Vopnafjarðarheiði - norðaustur 48 x 55 cm coloured pencil on paper
by Lesley Hicks
I take a large sheet of smooth cartridge paper and with a pencil and a ruler I draw a rectangle. Within this rectangle I mark out the topographical details of a landscape, an image of which I have downloaded from the internet. The features and details of this landscape I try to describe as closely as possible, using a pencil. The image I have retrieved is distanced and grainy, filtered through the lens of a webcam, and contains glitches, strident lines of bright orange and blue which cut across the illusion of space suggested by the rest of the detail.
Having established the lie of the land on my sheet I begin then to draw lines across the surface of the paper, using a chosen coloured pencil – let’s say its lichen green but it could easily be brown earth or electric blue. There is a long way to go with my rendition and this layer is just the beginning. The lines I draw are closely positioned next to each other and slowly I fall into a rhythmically repetitive mode, drawing line after line, until the area within the rectangle is completely covered – all areas, that is, except the horizontal lines of the glitch. The previously defined landscape is easily discernible beneath this first layer. I then turn the paper ninety degrees and begin the process all over again, along the short edge of the rectangle, using another pencil, let’s say its scarlet this time. Each line drawn is discernible at the edge of the drawing, just crossing the original rectangle, and as each layer of coloured pencil is applied it subtly and sometimes not so subtly affects the subsequent layer, like a glaze in the painting process. Although this is not painting, this is a drawing, and the pencil line, no matter how densely applied, retains its individuality, its linear quality, testifying to its handmade credentials. The experience of being imaginatively elsewhere, aided and encouraged by the webcam screen landscape, is replaced, through this process, by the being here in the studio, returned back to the here and now by the physical act of making.
The landscape is from Iceland, a country I have visited many, many times. The image is retrieved from a road traffic website, where still photographs of lonely Icelandic roads, weaving their way across often barren expanses, are posted up onto the site every fifteen minutes, from all across the country. This drawing will take its place amongst a whole range of drawings based upon this resource.
A selection of drawings from the series Northern lights and Northern Lights Glitches
I have been fascinated by these webcam images for some time now: uncomposed, functional and practical signposts of safe travel and uninterrupted journeys, low grade digital photographs of landscape, mechanically taken and uploaded, which never the less contain the echoes and tropes of historical European landscape painting. These images constantly bring me back to the subject of painting – from the grainy, pixilated panoramic view to the coloured glitches testifying to the flatness of the screen. Originally, I was drawn by the dramatic effects that sometimes occur when the glare from car lights are caught in the camera. These often cause a seemingly pyrotechnical drama, suggestive of an altering force which, for me, brought to mind a subtle echo of the tradition of the sublime – while, at the same time, the imagery is also somehow refreshed by its utilitarian credentials. These constantly, automatically ‘refreshing’ images, disappearing and reappearing every fifteen minutes, felt potent images for our time – harnessing a detached view of landscape, where degraded visual features, embedded in the digital, with occasional glitches and pixilation, shift attention towards the vulnerability of the image and by inference to the environment itself.
The drawings from the webcam images are able to present something on the verge of, or in the process of, disappearance. The digital vulnerability is inherent in both the image’s longevity (appearing for 15 minutes before being replaced by an almost identical one) and in its surface, made more painterly by its low-grade resolution. The glitches serve to heighten this sense of disruption, where sometimes a wayward digital interference can appear and be seen to compete alongside the image of the landscape – as here, in my current drawing; and sometimes the glitch completely obliterates any sense of a landscape beyond its horizontal landscape format.
In turning these webcam images into drawings there is an interesting relationship to time, a disparity between the relentless, unflinching action of the camera recording a moment, which moves swiftly from one moment to the next, and the extended duration it takes to make the drawing, each ruled line marking that time discretely. The ruler lends the image a certain mechanical quality, while the physical touch and serendipitous relationship between pencil surface and hand, allows the image to take on a different life, evolving and responding to the previous move, where the material from the drawing’s making can take on an unpredictable outcome, where mistakes can be turned into textured opportunities.
After several days of ruled lines, coloured layer after coloured layer, adjustments and maneuverings, I put down my coloured pencils. The drawing has reached a certain stasis; it is complete, or at least as complete as I wish it to be. Any further and the horizon line already beginning to soften will become less distinct, just as the rest of the landmass has merged into the dense warp and weft-like surface, the deposit from the coloured pencils building up an almost sticky resistant surface upon the paper. The horizon line draws us back to landscape, while the glitches – thick, horizontal, pixelated lines of orange and pale blue, appearing from the left-hand side – testify to flatness. Perhaps I will take the next one past this point, past the point of recognition, but today I am content to leave it here.
Lesley Hicks is a Senior Lecturer in Fine Art MIMA School of Art and Design, Teesside University. She studied Fine Art at Newcastle University and Painting at the Royal Academy Schools. Her current practice-based PhD research interests revolve around the subject of landscape, exploring how the nature of the experience of place, particularly landscape, might influence or inform the drawn mark. (Photograph by Judy Hume)
Selected exhibitions include: X139 Nothing but Good, PARK- Tilburg, Netherlands (2018), Jerwood Drawing Prize (2017), Contemporary Drawings from Britain, Xi’an Academy of Fine Art, Xi’an China (2015); God’s Bridge, Bowes Museum (2014); Driven to Draw: Twentieth–Century Drawings and Sketchbooks from the Royal Academy’s Collection, Royal Academy of Arts London (2012).
She has written a chapter on Landscape and the drawn mark for the publication, Body, Space, Place in Collective and Collaborative Drawing: Drawing Conversations 2, published in January 2020
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