“Surprising Conjunctions”: Paul Carey-Kent and Bella Easton Discuss the Collateral Drawings Series
Collateral Drawing at Waterfront Gallery
curated by Bella Easton and John Stark
January 4 to February 19, 2016
19 Neptune Quay
Ipswich, Suffolk, England, +44 01473 338654
Royal Academy-trained painter and independent curator Bella Easton lives and works in South London. Last year she interviewed regular artcritical contributor Paul Carey-Kent about his show “The Presence of Absence.” Carey-Kent now takes the other side, talking to Easton about the latest in her series of “Collateral Drawing” exhibitions.
PAUL CAREY-KENT: You are, first and foremost, an artist. How did you come to be organizing exhibitions?
BELLA EASTON: I grew up in a creative family: my father is a painter, and mother an oil painting restorer. For as long as I can remember I knew I would also train as an artist. After studying at the Royal Academy Schools, I exhibited my work for some years before I started organizing my own exhibitions nomadically. I then set up and ran a project space in South East London for four years, to 2015. I continue to promote and collaborate with others and have many future projects and exhibitions lined up in the UK and abroad. Being both artist and curator has enabled me to work with a diverse range of artists, writers, journalists, gallerists and curators.
What is “collateral drawing”?
Collateral Drawing is an on-going project run under my curatorial platform, BEASTONprojects. For each project I invite a co-curator, such as you, Paul, for the Berlin version. Collateral drawing explores the by-products left behind from the artist’s working process. Each invited artist reveals elements from their practice that would otherwise remain unseen by the public, alongside a finished artwork. That can take many forms, but I’m especially fascinated by the way each artist’s methods inflict marks on their surroundings. Whether dripped, scratched, taped, cut, erased, smeared, or hammered — all are repetitive and typically unguarded instances of drawing. The wall, floor or table acts as a raw surface to capture these ongoing ritualistic activities. Those work surfaces are rarely displayed, but hold a fascination of their own: not just as a documentation of the creative process, but as an insight into the relationship between what is subconscious and conscious in the artist’s work.
This is the fourth in a series of shows on that theme. Why a sequence, and how many do you expect there to be?
When Collateral Drawing was launched at Plymouth College of Art, two years ago, there was no particular emphasis on where its 10 artists came from. Subsequently, the artists have had some connection to each venue’s location, including at two international project spaces. Beton7, which was staged in Athens in 2014, showed Anglo-Greek artists. And rosalux, in Berlin in 2015, brought together artists linked to London and Berlin. The fourth show, in Ipswich, features 16 artists with an East Anglian connection.
The whole project is documented through the Collateral Drawing website. I’m keen to expand the sequence as far as I can take it. Three more are planned for London, Margate and Toronto in 2016 and ‘17. I am aware, though, that funding will be necessary! I hope it will eventually be possible to produce a book of the project.
Where is Ipswich, and what makes a good place to put on this show?
It’s near the East coast in Suffolk, East Anglia. Collateral Drawing will be presented in a public gallery within the new university site at Ipswich Docks. Having begun my artistic training in Suffolk, I have always been aware of the vibrant artistic community East Anglia attracts, and am at a stage in my own practice where exhibiting the project on home territory provides a platform for my own artistic reflection.
The series feature a high proportion of painters. Why is that?
I’m not sure that’s been planned, but perhaps my painting background has led me to work with curators who, like me, are inclined to select painters; and painting does provide a visceral and tangible way into the collateral process. That’s changing though: this show includes some artists who don’t work in conventional terms of painting or sculpture. So that the notion of collateral drawing is being challenged and expanded. I’m expecting the London CD to include several photographers, and I’m co-curating the 2017 Margate CD with photographer-curator Julia Riddiough.
Are studio visits an important part of the process?
The ideal would be to visit each artist’s studio. That isn’t always possible, but I am always conscious of the importance of picking up on the subtle habits each artist’s workspace holds — and which they themselves may not recognize because they’re so absorbed in the making.
Could you give an example or two of collateral drawing that struck you from the previous shows?
Goodness, that’s a hard task. It’s all interesting. I was intrigued by Frances Richardson’s use of an eight-by-four-foot sheet of MDF as a work surface, which, over time, built up drill holes and saw marks. It was beautifully intricate and like an artwork in itself. Or there’s the way Mark Titchner’s paperback books related to the inkjet prints set alongside them, which edited and magnified their back covers to a point where the statements printed on them were reinterpreted.
Has there been a line of development over the first three versions?
There has been a gradual process of editing down how many collateral elements represent the process of each exhibiting artist. John felt there needed to be a further reduction with the current CD and as a result we feel this has achieved greater clarity between the collateral clues and the finished artwork.
You’ve included your own work each time. What do you think you’ve gained from that double involvement?
It’s helped me to be far more objective about my own practice, and made me consider the methods I use more thoroughly and openly when I return to my studio. It is a very direct and honest way to develop as an artist, similar to peer learning.
You also have a co-curator, also an artist in the show and a local resident. Can you tell us something about John and his work, and how you have collaborated?
We were introduced through John’s gallerist, Zavier Ellis and found we had Suffolk in common. John recently moved to Aldeburgh with his wife, Da-eun, after living in South Korea. We both studied at the Royal Academy Schools, albeit at different times, and I like John’s philosophy and humorous outlook on life. He’s been a real asset.
The last time I saw Glenn Brown’s work, it occupied the whole of the Gagosian booth at Frieze. How did you persuade such a high profile and commercially successful artist to take part in such a modestly funded and provincially located show?
Yes, and John was especially thrilled when Glenn agreed to take part as he admires him very much as an artist who — like him — has made a successful career from re-working old masters. Glenn grew up in Norfolk and now lives and works between London and Suffolk. He really liked the unusual concept and was very understanding about the (lack of) budget. He has loaned a drawing from that Gagosian project, together with palettes and his light box, which holds photo reproductions. Glenn likes to support worthwhile local projects, and in 2012 he exhibited in the Aldeburgh Festival’s visual arts program.
Ryan Gander is also well known internationally. I imagine, with his love of playing with what a work of art can be, that he took particularly readily to the concept of the show?
Yes like Glenn, Ryan also lives between London and Suffolk. He instantly agreed to participate and is showing Things that mean things and things that look like they mean things (2008), a fictional documentary film that explores the production of an artwork that doesn’t exist. That brings an interesting angle: John describes Ryan, Daphne Warburg Astor and Kayle Brandon’s works as “utilizing the collateral, which then feeds back into or becomes the art work, a chicken and egg situation which could be described as an ouroboros.”
You are also featuring Matthew Collings and his wife, Emma Biggs. He’s an artist better known as a critic, especially on TV. Did he have anything to say about CD from that perspective?
Yes, I can quote him:
I think criticism is unrecognizable now. In practice it’s someone that calls him or herself a critic saying more or less random things, whose only purpose is to make clear to an audience that figures and ideas in art with which the audience is already familiar are very well known to the critic as well. From the position of the sort of art critic I am, I would say the Collateral Drawing is really well conceived because it brings into focus the process of making.
Matthew and Emma have made a painting for the exhibition and show an old studio table that has years’ worth of layers of cheap paper masking taped to its surface, placed as a way of always having a more or less clean and tidy surface. Matthew states that, “at the stage we offered it to the Collateral Drawing exhibition it had some scribbled quotes in charcoal on it from YouTube interviews with Francis Bacon because I was writing an article about a show called ‘Bacon and The Masters.’”
Daphne always records the work she makes each day. How does that flow into the collateral way of things?
For CD she started working on May 22, 2015, in a temporary studio in an empty garden shed on a farm surrounded by plants, bees and migrating birds. Her collateral is through recording and collecting, and her work is always connected to the land. Elements, such as wheat and pollen in this piece, are then utilized to make the drawings, which are incorporated into the final installation; so there is a slippage between the collateral and the final artwork which John and I found very interesting.
I often find that unexpected conjunctions emerge from a group show. Is that the case in Ipswich?
Always. These formal things are what interest me the most in bringing a show together. This exhibition seems to adopt a visual contrast between the industrial and synthetic versus the raw and earthy. There is an interesting dialogue between the real and the unreal. And light is important in many of the works. Trisant’s shiny enameled paint surface draws the outside in, whereas Chris Hawtin’s sci-fi landscape creates a synthetic light through its painted illusion; the ethereal illumination in my fabricated landscape contrasts with the intimate candlelit space of John’s painting. And there’s much more: you can find surprising conjunctions through all the artists shown here.