Touching Distance

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Touching Distance Graham Lister



Contents Page Page 4 Warp and Weft, Pull and Pick, unpicked canvas, 10x15x2cm, 2021 6 Introduction 8 Blue and Silver, oil on board, 20x25x2cm, 2021 9 Dark Barrier Weave, oil on board, 25x35x2cm, 2021 10-11 Almost Holding Tight, oil on Arches paper, 29x21cm, 2021 12 Text: Knotted Thinking 16 Peep Hole Cut-out 1, oil on board, 30x25cm (irregular), 2021 17 Peep Hole Cut-out 2, oil on board, 30x25cm (irregular), 2021 18 Peep / Peek, tarpaulin, 30x30x5cm, 2020 19 Text: Moving Closer 22-23 Touching Distance – Installation, Mount Florida Gallery, April 2021 24-25 Touching Distance – Installation detail, Vertical Lines (not touching), unpicked canvas, wood, 100x185x50cm, 2021 26 Touching Distance – Installation view 27 Touching Distance – Installation detail 28 Text: Within Touching Distance 31 Touching Distance – Installation view 32 Touching Distance – Installation detail 33 Vertical Lines (not touching), unpicked canvas, wood, 2021 34 Tarpaulin Barrier Weave, oil on board, 2021 35 Acknowledgements 5

Introduction Touching Distance is a body of work by Glasgow-based artist Graham Lister, which was created between 2020 and 2021. The paintings and texts which make up Touching Distance invite viewers and readers to consider themes of tactility, proximity, distance and the ways in which surfaces or barriers can organise spaces - simultaneously attracting and repelling. Since 2017, painted ‘barrier works’, featuring repeated motifs of chain links, security fencing forms and woven materials have appeared in solo exhibitions by Lister across the UK and in Germany. Touching Distance looks to further consider such motifs, but such consideration now happens against the backdrop of social distancing and everyday protective meshes and screens. Solid structures transmit a feeling of containment and perform their function differently than more open chain link fences might do. A fabric weave can curtain off a space or protect an object, but also may possess a more tactile and inviting quality. Loose woven materials allow for temporary separations in space to be created, but also can picked apart to offer glimpses of that which lies beyond.


Throughout the creation of Touching Distance, a range of painted and expanded works were developed. A selection of these are shown in this book alongside installation images from an exhibition held at the Mount Florida Gallery and Studios in April-May 2021. Within this book are short texts; the first focusing on knots and the second on weaves and ‘looking through’ barriers. These act as reflections on the thematic underpinnings of the practical work and were written during the making processes. Such reflections helped to articulate the rationale for making the visual works, and equally gave rise to new ways to think about that which was being made. Given the time period in which this body of work was created, it is difficult to look at works about proximity and space without thinking about social distancing and physical lockdowns or restriction of movement. Although it is the case that this body of work follows on from a number of years of visual and textual inquiry into ideas of space and surfaces, it has of course been impacted by the events of 2020 and 2021. It is possible to understand the works and ideas of Touching Distance through a new lens – that of the ground level experiences everyone has had throughout the Covid-19 global pandemic. At the end of this book, a new text has been written, which draws upon the lines of thinking emerging from the project.






Knotted Thinking December 2020 I’ve been thinking about knots recently. Perhaps the idea of tying myself in knots (referring to the number of simultaneous issues, problems or anxieties I feel) has found its way out of my head and into practical studio work. However, it didn’t start in the studio, but rather at home in the garage. I was joining lengths of rope together, to secure loose boards against the wall. Out of habit, or at least out of a casual recollection of knots that I’d been taught when younger, I attached one length to the other. It was as I pulled the lengths of rope taught, to make sure they would hold firmly and not slip, that I noticed the way that the loops diminished, closed and constricted. The spaces within the overlapping lines and coils of rope disappeared to nothing, to leave, as you would expect, a knot. I didn’t know the name of the knot I tied. Racking my brain at the time, I came up with the names Reef, Granny, Bowline and Highwayman’s Hitch; the last one being my favourite because of how exciting it sounded to me as a boy. I knew other knots too, but not by name. I found that what I’d tied in the garage was a Fisherman’s Knot, which is perhaps the most straightforward way to attach pieces of rope together using two adjoining overhand knots. 12

Thinking about knots over recent weeks has led me to read into their origins, links to mathematics and to their various uses in outdoor pursuits, but it’s been the aesthetic forms, woven ropes and the beautifully descriptive names that have interested me most. The Fisherman’s Knot is also known as the English, Halibut or the Waterman’s Knot. There is the Albright, the Alpine Butterfly Bend, the Ashley Bend, the Blood Knot, the Carrick Bend, the Figure Eight Bend, the Flat Overhand Bend, the Hunter’s Bend, the Quick Hitch, the Sheet Bend, the Slim Beauty, the Square Knot, the Surgeon’s Join, the Water Knot and the beautiful Zeppelin Bend and these are just the common ways to secure two pieces of rope or webbing together, ignoring completely the vast array of knots able to be tied with a single line. There was something mesmerising about the forms of these knots, these methods of joining lengths of rope that kept me looking at diagrams and test-tying them with rough nylon coils. Likewise, the terminology associated with tying them fascinated me; a verb list, instructing makers to link and to weave.


To strap, to thread, to join, to interlock, and to extend. The words point toward a careful organisation of the working lines; preparing them to be tight and secure. I’ve also been thinking about the phrase ‘touching distance’ a lot, for this project of course, but equally because of the fluctuating, difficult, anxiety-inducing times that we live in. The phrase was part of the work I was beginning to make prior to lockdowns at the very start of 2020, but given the changed and changing world that we find ourselves in, there is more to it now. I realise it’s maybe a slight stretch, but for me there is a parallel between knot tying and our experiences of lockdowns. Scanning from one figure image of tying instruction to the next, the lines of rope overlap as the knots are formed. The size of the loops diminishes at the final stage, when specific lengths are pulled taught. At this moment when the knots are tightened, bights and bends, crossing points and elbows are no longer separate but they begin to intertwine and touch. The knot formed, it’s as if each part is close and related to every other part; rope touching rope, touching rope. Holding fast. An embrace. 14

Like most people, I miss loved ones. Along with countless other people, I’ve found my connections with friends and family changed. The essence of my connection remains; we communicate digitally and our lives are still woven together in various ways. But, following guidelines and restrictions, medical and scientific evidence, like everyone else, we are paused on the second-to-last diagram. The lengths of cord are not yet pulled, the restrictions remain; there is no security, no tight embrace. As I write, in December 2020, this is true, but there may be an end in sight and the possibility of linking and weaving with one another again may be almost within touching distance.





Moving Closer February 2021 In 1932, Henri Cartier-Bresson photographed two men in Brussels, Belgium. These two individuals were spectators, recorded in the act of looking at something. Cartier-Bresson’s famous image has been written about, in various contexts over the nearly 90 years since its production. It captures and re-presents the pleasure we take in looking. It is, of course, a magnificent example of Cartier-Bresson’s decisive movement, and I’ve often lingered on this photograph. I used to think that the most important part of my enjoyment came from the imaginative guessing game I’d play inside my head regarding what might have arrested the attention of the two men; asking what are they looking toward? What could they be looking at, what could be so amazing / interesting / exciting / captivating / distressing that has made them stop and linger? I’d think about the building work that could be going on beyond the material barrier, or the hidden circus that might be setting up, or the fight developing, or the political rally, or this or that. And I contented myself with this joy in thinking about the unseen action or activity which could grab attention. As I have been working with barrier materials for the Touching Distance project, I circled back to the image, to think about it again.


I’ve been pulling threads from canvases, tying knots and making blocking devices, and as with Brussels, there’s an element of ‘something beyond’, of a ‘space contracting’ or ‘being limited’, or indeed of something being kept out of visual and physical reach in my new works. I have been continually using these sorts of phrases in notebooks and in the margins of my diary; the words helping me keep track of my thinking-through-making processes. I’m fascinated by the barriers we set up, that we experience and that we challenge in the world around us. This interest is of course in the subjects, the details related to separations, to distinct spaces and places, to haves and have-nots, but this isn’t the aspect of the interest I feel right laying claim to. The reason for this is that when I distil my enjoyment of Brussels down, it’s actually always been the activity of looking and of trying to gather more information that truly holds my fascination.


To inquire, to look beyond or to find out. To sneak a peek at something hidden. To move that bit closer toward comprehension, or to another person. To ask what happens if I do this, or I place these things together? To help me make narratives which I can understand in the physical and intellectual spaces I find myself in. That’s what I’m looking toward.








Within Touching Distance May 2021 At the outset, I had the view that the obsessively painted weaves and unpicked threads directed thought toward barriers themselves; to the appearance and type of material that often impacts how we understand space within everyday physical areas. Sitting in the gallery space, looking at the work against the backdrop of the last year of lockdowns and social distancing, it is important to make note of the new aspects of the work which have come to light. The paintings resembling woven fabrics started life as ways to draw focus onto the surface materiality of meshes which are often used to break up or surround spaces such as gardens, allotments, building sites or interior spaces. However, through the process of making these types of works, the meditative quality of repeatedly pushing and pulling paint has come to the fore. Of course, the beauty of repetitive mark-making is nothing new within painting, but for me, making these works for Touching Distance was about more than just the same (or similar) actions taking place over and over again. The focus within the making was more about how one brushed line of pigment on substrate related to the next, to the next and so on.


Looking at the paintings in the gallery - surrounded by white walls – they actually seem to be less about barriers and more about the edges of the painted lines; about the little moments of overlap and the tiny gaps which emerge as one brushstroke goes over and the next goes under. As paintings, the compositions function because of the ways that each part relates to its neighbouring part - creating the overall form within the picture plane. With a painting like Dark Barrier Weave (p.9) and with with the unpicked canvas barriers (p.33), viewers are invited to move close to them to properly view them. Even this ‘invitation’, after a year of keeping two metres apart and of being ever more wary of getting near to surfaces of any sort, seems to be brought into sharp relief as I watch visitors begin to notice details whilst at a ‘social distance’. Then, after a hesitation, they often move toward the works so that the unpicked threads or the glimpses of colour amidst the woven lines can be better seen. I don’t feel that I’m overstating how interesting this slight movement from viewers is - to me it really does seem quite poetic and connected to the ways that painting continually attracts us, can draw us toward it. It can offer us a space that we can enter into, a space to which we can very much be within touching distance.


The short exhibition itself has been a chance to see people in the flesh again, so to speak. Like everyone, writing as I am in May 2021, I feel it’s been a long time since I was able to really meet with others, to see art and exhibitions and being able to do this again has been refreshing. It has been like a semblance of returning to pre-covid times. There have been, however, no embraces, no handshakes and few smiles that could be seen, given mask-wearing guidelines. For me, there has been a sense that thoughts and ideas, discussions and observations are able to have had tangible reference points once again. A slight stretch maybe, but even the idea of once again being able to see works in proximity to other pieces; to see a knot painting next to a weave work, next to an unpicked barrier installation allows for the themes embedded in them to be readjusted, to move out of being isolated and become more interconnected; with each part being related to every other part, like a knot being pulled tight.






Acknowledgements This project would not have been possible without support and assistance from numerous people and organisations. It has been supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland. The support I have received from a number of people at Creative Scotland has been very much appreciated. I’d like to give special thanks to Kalisterscope Photography for documenting the finished works, the sketches and the Touching Distance Exhibition itself so beautifully. All of the photographs in this book are by Kalisterscope Photography. In these complex times, I’d also like to thank everyone at Mount Florida Gallery and Studios, for their help and flexibility with regard to the installation and opening of the exhibition, just as some lockdown restrictions were slightly eased. A final thank-you to everyone who attended the exhibition, to family and friends (old and new) who have followed and engaged with the work that I have made. Graham Lister Instagram @lister_art