Nature as Witness

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Drawing Correspondence was founded in January 2021 by artists/educators Chloe Briggs, Tania Kovats and Anita Taylor as a response and contribution to a growing engagement with and sharing of drawing practice online. It is a structure that takes many forms and is designed to support participants at any stage of their practice in and through drawing. It is a way of forging connections and expanding a drawing community beyond institutions and physical space. Many thanks to: Matthew Avignone, Ioi Choi, Yutavia George, Jo Lewis, Sarah Simblet.


David Barron Annie Berriman

Caroline Burgess Lucy Crouch Laura Fox Peter Gates Sandra Partington Jenny Purrett Joanna Rucklidge Fran Woolf With a letter from: Chloe Briggs Tania Kovats Anita Taylor




Dear Nature,

Or can we call you non-human or beyond human, to be honest still not sure what to call you, as it is not our place to name you and language can let us down. We have spent the last six weeks sharing thoughts, images, time with each other to try to understand ‘nature’ better through drawing, and how Nature is Witness. Drawing is a tool that can dissolve the distance between the thing drawing, and the thing being drawn. The process of folding and collapsing the relationship between subject and object is critically important in the reimaging of our relationship with you. The intimacy of drawing as a weapon of choice in the battle to make things better in that relationship is what we set out to explore. The deeper the enquiry, the richer the unexpected encounters became, with animals, elements, flora, fauna, when observed are they observing. Who is watched and witnessed? The dynamic feedback loops created through drawings made whilst crawling into the undergrowth or marvelling at a frog temporarily held in a jar, evidence the proposition that nature is looking back at us in the marks and traces we make. Our screens have framed our individual habitats and complex ecosystems, computers doubling up as wildlife cameras with our interactions captured in shared digital space. We quietly breathed together, linked in an inhalation and exhalation. We all stepped outside to draw the sky at the same time, to remind ourselves of our shared atmosphere. Through drawings we have attempted to describe your multi-sensory dimensions - the sounds, smells, touch, temperature, light and shade, and weather – elements that all leave their trace in the works produced. These drawings have


made us conscious of our bodies in new ways, how they fit in with you, whilst lying on our stomachs, kneeling, crouching and climbing, or held still whilst watching an insect crawl or a child run in the woods. This has been an organic process, growing and full of life force, the program modelled and shaped by what we understand of you. The seriousness and sensitivity of our participants in this program has left a deep impression on us, as they touched you lightly. As ever, humbled to have been able to have this time together to explore and learn from each other, while we continue to learn from you,

Drawing Correspondence



DAVID I wonder why you fell. Were you ill? Struck by lightning? Blown over by a gale? I wonder what it felt like. You wouldn’t have been alone, you’re in a wood so you have many companions. The old question, ‘If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” implies human perception is all that matters: vibrations in the air only count as “sound” if they are perceived by human ears. But no doubt your crashing to earth was experienced by many living things, plant and animal, even if no humans were around. When great trees fall, rocks on distant hills shudder, lions hunker down in tall grasses, and even elephants lumber after safety. Seeing you fallen is a melancholy sight, a beautiful giant laid low. It’s also a reminder of my own fate, a memento mori. Even great trees like you fall eventually. But I know that fallen trees are very important sources of new life and regeneration. Insects, fungi, moss, and lichen have made new homes on your trunk and branches. These same organisms are breaking down the wood and returning its nutrients to the soil. The leaf canopy is opened, letting light into the floor of the woodland, so new plants can grow. Eventually, a new tree will take your place. Even after death, your influence is being felt, and other plants and animals are thriving because of you. And when great souls die, after a period peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly. Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration. Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us. They existed. They existed. We can be. Be and be better. For they existed. [The quotes are from When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou.]



ANNIE Entangled ‘For verily, art is embedded in Nature; he who can extract it, has it.’ Albrecht Durer It began with the ‘Great piece of turf’ by Albrecht Durer. 1503.

You have always intrigued me with your apparent simplicity. I have passed you by, so many times. Now I’ve come to draw you, my own ‘piece of turf’. I’ve been here in this place everyday for hours, lying down, looking at you, seeing you, drawing you.

Sun, wind, rain, bees, flies, spiders, birds and butterflies have watched me, watching you.

I’ve seen you flourish, move with the wind, change direction to find the sun, form flowers and develop seeds.

By being here, I’m changing you. How you grow and what will grow here.

And you have changed me. I have loved being in this place, sharing the space with you.

Our lives are entangled.



CAROLINE “If you take a flower in your hand, and really look at it, it is your world for a moment” Georgia O’Keefe During lockdown the town was empty, the beach was deserted and the woods calmed. I could hear birds again, see scurries of wildlife, watch weeds grow. Escaping Zoom I started to wander and watch, sheltering in nature. I had these impulses as a child, hanging out in wild and neglected places. Not sure what to do I started to draw. I drew pockets of petals, washed out hubris, tumbled twigs, plant tangles, alleyways, anything that was intimate and there. And then like a mother’s hand this Nature as Witness came along. I learnt Sufi breathing, laid on my back gazing at clouds, drew swimmers from duck level, gazed into flames, embraced the shadows, watched wind, contemplated earth. Day by day inching little by little towards the world around me. Then one day I drew a clod of earth, followed its shape, sketched its parts. I thought this piece of earth could be anything, an asteroid, a crumb, a forest seed bank, a piece of dust. What is it? I looked it up. Earth is ‘Four things that react with one another in amazing ways; minerals, dead and living organisms, air and water’. I drew the clod again and thought about all those dead and living organisms and all their amazing ways. I looked at my drawing. And then a memory came back from afar. An island surrounded by blue, a whale with a spout, waves lapping at beaches, a river, a bear trap, treasure. Every detail lovingly drawn and coloured in. I remember burning the edges of the paper. A map! As if in a dream a memory returns.



LUCY

Drawing helps you to notice me. It makes you look at me differently. You thought I was one thing, but now realise I am another. Perhaps your drawing instrument contains some of me. I am not one thing, but many. You begin to understand this when the act of drawing asks you to really see. I surprise you. All my parts are different, they connect me to the things around me. I am built of you and the other living things above and below me. Always changing, shifting over time, Beneath your feet.

(LETTER FROM THE EARTH)



LAURA

TO THE LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS Breathe.

Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. And again. Breathe that brilliant tree air deep into your lungs. Plant your feet in the ground. Curl your toes like tree roots. Stand up tall like a tree trunk. Sway just slightly like the very tops of the trees And breathe. Close your eyes, listen. What can you hear? What can you smell? How does the weather feel on your face today? What’s happened in the woods since last week? What’s changed since we were last here? Now run. Run as fast as you can. Behind, in front of, through, and around the trees. Over logs, under branches. Hide. Find.

Climb. Fall. Dig. Dig. Dig. Feel the earth in and under your hands. The fallen leaves, sticks, soil, roots, and clay. Show us. Tell us. You know. And breathe. Last Child in the Woods, book title, Richard Louv, 2005



PETER There is a strong breeze buffeting the tops of the trees. It is the end of May and the sun is shining; the weather has been good this spring. There are a great number of hoverflies occupying a space beneath the silver birch where the air is more still. It is the place where they always gather. Herring gulls which nest on the chimney stacks that overlook this sheltered urban garden are worrying small in number this year, as are this season’s tadpoles. The frogs spawned prolifically both this year and last, but this year’s spawn seemed to disappear before it amounted to anything. However, last week’s evening rain bore testament to the success of last year’s amphibious procreation, as many tiny frogs and toads leaped through the carpet of violets, meadow buttercups and cleavers, excited by the falling water droplets. The newt population is certainly healthy. They stalk the dark forest of weed in the garden pond. Above them, red and blue damselflies shimmer, descending to deposit eggs on the curled leaves of aquatic plants – if they can avoid the predatory eye of a hungry house sparrow. In such a small space there are a surprising number of species which coexist, because of – and despite of – each other. An infinitely complex world, just on the doorstep, which could never be truly represented in one description. So by spending time observing and recording through drawing, it should be possible to understand an environment more fully but, at the same time, produce drawings that are as much about themselves as the subject.



SANDRA Fire draws in leaping flames of red, orange, yellow, violet, in towers of black smoke, plumes of grey and wisps of white, in brittle crackling sparks (Goswamy, 2014). I draw fire with sweeps of charcoal across smooth paper, darkest for flames softer for smoke, curling and winding around silhouettes, sharp diamonds make sparks. Earth draws with roots, pushing and spreading through the fibrous compost, quietly feeling their way. Stones, pocketed from the beach contrasts, rounded, flattish, hard, noisy together, chalky or smooth or rough or sharp. I draw earth with a handful of damp mulch, next jab with a chalk pencil trying to find gaps to map this wriggly mess of white strands. Roots find their way around stones in the dark. Stones rub, score, scratch and burnish the chalky surfaces. Water draws in ripples, making up patterns, interrupting reflections, by flowing, pooling, with drips, drops, splashes, in tension, in runs, by seeping, staining. I draw water with water, dropping ink into watery shapes. Working fast at the river, murky greens try to catch the surface, with fingers in paint flicking, dabbing and smudging, wet with wet. Air draws with bluster, clouds and today downpours, through trees in the wind, with dust and leaves in gusts, adding changing sounds and smells. Beating down like stones, pelting, pounding, bouncing. We draw together, the sky out of your window, clouds in pastels, in 2 minutes, later the rain draws in diagonal lines, struck from a distance with sticks tied to a bamboo cane. I make more drawings using the stones, to carve round shapes; to rub in crumbled chalks, at scale they feel light and airy, breathing. Goswamy, B., 2014. The spirit of Indian painting. 1st ed. Gurgaon: Penguin, pp.233, 234, 235.



JENNY I want to tell you about the tulips. They were so red. On a grey day they glowed. On a bright day they shone. We were excited to see their buds form and monitored them daily, noting the first tints of colour tinge the budding green. When they opened, all of them together, on a sun drenched day in mid May, we marvelled at their markings. The red was intense then, like Red Riding Hood’s cloak, the colour hovering above everything else. Then they sagged. The petals flopped down as though exhausted by their own amazingness. They lost their lustre, and shrivelled a little, although they still held within their sculptural forms an elegance. Why did I set a flame to them? I wanted to see what would happen. Through that alchemic act they continued to demonstrate their strength and beauty. They were laid bare: every vein in every petal was evident. Their forms became more intricate, more delicate, more fragile. Their faded colour became the deepest, darkest black. They demonstrated their resilience and were still something to marvel at and admire. I wanted to draw them. I always want to draw tulips. But the added fragility gave me a sense of urgency to record them before my breath or the sunlight turned them to powder. How to capture that short, vulnerable moment before disintegration? I used a flame on the paper to create a sooty surface on which to etch the veins. I used my fingertips and an eraser to find the edges of those crunckled petals. I worked and reworked, made and destroyed many drawings The drawings that emerged took less time than the tulips took to grow. But more time, much more time, than the momentary flash of fire that created those velvet black contorted forms. It takes time to draw the most fleeting of moments.



JOANNA Dear Plastic,

Here you are - shiny, new, perfectly pristine, But we see straight through you, Ancient oil, slipping through our grasp, Take-away, throw-away, fly-away.

{Fire}

You breeze through life, we stop for air, You are breath-taking; suffocating, A whirlwind romance, Spinning in ever tighter circles.

{Air}

The downward spiral, diving deep, Vessel after vessel, drinking it all in, Buoyant, lively, carrying goods; now evil, The world your oyster, the oyster now your world.

{Water}

Discarded, disregarded, disappointed, disgusted. Everywhere is full, swallowed up, never satisfied, Nothing lasts forever, except you, maybe. There you go – your magic spell over and we bury you alive. {Earth}

RIP {Refuse If Plastic} Yours truly, The Nuclear Family



A Letter to My Grandchildren

FRAN

I want to tell you why this ground and all the things that I live among here, matter to me. I already knew each of you when you were born. I would have recognised you in a room full of 100 babies. This land gives me a similar feeling. My heart beats in time with it. It’s a haven for me and for everything that calls it home. Not in a pretentious way - we simply just look after each other. Acceptance, care and kindness really matter, to yourself and to every other living thing, don’t you think ? Gratitude too… I’ve literally put down roots here, alongside all the trees I’ve planted. I so appreciate that their complex mycorrhizal networks communicate with each other. It reminds me not to feel self conscious when I chat to them. There are graves here, to our much missed animals, memorials to people we loved too, among the newly planted saplings and the old fallen trees. They are all remembered, their memories and stories treasured, their names spoken out loud. It’s a living breathing organism that gently holds all who come here. A safe space. A thin place. Liminal. Where interesting thoughts and surprising dreams come easily. The nearby Standing Stones, with resilient fortitude, resonate with all they’ve seen, with the trees, the earth and the running water, (a lot of running water, it’s wet in Ireland .) They bear benign witness to all around them, without judgement or rancour. I wish for each of you a truly special place, where you feel hiraeth. It may or may not be owned by you, but that is undeniably yours, where you sense its pulse. Whether it is tiny, or very large indeed, a place where you can go in your head and in your heart, whenever you need to. Somewhere that you care about deeply and that recognises you among many. You’ll find me there.


portraits biography


DAVID BARRON

ANNIE BERRIMAN

I was a social worker for ten years before moving into academia. I obtained a PhD in sociology at Cornell University, and have subsequently been at Stanford, McGill and Oxford, the latter for 28 years. I am retiring in September and will be embarking on an MFA at Oxford Brookes.

Annie Berriman is a landscape designer, gardener and artist, inspired by Nature. BA Jewellery/Silversmithing - Sir John Cass School of Art, PGCE - Goldsmiths, taught Design Technology. BA Garden Design - Kingston University, established a Garden Design company, most recently studying Botanical Illustration and Painting.

@mothsailor www.davidbarron.art

CAROLINE BURGESS In 1980 Caroline trained at the English National Opera as a set designer and worked for 20 years in fringe theatre designing sets for The Royal Court, The Young Vic and Riverside Studios amongst others. Caroline also has a BA Hons in Fine Art from St Martin’s School of Art and a MA in Art therapy from Goldsmiths, London University. Her current drawing practice explores her sense of place within the botanical world. @carolineburgess2

@annie_berriman www.anneberrimandesigns


lUCY CROUCH

LAURA FOX

Lucy Crouch, artist, studied BA Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art and Design and MA Fine Art at University of Leeds. Lucy currently lives in Leeds and is a PhD candidate at University of Leeds funded by the AHRC through an award from White Rose College of Arts and Humanities. Her research explores material gestures and non-human drawing.

Laura Fox, Artist, lives and works in London, MA in Art Education UCL, Forest School Level 4, Certificate in Counselling using the Arts - IATE. Creates work and teaches mostly in ancient woodland in North London. @laurafoxartist

www.lucycrouch.com @lucy_crouch

PETER GATES

SANDRA PARTINNGTON

Artist living and working in Brighton. His current practice is primarily concerned with drawing, sound, photography and film.

Sandra is based in North London. She studied Fine Art Printmaking at Camberwell College of Art. Following college, exhibitions, residencies, and workshops led to teaching Art and Design.

He studied Three dimensional design BA Hons at Exeter College of Art and Design (1991) and Photography MA at University of Brighton (2008) and works as a graphic designer. @petergates_drawing

Interests in computing and multimedia initiated a new professional direction as an Educational Technologist, creating interactive educational experiences. Sandra works at City, University of London. @sandrapartington


JENNY PURRETT

JOANNA RUCKLIDGE

Artist and educator in equal measures using drawing as a means to investigate the world around her. She established DRAW workshops at her studio in Northumberland where people come together to explore drawing. BA Fine Art, Birmingham Polytechnic (1994), PGCE art education, Moray House Institute, Edinburgh (1998), MFA, Bath Spa University (2009).

Joanna Rucklidge studied BA Graphic Design at Glasgow School of Art and MA in Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art. She is now a Sheffield-based artist, designer and educator, interested by how pedagogy relates to environmental awareness. Her creative practice tackles issues around waste, re-use and the value of resources.

@draw_jennypurrett www.jennypurrett.co.uk

FRAN WOOLF draws, paints, prints, photographs, grinds pigments, makes inks, ponders, in an ancient cattle barn, deep in South west Ireland. BA Hons Visual Art, Sherkin Island. Life Drawing - Royal Academy, London Oil Tempera - National Gallery, London. Residencies - IMMA, Uillinn, Cill Rialaig & Backwater Artists. @franwoolf

@not_for_hot_ashes joannarucklidgeprojects.blogspot.com


Published as an outcome of the Drawing Correspondence Program: NATURE AS WITNESS

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