days solid’ it formed the beginning of a 4 piece body of work, all large drawings using the same techniques that were then shown in an exhibition Underworld at ArtistsWorkhouse in May 2017.
Day 1: Briefing
At the beginning of day one Stewart gave a brief talk to introduce us to the idea of drawing from the subconscious. We talked about René Magritte and the notion of extracting imagery out of the subconscious, and the physical engagement and correspondence to extract a picture. To find something within and not to be in pursuit of it. Stewart talked about how often quite reluctantly something begins to emerge almost in spite of what you might want to happen. Materials were all black or white, pencil, charcoals, graphite – all dry materials.
The task was to draw as formless a drawing as possible, to generate as many different types of marks as possible – no patterns, break them down, be disruptive and be inventive. ‘As you cross the threshold you are expected to be inventive’ Stewart told us.
Day 2: Briefing
This included a shift in approach. The marks were to include a more formal attitude; marks can now be worked at a more constant pace. Now the process of editing became very important, discovering more formal themes that are working and develop those more. We were encouraged to use the object ground concept activating a space, using the positive/negative to focus an area.
Day 3: Group Critique
The group gathered to talk about how each had found the process and the benefits they had found from it. This was the first time the group had been invited to make comments as a whole to each other and felt like the most formal format of feedback that we had received during the course, although not the only feedback.
During each day Stewart would very informally talk to each artist several times, not privately but within ear shot of the rest of the group, the room was usually quite quiet. I thought this was a very interesting technique. I enjoyed my chats with Stewart and learnt valuable information and took away some useful suggestions but I also gained just as much from his talks with the other students. It was an intriguing way of receiving information, almost from another direction. Almost like having a radio playing in the background full of useful information that you could take out the bits that were relevant or useful to you, whilst you were working.
This leads me to my final point that this course had a high level of manufacturing/making. It really was a solid 3 days of making and for me that was exactly what I wanted. It reminded me of the ups and downs of making, the roller coaster of emotions that an artist goes through when creating and perhaps most importantly re-armed me with a set of tools to be able to keep going and see a piece of work emerge from the blank page.
I am delighted with the outcome of the course; it has most certainly re-engaged me with the practice of drawing.