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Lockdown with Hitchcock – Update (17/1/21)


Ultimately a frustrating day in the studio after a great success in seeing a glimpse of the finished piece before me.

I began by working on the brutalist building that had the final application of sand paint, taking in the remaining bare side that I wanted covering up. Also a little patch up work too before I paint over with standard mixed acrylic.

I then moved onto working with the LED fairy lights that I’ve had just over a decade, bought for a piece I made at art school. I had to unpick all the black duct tape that covered up the lights. After checking they still all worked I began to see how I could illuminate the interiors of the apartment block. I had to adjust the lights 4 times in all before I had things just right. Having to leaving a few sections in the dark for more realism and also to ensure that I could illuminate those that sit straight onto the viewfinder. Some of this involved piercing two of the walls (high up) to fix an LED inside. Now I could see exactly where things were going to look for the finished piece. Then came the task of fixing the cable to structures, using cardboard strips, some had to be cut into to wrap around the cable. I decided to see those not inserted into an apartment bare at least in front of the backdrop buildings. Whilst others just held place, I even had such confidence layer up strips to hold exposed lights in place.

Then I hit a snag, as I reached the end of this process I was cutting out a section as carefully as possible, the blade of my craft knife accidently cut into the cable, losing the last few lights. It’s a shame as I have put a lot of work to get to this point. However it’s all a matter of perspective, I could have thrown in the towel, cried and shouted in anger and frustration. Instead I can look back and see where I want the lights to make it work how I want. I’ve since ordered another set of lights to replace these that I believe will fit where the others sat. I’ve left the infrastrastructure on place, I just need to reinsert the cabling. I don’t believe any more cutting is required to assist the cable so it should be smoother sailing next time.

I’m now left thinking how does this affect the presentation. I don’t want to lose the magic of the lights if I box the piece up making it a night time scene. I want it to be during the day or early evening. So tests will have to be carried out to ensure things work. I know I want a sky blue backdrop, with what is remaining. I may leave the top open and box around it t make it one piece. Still a lot to consider even as I reach this stage.

Lockdown with Hitchcock – Update (16/1/21)


It’s been around a two weeks since I worked on my current work in progress, honestly it’s nice to return to this after what would have been preparing for a physical installation of Cowboys Invaded. Instead I’ve been working remotely from Attenborough Arts Centre, working together to deliver a digital version of the show.

Today I wanted to focus on the backdrop buildings. I left them at a good point, knowing the direction I wanted to go in. With the honeycomb cardboard now painted, which was easier than I thought would be harder than it was. With one of the pieces I had started to apply sand paint, which has transformed the piece to become a brutalist style building. Having applied a small amount at the base I have now covered almost all of the cardboard strips. I want to cover all the surfaces but was limited by the medium as it dries a lot slower than standard acrylic paint. I was able to dry the paint for a time to apply it to different sides before it came to the point where I had to pause the work.

Moving onto the other buildings I wanted to better define the glass windows that I had painted last time. Mixing up a few tones to gesture a reflective surface. I thought I’d finished this piece, but now I want to get the PVA out and apply it over. Yet another part of me feels that it would be over doing the effect when it will be seen from a distance.

Before I left for the day I retrieved a set of fairy lights which I’ve not used since my 2nd year at art school for a model installation I spent the good portion of a semester on. These will be tested with in the apartment block to look at the potential of lighting the work. It’s the final little detail before I start to boxup the two pieces I’ve spent the last 7 months working on. Looking back at my first day in the studio in what feels like a long time I’m happier, it’s my happy place where anything can happen, to surprise and amaze me.

The Missing (2003) Revisited


Continuing my exploration of The Searchers in modern film I was reminded to check out The Missing (2003) which I originally watched nearly a decade ago so the memory is pretty foggy. I remember Cate Blanchett talking about it with the late James Lipton as her then upcoming film. Not connecting the dots until years later. Now I want to see how John Ford‘s seminal work influenced The Missing, to read it with a growing understanding.

The basic premise of a girl – young woman being kidnapped by Native American’s remains the same, it’s the journey we take to get to finding her that’s very different whilst still operating in the same world of the Wild West. Based this time on Thomas Eidson’s novel of the same name, you can’t say that he was drawing directly from the legend of Quannah Parker whose life was the basis for Alan Le May’s book that inspired Ford. You still can’t help but draw similarities between the two. The changing of elements and events are switched around enough to be a different story that to get away with it.

We still have a white man leading the search, who has returned from a lifetime of being a native, having left behind  his now grown up daughter Magdalena Gilkeson (Blanchett) who naturally doesn’t want him around at first. After seeing off her lover Brake Baldwin (Aaron Eckhart), daughters Lilly (Evan Rachel Wood) and Dot (Jenna Boyd)and ranch hand (Sergio Calderón) who all fail to return, as the met meet a very grisly end at the hands of Natives who we later learn have teamed up with Mexicans and white man for slave traffic women across the border. What’s interesting that the Ethan character who we can only guess had a history of encounters with Native Americans before arrive home. Tommy Lee Jones’s Samuel Jones has lived as one and doesn’t hide that fact. In fact he prefers that way of life.

What makes this film differ greatly from The Searchers is the reason for the capturing of the eldest daughter Lilly as we learn is to be trafficked along with 7 others. There’s no wanting extra wives like Scar did. There’s not even a fear of miscegenation as we don’t even get close to the border where that danger could happen. None of the renegade Natives try to take advantage of their prisoners. They are mistreated to the point of one woman’s child dies.

Ford chose not to show the horrors of a massacre, instead leaving them in the darkness off camera or in the imagination of the audience. Director Ron Howard chooses to go there and make it look more exotic as we see a detached talon of bird used to cut into a victim’s neck, which doesn’t match the way we found Brake and his ranch hand who are disfigured and dismembered. Different forms of torture are being used in The Missing. The closets Ford gets is just before Ethan scalps Scar, edited to remove us from the scene and move us away from the potential horror and seeing how low this man will go in his thirst for revenge. Which does nothing for cleaning up the depiction of Native American’s on screen. 

Once again it’s a man leading a the women in the search, both mother and daughter do use and fire rifles. They have some agency in being able to protect themselves. Whilst deferring to Samuel who has a greater knowledge of the wilderness and the potential dangers they will encounter. He does save his granddaughter from drowning and later his daughter from a curse. A curse she is saved via a multi-faith effort of Bible reading and Native potions and chanting to lift its power from her.

Ethan always made it clear that he was no relation to Martin Pawley who in the eyes of his dead family was related by blood. It’s true he was ¼ Cherokee, however they could look beyond that biological definition to love the young boy they took in. Even to the degree they allowed him to date Lucy their eldest daughter.  It was only until Ethan sees how the now adult Debbie had been transformed into a Comanche that he wanted to kill her, leaving him with only Martin to leave all his worldly possessions. The drive in Samuel to be with his family is driven by a Native healer who cares for him after a snake bite that urges him to be with his family. A superstition from an adoptive culture leads to a reunion with his family unlike the built in repulsion of Ethan who chooses the lesser of two Native evils, a relative who has lived longer with white settlers than his niece who is he struggles to recognise.

I made an unusual observation that occurred when Two Stone (Steve Reevis) has wrestled Lilly to the ground after an attempt to escape her captors. Speaking in his own language

Two Stone: CRAWL! You’re better than him… You’re not better than me!

Of the captors, he believes that women are of more value, sexually or financially compared to his white partners who may have brought more horse and manpower to complete the job, he doesn’t see them as equal. As we see towards the end of the film when they are ambushed in the rescue they turn on Isaac Edgerly (Max Perlich) and his men who are killed in order to survive. They have little more than seething contempt for them. Whilst the women are property that needs to be looked after, which in reality places them at the bottom.

The depiction of Native Americans maybe once again reinforcing the stereotype, they at least have subtitles so we finally understand what they are saying. Previously audiences have to decide for themselves based on the direction of the plot and the gestures to gauge what was said. Now the next question is, are the translations correct or were the actors allowed to say whatever before titles were place on top.

Finally for Samuel Jones if he had chosen to live with Natives for most of his adult life, was that way better than the civilised life on the frontier that he has brought his daughter into. It was only after being cured from a snake bite that he returns to civilisation and his family. For Ethan we still have no idea, we can only guess what lead him to return. We know a number of descriptions of wanted men matched his, did he lead a life of crime, hiding out with Natives would make sense, picking up their culture and customs, but what lead to his racist hatred of them and his eventual return to his own family and former lover

The Missing maybe based on a more recent novel, yet it relies on some on the same objective, rescue the women in distress. However it takes a man who has lived peacefully with Native Americans to save the day. He carries no hatred, just guilt for being an estranged father. He’s driven just like Ethan by a bloodlines to rescue Lilly from a life worse than death. If anyone is more like Ethan it would be Magdalena who wants nothing to do with her father and the culture he now associates with. However she comes to accept him for who he is, not forgiving his past but eventually allows him to be a father the only way he knows how.

 

Lockdown with Hitchcock – Update (3/1/21)


My first studio visit of the year was shorter than usual as I had to prepare more my upcoming solo along with some top-secret work. I did however make a solid start on the backdrop buildings that I feel are now coming along nicely.

After priming them last week I was able to work on a better surface and cut out the delicate task of painting this complicated surface more than is necessary. When I finally began work I selected a few paints, where I rediscovered the textured sand paint, which I thought might work well with these buildings, holding it off until later in the day. I’m aiming to paint tones of glass buildings that will work well with the modernised apartment block. So farI I’ve painted one of the buildings that I feel needs some extra detailing to complete it. For now it’s block but broken up with different tones. Whilst the smaller building has been more experimental, combining the sand paint I’m leaning more towards a brutalist building. Trying a little of the textured paint near the bottom of the piece. I will apply some more all the way up and paint over once it’s all dry. I sped up the drying process with my small hair dryer to see how it looks, so far so good.

Looking ahead I think another day at least working on the buildings before I see if they work or not with the main body of the work. I may have to remake them, maintaining the same basic design but with different materials if I doesn’t work well. I have ideas of how to achieve this. Fow I want to see how the experiment works.

Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures – Joe Jordan


When you think of directors from Hollywood’s golden age, the first ones that come to mind are the likes of John Ford, Billy Wilder or Alfred Hitchcock. Each of them memorable for a distinctive visual style and helped to develop the medium of film that we know today. Amongst those bigger names we have lesser-known directors who may not leave their unique stamp on a film they still delivered entertaining films, some more memorable and even very successful. Robert Wise is one of those, directing Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) or West Side Story (1961) he has left his mark on cinema forever.

“Bob didn’t try to put a style or a stamp on the movies that he directed. He just made each movie the way it simply needed to be made.” – George Chakris interviewed by Joe Jordan

Becoming a real favourite of author Joe Jordan’s Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures has written an in-depth career study of the directors work looking at all his directing credits in detail. He doesn’t claim to be a critic in his writing on the films he has extensively explored. What Jordan does in explore them all in detail, pulling away at certain strands of the film to explore how they make the film work. Exploring the ideas behind each film to understand what makes each film work. Using dialogue to further illustrate his points whilst also sparking forgotten memories of lost scenes. He’s not afraid to be critical of a film, picking up any flaws being even handed, he knows that as much power a director may have on the set, the studio heads have the ultimate say in the old studio system. Jordan is careful to not champion one film above another, remaining impartial as possible.

Jordan has been lucky enough to interview a member of the respective cast or crew to gain a personal insight to the man who was Robert Wise. One thing is clear he was a gentlemen and consummate professional throughout his long career that at RKO editing Citizen Kane before leading to his first film Curse of the Cat People (1944). However I found some of the interviews do require some restraint to remain on point to focus on Wise as some wander off point at times.

Each film comes with high quality stills from each film in front and behind the camera to help illustrate the film. They have the power to refresh my memory and even want to revisit the certain films. They are all well researched in terms of production history; revealing some nuggets of film production history to how Wise researched during pre-production. Where Jordan can he links other films from Wise’s filmography together, he can see links that help to build up a bigger picture of the directors career. He often analyses characters journey’s in some of the films, possibly to ones he has a closer connection too.

No one film is treated exactly the same, he interrogates ideas thoroughly. It’s also great to see the inclusion of points such as now controversial racial casting choices to the inclusion of bad casting experiences that in the light of #MeToo must be highlighted if the industry is to improve. Wise was noted to have stopped one such encounter in the 1970’s from getting more uncomfortable than it already was – a true gentlemen.

Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures is an in depth overview of his favourite director that comes from a place of love for a man who may not be as admired as his contemporaries, yet when you look at his body of work, you can see some classics that have influenced multiple genres from the musical to science fiction. Jordan has really done his homework to craft a love letter to underappreciated director.

Lockdown with Hitchcock – Update (30/12/20)


I can happily look back on today, the last full studio day of the year for me and be satisfied with what I’ve achieved. I had only one focus for the day, populating the ladder shelf with something.

I say something I had gone through a few ideas before settling on today’s choice. First wanting to fill the remaining shelves with more books. With some already on top I didn’t want to overfill the piece. Also If I minimised them much more than they are I may compromise them. I then thought about DVD box sets, this soon became impossible to achieve as I couldn’t find the spines. Leaving me wondering just what could I populate this empty corner of my miniature apartment.

I settled on expanding my home studio set-up with balsa of varying sizes cut up and fixed onto the shelves. I had to work with thin strips, however I’ve got some chunky batons on the top shelf too. Also I’ve got some open boxes that replicate those that I’ve ordered from my current supplier. I’ve got two open boxes and another just open on the floor. Along with a miniature roll of fake grass.

Still thinking about expanding the home studio setup I made up the three metal rulers that I use in my model making, along with a box of glue gun sticks, which I now use as a refill on a regular basis. This feels like the most personal touch as it reveals the most precious elements of my practice.

These additional details complete the work on the view finder, it’s mine, I live there… If only I was to scale. In the new year I can turn my attention to the backdrop, then things will get messy as I bring all the elements together, whilst experimenting with lighting of the piece. I now feel this work could be completed by spring at the earliest. This holiday has allowed for extra progress and also closure as I complete parts of the work that had been waiting a long time.

Studio Review 2020 – Surprises and Improvements


For the past few months of the year I’ve only been able to get in once a week to the studio. I used to go for the whole weekend, but after my bout of exhaustion I decided that when I’m working full time I need to cut back to one day, allowing me at least one day of rest in between the working week. As much as I don’t see my work in the studio as just that, it is still work. I have to put a lot of energy into making each time I go into the studio. I’ve now been able to go in with an idea of what I want to make and 9 times out of 10 I achieve those goals. I put in a lot of the hard structural work in the summer months allowing for me to slow down but still move this work forward at pace.

I found a number of great things happening in the past few months, the first is how I can now use PVA as more than just an adhesive. I discovered that PVA can be used as a varnish, at least on a miniature scale to polish a floor or a surface for a shiny finish. Especially when I’m working on a no-budget it’s great for the smaller apartments that I’ve made, drying over the day, it completes a piece.

I’ve also noticed that with the increase in balsa skills I wanted to shed/remove some of the cardboard pieces I’d made for this piece. They are of a far better quality, ultimately more realistic than cardboard could ever be for furniture when working at a scale where it really matters.

This piece reached a point where it was moving beyond a modernisation of the Rear Window environment to something far more personal. With the inclusion of stills from my previous work I made this work personal, it’s now my apartment. I used this as a point of change beginning to include miniature versions of my own belongings, leaning soon towards desired objects if I was to make my dream home. This piece has come a long way from a simple response to Lockdown 1 way back in June/July to become something more personal. A scene from a film I love to actually living in that set from that world. I’ve constructed the miniature sets, which would have been built to almost completion for the filming of Rear Window. It took a viewing of the updated version of the film to realise that I can make it more so much more than just a recreation of Hitchcock set. It’s rightly become a starting point for something richer, a testing ground to prove what I can and want to achieve.

My last big achievement was to create a pair of trees, using cardboard tubes that work on both scales and making use of a technique that was shared on instagram, sparking an idea to try and push it further. Using tissue paper and parcel string, a little touch of paint to complete the illusion I now have two little trees. Not forgetting the use of the paper punches to cut out multiple leaves, a tool that made this idea possible, without it I don’t think I could have completed them as effectively.

I hope to complete this piece in the first few months of the year now with less and less left to complete, Soon I will only have to bring the two elements – the viewfinder and the apartment block together to create the illusion of perspective in a small contained space.

Studio Review 2020 – Testing and Trial and Error


As I began to make progress with this current work I found that I was going into territory I’d never been before in terms of making pieces. Partly because I was never interested and I have relied on my audience completing the work with their imagination. My main reference points have a lot of detail, be that a previous model of film stills, which carried a lot of information for me to consider. I knew I had taken on a challenge with lots of hurdles to pass before I complete this work.

The first major one was the balsa sash windows in the viewfinder. I didn’t want them to move, but at least have glass – or a plastic alternative. I went through 3 versions of windows before I was happy, the the first was to simply fix plastic sheets to the outside of the window frame. This only held temporarily. The second and more successful was to sandwich the sheets in between the frames. However the adhesive I’ve been using left it’s mark permanently on the plastic. After trying to clean them up they still didn’t look right, I reluctantly ripped them out to have solid frames with no glass/plastic. Just like the smaller windows in the apartment block. It’s a compromise that I can live with. I hope in future to pull off this effect, now I know what to do and how I can achieve it in the future.

Last autumn when I was working for Saad Qureshi as a studio assistant my skills with balsa greatly improved, partly because I was forced to work exclusively with the material. Carrying these skills through to the balsa content here I’ now have miniature windows, built from frames that I have fixed in place, instead of onto a cardboard lattice they simply sit on with ease. I have fencing and a climbing frame that lead to the use of diced cork, a material that I’ve only used once before. I feel that I can just about make anything in this medium if I put my mind to it.

The materials I have been using in my practice have begun to blur with those of professional model makers. I cannot say I’m a modeller as I don’t use their materials or work to the level of detail they do. I admire them for that. However I feel that for me working looser is more freeing and gestural, suggesting what is in the worlds that I create. During this work I’ve taken small steps into their world, using roll-out grass and even attempted plastic for the fire escapes. I will probably use more materials in the future now I’ve taken that small step.

I’ve been working with fabric samples that I’ve been donating to create upholstered furniture. At this scale it’s more like wrapping and fixing with PVA, which is not doing the work credit. I still have to cut to size and know where to wrap and fold the fabric. Also using fabric with the right hang as I’ve been advised this year, does it look right at a smaller scale when fixed. I found this when I looking at the curtains/blinds in the apartments.

This is the first time I’ve really worked with paper too, using it to create tiles and wallpaper. To the point that I’ve used it in the making of miniature books and posters. I found that tiling the kitchen in the viewfinder was the closest I’ve got to actual wallpapering with a pattern, ensuring that the pattern is followed through with each piece that’s added. It’s not easy but the results speak for themselves.

Lastly the discovery of sand paint, a product I never knew existed until I was browsing paints online. Perfect for the effect of making a cement texture. I’ve experimented with textured paint in my work at A Level adding biscuit, flour and maybe sand too, I enjoyed the process but thought little of it after moving on. Getting the effect only took a few studio visits to apply and them paint over. I’m very happy with the effect, something I’ll be using again in the future.

 

 

Studio Review 2020 – Rogers and Hitchcock


For years I decided that I should never work with Hitchcock in my own work. I feel you really need to understand the material, the films, the man – everything about him. That all changed in January when I watched a screening of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which left me considering Rear Window from a shot that lasted only a few seconds. As the credits rolled, behind the scenes on the model miniatures used in Fred Rogers Make Believe world, I was fascinated with the creations. When the lights were switched off to reveal a Hitchcockian scene I had to investigate this further. My first instinct was to simply recreate a Hitchcock image/location in the language of the Bob Trowe models that featured at the beginning of everything episode of Fred Rogers kids show.

I had to bounce the idea around a little before I picked up any cardboard, looking at both men and their work, how would one approach the other. I found that Rogers tries to prepare you for life, whilst Hitchcock takes you to the darker places when he knows you can handle it. However the more I looked at Hitchcock’s Rear Window I knew I was coming back to it time and again. I needed to see how I could build this location that suited the aesthetic of Bob Trowe yet allowed you to look into the outside world from the safety of your own flat/apartment.

This idea didn’t really last long as I found it naturally becoming my lockdown piece. Seeing how other artists were responding to this time when I was just going into the next piece as if nothing had happened. Now I’m not the kind of artist who responds to contemporary events. It’s just not me, or is it? That’s something I’m still reckoning. I think as I produce more work will I know the answer to that question.

I found in the early weeks of this work I was throwing myself into a new project without a thought for my physical health, mentally I was on fire. I had to eventually stop, which was painful, however I gradually made my way back into the studio to focus on what became a piece of two very different scales. I had one large room compared with multiple room at least 5 times smaller to work on, some at the same time. It’s been challenging at times to consider everything that has to go into these apartments. After watching Disturbia I decided to modernise the set, to simply replicate the set would have been pointless, giving it an update would be more of a test and make it something new beyond the filmic reference.

Studio Review 2020 – Working from home


The very reason for having a studio was for the mental discipline and the physical distance to make my practice work. Working from home is not ideal for me, yet I among many other have been forced this year to work from home. My studio was the garage and at times the dining room table. For 3 months I was forced to work from home. I moved my work out just before the first national lockdown was announced. I just knew it was going to happen.

I did found some positives in working from home though. I was able to set up an environment where I could better control the lighting, resulting in lights being hung in the rungs of a ladder that was hung on a wall. I could also process the days stills into a rough form –  the dailies. I never wanted to leave them lingering for a day or so. Being furloughed from my last job I was able to focus 5 days a week on my work with little interruption. A big plus was a commision from the Attenborough Arts Centre, that allowed me to finish the work much easier too. Able to buy the equipment that I needed to make things happen. Investing in equipment that I can use in the future. In some ways I’ve been really lucky, with the financial freedom to buy what I need, my model miniatures only a room a way. It has since led to a solo show in January 2021

However it came a cost to my health later on, I suffered a bout of exhaustion that I realised was from overworking. Not stopping to rest at regular times. I just threw myself into my work from 10 – 7 if not later if I could see things happening or was enjoying the flow.

A first for me was working with green screen, a technique that was excited to see how it really works after first attempted it in a failed piece a few years ago. This time with sa professional kit and a boom I was able to bring spaceships into scenes, flying and firing lasers. I’d made this all happen in the space of a few weeks. Of course there was a lot of testing and failed shots, working with the limitations of the models too and the techniques. This resulted in a last minute reshoot when I could finally return the studio. allowing me to do what get what I wanted. I love the B movie aesthetic and I achieved that instead of the polished image of a CGI model clean image. I have always preferred the realism of a model miniature, simply because it’s there in front of the camera.

Once the animation was completed the fun began with compositing all the shots together, helped by the green screen,I was able to make use of filters that I found, manipulating them for my own use. Combined with audio sound effects it really brought the work together. Finally with the addition of the soundtrack I had a completed animation that runs almost twice as long as my last effort. At the time of writing this I may have the spark of another animation idea that I need to consider further.