The agouti who lives beneath my my cabin is a beautiful creature. Think large guinea pig with long, thin legs. His coat of harsh fur is a beautiful brick red mixed with black and he moves quickly, gracefully between the buttress roots of the jungle trees. His tiny feet hardly make a splash as he trots through the clear water of the stream. I watch my agouti from the wooden deck of my cabin. I watch him brush through the lily pads that are beginning to bloom on the surface and they part, silently, with only the gentlest of ripples as he passes.

I am in Puerto Viejo once again. This is my annual pilgrimage to this small town on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. In Puerto Viejo I can breathe easy between the rainforest and the beach as my winter-bleached skin browns under the hot Caribbean sun. My cabin is in the rainforest. It is embraced and held in the humid comfort of green. All around me the cacophony of jungle sounds mingles with the crash of the waves on the shore, and this constant and natural orchestra wakes me in the morning, and lulls me to sleep at night. Once the harsh and suffocating reality of an eleven hour flight followed by a four hour taxi ride becomes merely something to forget, the sheer enormity of nature begins to seep into my consciousness. I become both less and more than I am; humble in the face of indescribable beauty, strangely confident in my ability to feel it. And I do feel it. The lifeblood of the jungle begins to move through my veins as if my pilgrimage has been to receive a transfusion.

I must remain very still on the deck. My agouti is shy, timid, and he flees from me if I move. He is feeding, sitting upright on his haunches as he bites into hard seedpod that he clasps between his tiny front paws. Agoutis can bite through coconut shells and, along with macaws, they are one of the few species of bird or animal that can open Brazil nuts without the use of any tool. My agouti’s teeth are exceptionally sharp and strong. His eyes are bright and full of a wisdom that I, we, as humans cannot know.

I am writing, I am reading (Zona by Geoff Dyer, about Stalker by Tarkovsky, Bluets by Maggie Nelson, about blue, Death by Todd May, about mortality…and more…) and I am feeling. I am in Puerto Viejo.

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I have been, and I am, writing, drawing and painting in a studio that is familiar, yet still alien to me. I have moved upstairs in the building. My old studio is now back to its original state as a teaching room, the heart of The Broadway Drawing School, and now, as every time I change the locus of my Being, the view from my window is over a strange new land. My studios over the years have been places where I inhabit and grow within, and I am at the same time excited and revolted by change. But I embrace it, as I would a dear, yet needy friend.

We have art in order not to die from the truth (Nietzsche, Notebooks 1888)

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I am privileged to have permission from a friend and current Atelier student of mine to repost here his own recent blogpost. A gifted art educator in his own right, he eloquently expresses the ‘heart and soul’ of the practice of drawing from the live model, along with the regrettable ambivalence that pervades students’ access to such opportunities across our UK university system. The Broadway Drawing School in Cardiff is an independent art school where the heart beats strongly and the soul breathes, and where we consider such ambivalence an anathema.

The drawing is mine. The words are his.

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Extracts from a letter ‘concerning life drawing’

… ‘I’ve been life drawing since 1993, teaching it for 20 years, and been involved in decisions regarding accommodation for most of that time. It has allowed me a degree of perspective, time to question the practice, and also time to observe the personalities and cultures of the schools, faculties and institutions who’ve employed me in this capacity. For the outsider, it may appear to be an obscure, anachronistic, or opaque method for teaching in a world that is increasingly concerned with technological novelty, and with forms of education that are grounded in quantitative resolution.’

‘There have been periods in education where life drawing has fallen foul of fashion. The foundation course was born in the UK out of the Basic Design movement, which in turn drew heavily on the original Foundation course – the introductory year at the Bauhaus. Priority here was essentially non-figurative, addressing the essential qualities of colour, shape, form, texture and inherent materiality. Many UK art schools in the 60’s, gave life drawing a wide berth. If you look at the specification for the foundation course today, there is no mention of life drawing, although drawing from live experience, as an experimental process, covers the entire first semester. There isn’t a single art school of any quality, in the western world today, who would consider operating a foundation course, or any course of drawing, without life drawing. Life drawing, in observing the nude human form in space, can address every aspect of drawing. Line, tone, colour, texture, space, compositional design, description of form, division and arrangement of picture space, kinetics, spatial tensions and dynamics. There is a lifetime of study to understand the human form itself. Anatomy, balance, movement, weight, proprioception, stillness, the effects of time, gravity, and the relationship of each of these to historical and philosophical canon. Its relevance to human centred design practice, from fashion, animation or furniture design is unquestionable.

Quality here, is a key distinction. It underpins all questions related to teaching and delivery of life drawing, at every stage of the process. It is a distinction that many are happy to avoid, because teaching life drawing is often inconvenient in many ways. It requires time. Time out of a curriculum for which it is often seen as a supplementary practice. It requires time to learn. Its not an instant fix. The more you do it, the more you realise how much you have to learn. This means also that you need experienced staff. It requires space – a simple, large room, which is not a studio that is otherwise in daily use (meaning that all staff can access the room efficiently), in the same way that sportsmen access a gym. A suitable analogy. The room needs easels, furniture for the model, somewhere set aside for changing, adjustable heat, adjustable lighting, and a floor that can receive ink, paint or similar without hindering practice.

In his preface to Richer’s anatomy, Beverley Hale describes something close to the heart of life drawing as a learning process. He points out that when confronted with a model, the student draws upon an image of the figure which is held in the mind, as a means of dealing with what he perceives. The nature of the figure in the mind, dictates the success of the drawing. In simple terms there is a correlation between assumption of knowledge in the student and pitfalls fallen into within the drawing. Making a life drawing is a significant feat. The students enters a space and must confront the model, taking what they believe they know with them. They must then undergo an examination of perception, and on the surface of a blank page, translate the conversation between perception, knowledge, assumption and correction, through their own body, and the medium of their ability and familiarity with tools and materials. The evidence is present, visual, and unforgiving. Life drawing is a philosophical endeavour, as much as it is a practical one, asking the student to pass through an unsuccessful model of understanding, in the hope of briefly glimpsing a better one. This is true of every student in every life class, in every drawing, at every stage of development. Osi Rhys Osmond equated it to asking the student to become a better person. It is a microcosm of teaching and learning, based on a question that can never be answered. As such it is a process that must be considered continuous, and any desire to reduce the practice to the requirements of a module, has missed the point of it entirely. Pirsig discusses the first and second university – the first made of students and teachers, the second as a business/political model. There is obvious interdependence between both, but as a rapidly aging practitioner from the first, it’s my responsibility, sometimes, to communicate with the second…’

‘Economically, demographically, we’re in different circumstances to those we enjoyed in the mid 1990’s. The neoliberal project has put education under the yoke of private debt creation, driving higher level providers to drop all pretence of quality in pursuit of a rising bottom line. It’s a balloon that will burst in the next five years, as the ideological ravages of compulsory and further education, devastate choice in the pursuit of statistical accounting. When the second university remakes the first in its own image, the unanswerable question of the white sheet of paper in the life room, looks increasingly anomalous.’

‘As educators, we want to be better people. We want to face the unanswerable question, which is, ‘what do you know’ and also ‘prove it then’. There’s a danger… that there’s less space to ask the question…We need, in all things we do, quality rather than expediency. In a shrinking market… our only selling point is excellence. We have it. To preserve it, looking ahead, it might mean doing less, but doing it properly.’

‘I’m off now, to resume my own life drawing studies. Still hoping to be a better person.’

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Here is the link to a Podcast for Anatomy education Podcasts. In this episode I talk about my project work in art and medicine and in anatomy. You can listen at

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 My article about  the Cancer Ward 12 project (documented in full over on my related site) has just been published in the Journal of Visual Communication in Medicine. The link below provides a limited number of free full access views/downloads.

https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/RR2H4DDnwJ3MwtHhtgmV/full

I’m delighted of course as this article will hopefully bring more people to the project pages and raise the awareness of the value of a creative approach to understanding illness.IMG_0503 copy 2

Where chaos lies

Where artists cry

And where truth is just an idea

I’m still here

 

 

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I am hugely grateful for this beautiful and very personal review, written by Mr C. Lewis-Searle, for my A Long Table of Curiosities exhibition.

The room.

Wow, the whole room is a work of art. Visitors see the room as one. I was looking and looking for a focal point. And although I don’t see south American celebrations like the Day of the Dead pushing into these works, I do register a socio/religious – political events, looking for historical continuity, which arrives with the viewer.

The unconcerned animals, history in wax, refined skill in drawings, allegorical paintings of transmogrification from prime evil to the age of enlightenment are all there. And for that journey I would insist the viewers can only view for the first two minutes from the centre of the room. It seemed that the objects in the room were half way to a circular setting.

The objects in wax. Highly skilled pieces each one. A bit frightening because they’re so good. They generate an eternal primitive animism and yet simultaneously inform in points in modern clock time on in the painting.

The painting. If this isn’t a painting for the Tate I don’t know what is. It Lends freely on the left/right convention. Facing the work we see on the right the eros no hat serious freedom and on the left the entrenched, slightly amusing – naughty establishment who have a lot in common with other hatted creatures concerned with belief systems of sin.

Our Lady of ???? does not seem to be in the room. Yet.

Below the invisible horizon is the corpus to everything, body and brain being questioned. There is no dominant perspective. There is a battle going on in the depth and detail. More or less how one is on the battlefield.

The light of learning and understanding illuminates the darkness. For several reasons I expect a solar system depicted in some way in the darkness of space below the body. After all, what is light is the question from the body. Without light there is no information. Simultaneously we are all standing at the centre for a moment of loss and discovery.

Christian Lewis-Searle                                                                                                             Thursday 19 October 2017

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I’m delighted to have an illustrated article, Jac Saorsa: artist in medicine just published (October 4th) by Taylor & Francis in the  Journal of Visual Communication in Medicine, online. The article will also be published in print form in the latest issue of the journal. Here is the link to find it online….

http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/TmIs7YA2CdNkWbIfTUJ5/full

here is the latest entry on my site that documents my experience of studying the PG anatomical sciences program with the University of Edinburgh. Click on the image, or on The Loneliness of a Long Distance Anatomy Student tab on the blogroll here to find the full site.

the loneliness of a long distance anatomy student

This last week and the next two weeks of the anatomical sciences course focus on the skeleton. It is a, relatively,  gentle way into the course for me as the musculo-skeletal system is the one of the eleven body systems in total that I am most familiar with. The yawning gap between the perspectives on the subject – the art and/or the science – is becoming increasingly apparent as I am delving deeper and further into the subject, but I am excited, happy to struggle with the nuances of a field that has always fascinated me.

In the studio at the moment I am putting together a body of work for exhibition at the Anatomical Society’s annual winter meeting which this year is to be held in Dundee. I am delighted to have this opportunity to show a collection of drawing, paintings and wax sculptures. Here is the poster for…

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