Barbara Freeman works on paper 1996 - 2006
selected and edited, with an essay and notes by David Brett and a commentary by the artist a black square book
Copyright : Barbara Freeman and David Brett All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electrical, mechanical or others, without first seeking the permission of the copy right holders and of the publishers.
First published by Black Square Books
The aim of this book is to present a selection of works on paper by Barbara Freeman ; the occasion being the removal from one studio to another and the consequent sorting of plan chests and folders. A measure of self-assessment was in order. What was revealed was an artistic biography extending over forty years. It seemed to us a good idea to put some of this work into reproduction for those who possess or have collected some of her work, but have seen only their part of it.
The selection includes work in charcoal and other drawing materials, paintings, different kinds of printing, and collage. The dates given are the date of first exhibition
The text is in two halves; a short essay and notes by David Brett, set in Gill Sans Bold, and a commentary by the artist in Verdana Italic
This book is imagined as the first of a series of similar small publications based upon our concept of drawing as a mode of thought, and related topics.
‘The Banks of the Bann’ detail (see plates 38 - 39)
‘The Banks of the Bann’ detail (see plates 38-39
WHAT IS IT, ‘TO THINK?’
It must mean, to have uncertainty. Doubt, uncertainty, risk and the suspension of confidence are the preconditions of thought. There is a film of Henri Matisse at work in which the point of his brush is constantly moving over the canvas without alighting upon it, till you think he will never commit himself. Which of these darting, trembling movements will make contact with the surface and initiate the painting? To think is to hover. But to have a thought is to alight; like a bird on a branch.1 I will stay with this analogy for a while, since it enables me to think further. The perch gives a point of purchase, of departure; ‘to think’ includes both searching and looking and moving from one point to another. We speak of ‘looking for the right word’ but until we have uttered it, we don’t know what it is. Thinking seems, at such a moment, to be a matter of paying attention to the movement of the mind while a thought is being uttered or set down. For mind read hand. The most important part of any drawing, any sentence, any thought in any medium, is the part that is left out, cancelled, refused even before it exists. It is against this ground that is not yet there that a completed line appears. A mark on a sheet of paper, a stroke of colour, a single touch upon a string, a spoken word in the silence, are all tentative figures on or in the ground that they create by being uttered. This raises the question of what we mean by ‘a drawing’ (noun) and ‘drawing’ (verb). In this, and in any other publication that might follow this, we will not waste time on abstract definitions. Don’t think - look! And what you will find is not one or more definitions of drawing but a family of resemblances.2 There are several kinds of drawing in what follows, including some you may not choose to think of as drawings; but we do.
--------------------------------------------------1 This essay begins in the same way as a piece I wrote for an exhibition of collaborative drawings by John Berger and Marisa Camino; see Entries Vanguard Gallery, Cork (2005). 2 See Wittgenstein,L. Philosophical Investigations (1968 ed.) para. 66 et seq., on ‘games’.
ii In Gestalt Theory the figure/ground relationship is primal and mind-creating. It is described as “the first phenomenon experienced by the human infant; for instance a light patch on a dark ground ..... We have said that a figure cannot exist without a ground. Can a ground exist without a figure? ..... I have tried to prove that it cannot, and that mere ground would be equivalent to no consciousness at all.” 3
Can there be a disembodied thought? Or would such a thing be that impossibility, a groundless figure? Is such a question without significance in the realm of the visual and plastic arts which exist only by virtue of their physical manifestation? That is the question on which we proceed, paying attention to the actuality and physicality of the thing before us - the paper, ink and pigment and how they are applied. The physical manifestation is the thought. This is true even of abstract diagrams or plans, for just as schemes of perspective carry with them a universe of ideology, so the actual means of drawing have deep implications irrespective of what is being drawn. It may be possible, for example, to explain celestial mechanics without the aid of diagrams. Perhaps it was once necessary before the conventions were established, but it was scarcely an intelligent course to follow after Newton and his contemporaries had shown how drawings might be used. And the means employed were those of the copper plate and engravers burin worked to follow a pen and ink drawing, done with ruler and compass systematically excluding colour. 4 The most abstract and apparently disembodied thoughts we can have - such as those expressed in the diagrams and equations of the ‘Principia’ - are displayed in a medium subject to the most physically constrained means of drawing which works all the time to exclude sensuous properties , whilst having itself a very distinct physical quality. The physicality of mathematical thought entered the sensuous world most vividly in the products of industrial technology. The design of watches and steam engines followed closely upon the visual grammar of the diagrams that preceded them.
The crucial theoretical concept, because it has bearing on the formation of the mind long before the advent of language, is that of the relations between figure and ground. This is usually thought of in terms of pattern - does the motif/figure appear in front of the surface / ground, on the surface, or somehow behind or within the surface? But it only takes a little thought to realise that this is a matter of choice.
3 Koffka, K. in Perception: an Introduction to Gestalt Theorie (1921) 4 The only philosopher I am aware of that has thought at length about these questions is Maurice Merleau-Ponty in essays such as `Eye and Mind’.
iii We can, at will, see interchangeably. Although one may seem to predominate over another ( and this is necessary for our going about in the world or we might attempt to walk through walls) when we dwell upon visual experience for its own sake we can and do swap figures for grounds, in a spirit of play.
I am quite certain that this touches on the deepest level of freedom, for it enables us to think in terms of either/or. We not only see, we see as , and we can also manipulate tones, outlines and shapes so that we can hardly tell which is ground and which is figure. This is a major part of the art of painting ; it requires doubt, uncertainty, risk and the willingness to suspend confidence. It is a form of thought in the world that precedes all thought about the world.
Once we admit doubt we can hardly prevent the entry of fantasy, visual puns and unconscious reverie, riding on the back of seeing as. This extends the range of freedom into fantasy so that we see not only either/or, but both/and. Rosalind Krauss has written about this extensively in her remarkable book ‘The Optical Unconscious’ (M.I.T. 1993) which I have elsewhere tried to run in parallel with J.J. Gibson’s ecological theory of perception, which sets what he calls ‘field’ vision (when we dwell upon visual experience) against ‘world’ vision (when we actually use our eyes to navigate through the world). Barbara Freeman, in her commentary, refers to Gibson’s ‘field/world’ distinction as a practical aid in the task of making a painting.
In The Academy, drawing (disegno) was always placed above colour (colore) as the prior intellectual element of the visual arts; colouring, being simulative and hedonistic, had to be secondary because it did not deal with Forms and Ideas; naturally enough, colour was also held to be in some sense `feminine.’ This distinction, being essentially idealist, was radically incompatible with modernity, materialism and science. In any actually existing painting from the academies, it was rooted in the former technics of image-making where the drawing had to precede the process of colouring. Under modern conditions the distinction was rendered null because we no longer have to draw before we can colour, the technics of painting having altered. Thus drawing, in the sense of disegno - drawing for, design - has been replaced by the relations between figure and ground. Drawing, we argue, now enters directly into painting with the profile or outline of zones of colour. Drawing, thus understood, is not about line because seen closely a line is , physically , a trail left by a particular tool in a particular material. The relation drawing/ painting is essentially the same as figure/ground, and this necessarily requires colour and tone because there is no visible shape or space without colour relations.
iv Since figure/ground relations are the constituting ground of our consciousness as selves in the world, and exist prior to any thought we might have about the world, we must conclude that ‘painting/drawing’, by exploring those relations, is a primary mode of knowing that world because the world presents itself to us in the form of figures and grounds.
BARBARA FREEMAN : AN EARLY BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE
It is a custom to begin with a biographical note; the artist did not want to participate in this so it was passed on to the editor. She is contemptuous of such notes when treated as a form of explanation and dislikes talking about her past. But some non-artistic matters have relevance to what follows. Barbara Freeman was born in London, 1937; her childhood was spent in districts such as The Angel, City Road and Highbury. Her mother was a milliner and maker of artificial flowers whose family had been workers in the clothing trades for some generations. One grandfather is described in the Shoreditch parish register as a dyer’s assistant; in fact he was a feather dyer and finisher, a very specialised part of the fancy goods trade. Her brother became a skilled tailor’s cutter and one sister ran a signwriting business. This is relevant because it locates the child in a culture of skilled artisanship in which it was normal to be making fine things. The particular kinds of intelligence required of an artist are as likely to be fostered in such an atmosphere as in the schoolroom or college. As a girl she could make a fully tailored winter coat in a weekend. Family names suggest a deeper background in the Huguenot silkweaving industries of Spitalfields; other forebears had been Pearly Kings and Queens. These class origins explain nothing, but they are the the ground from which her work begins and they are constantly present in the artist’s mind.
v Her father was a George Freeman or Friedmann; it appears certain that his parents were orthodox Jews, from whom he had run away. Shortly after the war he returned to his children, stayed for a short while and left; somewhere along the way he had acquired another family. The artist’s memory of her father, however, is good; she recalls being taken regularly to Collin’s Music Hall when he came home on leave. One consequence is that the artist has always, half-seriously, identified herself with the Jewish East End, and the world of exiles and émigrés and historical Judaism. Artistically that is a very rich heritage which includes David Bomberg teaching at the Regent Street Polytechnic, and the whole and serious matter of the School of London. Her early memories include lighting the fire for an old neighbour and putting on his kettle every Sabbath morning. But another memory is of being lifted by firemen down the stairway of a shattered house, and of sheltering from bombs in the Underground. There were several wretched episodes of evacuation to alien households and, worst of all, to the countryside.
Just how it is that someone, to whose background ‘culture’, in the form of paintings, music and literature was foreign , comes to be wholly engrossed in art, music and reading, even as a little child, is always something of a mystery. In 1948 she was enrolled in Highbury School for Girls, a former grammar school with pretensions to gentility. She was evidently picked out as a pupil of promise from an unpromising background. What she most recalls of her schooling was being made to repudiate her Cockney accent, and the humiliation this entailed; but there were staff who encouraged her reading habit. By seventeen she had left home and school in very painful circumstances and enrolled herself at St. Martin’s School of Art. Subsequently she has come to regret never having received what she would call ‘a proper education’, but at the time it seemed a necessity to turn her back on the past and her upbringing.
The later nineteen fifties was not a good time to be studying art. Sculpture in particular was a subject poised uncertainly between a defunct academicism and a timid modernist rhetoric. Everyone knew that the teaching had no clear purpose, but noone had yet identified what sort of teaching was to emerge in the next few years. What in fact she received was a good training in a narrow range of craft skills through life - drawing, modelling, mould-making and casting. It is not surprising that she reacted vehemently against this curriculum on graduating (in 1962), and has never since drawn from life, kept an ‘artist’s notebook’, nor sketched.
But schools and colleges are often a small part of real learning. The artist passed a deal of time in museums and galleries; she devised a method of taking surreptitious casts from details of Egyptian sculpture and somehow acquired a thorough but wholly unacademic knowledge of early renaissance portraiture. Many of her friends were music students, and it is known that she played the soprano saxophone, though no-one can say if well. She survived by various kinds of part-time work, notably as a model-maker for a firm of exhibition designers. Looking at her early experience in impersonal and sociological categories, she was a striking example of a working class girl in single-minded pursuit of â€˜cultural capitalâ€™. The social mobility this demanded was more readily available in the nineteen forties than it is today. In 1962 she married David Brett, left London for Yorkshire and began to raise a family.
Plates and notes
1 This figure has to stand in for years of life drawing and modelling. The artist, as a part-time student, attended St.Martinâ€™s, Camberwell, Hammersmith and other institutions, studying sculpture. In 1959 she was working part time for an exhibition design firm, making large groups of figures in plaster. Her tour-de-force was a group of Soviet miners wielding real drills, made for an international trade fair at Olympia. Two weeks intensive labour of this kind would pay for most of the term, including fees; but in time she received a local authority grant which enabled her, for the first time, to become a full-time student. The Greater London Council also purchased a group of two figures in cement. A handful of sculptures remain from this period, including portrait heads; but no work on paper and certainly no life drawing. It was all burnt in successive removals, to save space, and she denies that it was worth saving. She was also left with an abiding dislike of rhetorical figuration.
I can see now that I had a facility for this kind of work, but facility is the enemy. I think I have spent my whole life trying to avoid the things I find easy and learning to distrust myself, systematically and deliberately. When I left college, in â€˜62, I had had about six years study in life drawing and modelling. I had, from time to time, some good teachers like Anthony Caro and Elizabeth Frink; but what were we doing it for? It seemed to have no existential connection to the life we were actually leading. It was full of a kind of idealist rhetoric which I simply hated. And in giving up that sort of sculpture, the major purpose was to give up that sort of descriptive representation altogether. What I wanted, I now see, was to work through what the world felt like rather than through what it looked like. Caro himself had been showing big lumpy expressionist figures at this time, but then, suddenly, the year after I left college I saw a photograph of his latest work - called `Early One Morningâ€™ - in welded steel and painted bright pink. What a sense of relief that gave me. And an exhibition of work by Eduardo Chillida at the Galerie Maeght in Paris - amazing and unforgettable. It was possible to make a contemporary sculpture. But this meant no more lines around forms; no more shading and hatching. It meant a very different kind of drawing, that was going to be based around either diagrams or gestures.
‘Figure’ cold cast bronze 30x18x18cm. 1962
2 This drawing is not to be considered as an art work. It is one of a series of templates used for cutting out perspex and aluminium for constructed sculptures and reliefs. The lines connect a series of points which were generated by a previous series and they provide a set of profiles which can be altered by revolving the black lines through the blue to produce a permutation of possible spaces and intersectiong planes A number of pieces were made during the years 1968 - 75 which followed this or similar diagrammatic methods, and used sheet materials including stainless steel, brass and so forth that produced planes, rather than masses. There was a tall revolving vane construction for a shopping mall near Sheffield, a sculpture for an infant’s school near Doncaster, a private commission for a stone carving and a stainless steel relief for a factory. The piece known as `Bethel’ was bought by a department of Leeds City Art Gallery in 1972. Other constructions around this time involved genetic methods whereby a congregation of units expanded according to some simple mathematical rules. Called ‘growth structures’ they were published in ‘Leonardo’ (Vol.7/74) and in the Hungarian journal ‘Muveszet’. (76/4) But they were not of a kind that initiated any drawings. Were one to attempt them today, the use of a computer would be an obvious strategy. In fact, the same material was republished later in 1978 in the book `Art: Mathematics and Computers’ edited by Frank Malina for Pergamon Press (and see Plates 34-38, forty years later).
In the face of our daughter’s increasing disability it seemed impossible not to do anything that was not somehow impersonal or objective, so I found myself making mathematical models for an exhibition of work by Patrick Meredith, a professor of psychology at Leeds University who was studying the perception of space and velocity. From that I moved on to spending time in the computer department playing Neumann’s `Life Game’ which deals with recursive rules for the generation of form, and making elaborate drawings on graph paper which then became three-dimensional constructions. Then we had a long acquaintance with the inspirational builder Peter Stead who had a study group for urban renewal, called`Pennine City’; and a meeting with the French architect and mathematician Yona Friedmann; and concerts of new music at York University through which I met composers. There were several small exhibitions outside the recognised art world ( in so far as any such world existed for a young woman in Yorkshire at that time).
‘Bethel’ perspex 52x52x52cm. private collection
Drawing for ‘Bethel’ ink on paper 40x35cm. 1972
3 The artist’s first exhibition of paintings was in 1971, at the Senior Common Room in Leeds University, where she showed a set of twenty one small paintings under the title of ‘Mafiosi’. Each was a variation on a basic format formed by folding the paper and ironing it flat; in some cases the paper was impregnated with resin, to give a substance rather like vellum. The twenty one stood for the letters of the Italian alphabet, and their names were given with the help of two Sicilian friends. They were then shown at Bradford University and other locations. For that exhibition Barbara wrote a short note which summarises a way of proceeding which she has followed ever since. ‘I find it natural to work in series and variations in order to develop distinct and separate ideas. Such a manner also frees me from the immediate problems of subject matter, for each piece is like a stage in an argument. The argument, that is the general idea, is decided beforehand and the art is in the working out. Each decision that I make in this dialogue - this situation that I have made for myself - is a subjective decision, but the results are used as if they were objective, so that colours and formal devices are carried over from one piece into the next; and their continuing influence has a determining effect upon the meaning of the whole series.’ ‘Zuccone’ exploits random colour by using pieces of masking tape used in making previous paintings. The ‘Mafiosi’ were the first paintings she had made since early days in college. The making of families of small paintings on paper has been a part of her practice ever since.
In 1967 we spent 6 months en famille in Washington D.C., where David was a writer-in-residence. The United States was a revelation to me; most of all a long night-time bus-ride to Philadelphia and the continuous flashing of neon in the dark night. Then the paintings of abstract expressionism and colour-field, seen before only in reproduction but now in the flesh. Vibrant conversations with artists. A surfeit of goods and experiences. A sense of energy of a different kind than any I had encountered before. Everyone seemed to be going somewhere else! I was also a participant in what was called the Now Festival, which included a concert by John Cage and David Tudor. My part was to walk down out of the audience - which was being very properly behaved - and to ask if I could join in, which delighted them. (This was an event in which many neo-dada artists and members of the Fluxus group performed, and Robert Raushchenberg did a dance on roller skates with a parachute attached to his shoulders.) The experience of colour was so strong that it took a long time to feed into my work, as a slow reaction against what I had been doing before. It was the start of my move away from sculpture. I had begun to understand that passion could exist in colour, not only in form.
‘Mafiosi’ I-IV oil on paper 42x42cm. each
‘Mafioso - Zuccone’ oil on paper 42x42cm. 1973
4 Since her first days in college the artist had an old biography of Albrecht Dürer which contained a reproduction of the engraving ‘Melencolia 1’. This solemn and hermetic image depicts Melancholia as a scowling angel, sitting disconsolately amongst scientific and mathematical instruments, tools of construction and geometrical solids. Over her head there is a plaque bearing the magic square of 34. This image has been subject to many learned exegeses, but at its simplest it asks plainly and bluntly - ‘What is to be Done?’ The series of drawings entitled ‘Homage to Dürer’ originally numbered ten, in charcoal and graphite on paper that had been folded and then ironed flat before drawing. She followed an intricate procedure involving number matrices such as the magic square, and projecting over it parts of a diapositive of the whole original engraving. The density of the drawing is determined by the magic square, which indicated the number of layers of working in each cell. And each of the ten final drawings contained Dürer’s original print transformed and layered into and over itself. What does one make of this? Perhaps it is a kind of self-portrait. The artist refers to these drawings as her first mature work, even though she destroyed seven of them. The only time they were ever exhibited as a whole set was at Cartwright Hall Museum, Bradford in 1974. The remaining three remain in her studio.
If you have rejected any form of direct visual representation, and no longer begin with a percept, then to start work you have to start from a concept or a process. But concepts, pure ideas, don’t float in from outside; they arise within your life experience and its concerns. I see these drawings, looking back at them. as being a dialogue between a pure systematic approach and a physical process. It is the physicality of the drawing, the movement of the hand, the nature of the paper, that links it back into the lived world, that, as it were, maps back the idea onto the experience. The physical gesture forms a bridge. At that time I had a keen interest in, and some contact with, the `Systems’ group of artists; and what I thought of their work (which I often admired) was, that it never sufficiently stepped across that bridge.
‘Homage to Dürer’ I charcoal on paper 62x90 cm. coll. Cartwright Hall Bradford
5 Another drawing from the Durer series. At some time around 1970 Barbara Freeman bought a copy of a book on mathematical and geometrical curiosities, such as magic squares: it has never left her studio, and she still consults it frequently. The aim being, not to work with geometrical means, but to find clues and hints that help one discover the kind of object one is looking for or trying to make. She had also been reading ‘Dr. Faustus’ by Thomas Mann, a novel full of imagery drawn from the same print and dealing with the near-impossibility of musical composition when the traditional means of it have been exhausted and emptied by rhetoric and habit. By drawing in the dark over projected fragments it might, she thought, be possible to break with habits of seeing and habits of drawing which got in the way of authentic expression. With the same thought in mind she sometimes drew with both hands simultaneously.
When I was a little girl I had the grandiose idea of being a mathematician; though of course I didn’t have the faintest idea what that could mean. How could I have done? When I studied geometry at school, I loved it. I could not get enough of the drawing. I loved the transparency of the space and the planes created in it, where nothing is solid. Space created by layers of emptiness. Whilst working on the Dürer drawings I had certain quotations and sentences written down on strips of paper. One read “I do not want a structure directed toward any specific participation, but a proposal for experience so that the situation acts like a mirror, an instrument for reflection.”
‘Homage to Dürer’ III charcoal on paper 62x62cm. 1974
6 In 1973 the artist had shown, amongst her other work, a set of five large trapezium-shaped paintings done on panels of translucent glass-fibre and resin. Unsatisfied with them, the next year she cut them up into their constituent triangles, cleaned them off, and made five three-cornered paintings in primary colours. They were also painted on the back, in the same hues, which, shining through, created an intense colour field. On the front the pigment was worked using outlines and templates from machine castings and projected drawings. This oblique method of work serves a characteristic purpose, it nullifies the spurious claim to immediacy and spontaneity on which so much popular taste and romantic criticism is based Again, her reading at this time has a definite, though indirect relation with the drawing; she had a copy of Theodor Adorno’s ‘Minima Moralia’ to which she often turned. This epic of self-critical criticism has many pages directed against the cult of easy ‘authenticity’ and the immediate.
The five triangles were exhibited at a small gallery in Bradford in 1975, and subsequently in Sheffield University, Wolfson College, Oxford, and a few other locations.
I am now surprised at just how `free’ and `spontaneous’ the marks are, in these triangle drawings. Once they get outside the triangular frame they get very skittish and full of flourishes. It is rather as in compositions by Bach, you know they are very `constrained’ and `strict’ in construction, but the effect can be immensely playful. I now find this in Islamic decoration - controlled by numbers and geometry and yet as free as air . But you can only get there by way of the strictness. The drawings were actually done after the paintings, to exhaust the idea.
â€˜Triangle - Chrome Yellowâ€™ oil on resin 102x102
Triangle drawing charcoal on paper 62x74cm. 1975
7 The triangles were partly contingent - she had these three-cornered panels that were waiting to be used - but I think it is true to say that they took on the importance of elementary figures, which seemed to require primary colours. Such a format has an archetypal quality, but one would be wary of giving these paintings a symbolic or occult meaning. In the feminist climate of the mid-70â€™s some viewers interpreted the downward pointing triangles as female symbols, but so far as I am aware this was not intended. The original titles were Cadmium Red, Ultramarine, Chrome Yellow, Titanium White and Lamp Black. (The blue and the black did not satisfy the artist, so she destoyed them.)
I think of these paintings as sober islands of contemplation in the midst of dangerous seas. The simplest and purest of shapes, the most essential of colours. People tell me that my work is serene .... While I was painting these triangles our daughter was spending longer and longer periods in hospital. By the time they were finished she was in long term care.
â€˜Triangle - Cadmium Redâ€™ oil on resin 120x120cm.
Triangledrawing drawing Triangle Triangle drawing charcoalon onpaper paper charcoal charcoal on pa62x74cm. per62x74cm. 62x74cm. 1975 1975 1975
8 The name ‘Assassins’ was given to a long series of reliefs in blockboard or aluminium, heavily worked and scored and then painted. They went by titles such as ‘Lebanese Gold’, ‘Venezuelan Red’ and ‘Black September’ and these titles referred obliquely to several matters and to contemporary events. Several were exhibited at Wolfson College, Oxford in 1976. A number of small ones went into private collections but the larger ones were cumbersome and of necessity cheaply made, so they went onto the bonfire when the artist moved to Northern Ireland, along with a large quantity of her early work. Only one of the large Assassins survives, in the National Museum at Prilep, Macedonia (former Yugoslavia), but no adequate photograph could be found. A large number of drawings were done, following the methods developed for the ‘Dürer’ work but they were not done for specific pieces, rather as a continuation of the same body of work by different means. The residency at Prilep (July- August 1974) which arose from a meeting with a Yugoslav sculptor, was the first of a number of prolonged visits to Central and Eastern Europe as a ‘guest artist’ of several artist unions. A Hungarian artist reported back to his colleagues that ‘her work stood out from amongst that of her colleagues by reason of its concentration of thought and awareness. It became clear in the course of conversations with her, that in parallel with her work and in interaction with it she makes rational and remarkable experiments in visual systems’. (Muveszet 76/4 p.40)
Hungary and what we must now call `former’ Yugoslavia were places where I felt entirely at home. At Prilep we worked from an ancient monastery on a hill. In the town below was a casbah, and minarets, and to get colours you had to go to the stall in the market and then get them ground for you. To cut out the intricate shapes I needed I had to wait till the carpenters came back from Albania, and they cut out everything by hand with a giant fretsaw. At the same time the people we were meeting were part of the most modern European culture existing in very different circumstances. Through Bela Tilless I got to know the world of Hungarian constructivism, which continued, almost unbroken, the line of Moholy-Nagy and the Russians. Through the Latvian artist Djemma Skulme I first heard the music of Xenakis, and with her talked about the way the ancient can invade the modern, and vice-versa. All this has stayed with me. There were also some serious parties and banquets and speeches to survive. And an expedition into the mountains to visit some distiller-nuns.
â€˜Assassinâ€™ wood, polyester, paint 130x145cm.
Assassin drawing charcoal on paper 50x50cm. 1976
9 ‘Annals of the Machine’ was a project which consisted of sculptures in wood and metal, etchings and drawings; it extended over three years. It seems as if all the implements and tools that were hiding under Melancholia’s skirts, the saws, the hammers and the clamps, have crept out and begun to make their own self-portraits. The drawings and prints that accompany the sculpture are all `impossible’ representations; they could not be made. Their contradictions and impossibilities are resolved in material because solid stuff cannot be perceptually ambiguous. The doubtful and ambiguous relations that can take place on a surface become a very important part of the artist’s thinking as she began to abandon sculpture. There is nothing more expressive of our being than the implements and machines we make and use, since they have nothing of `Nature’ in them; they are direct expressions of understanding and need. The human creature is constantly present without ever appearing. All the ‘sawpieces’ were made in the same way, a tracing was laid over a large slab of wood and the saw followed the line until the slab was cut into pieces; the pieces were then reassembled, using every piece. None of the drawings or prints were made with a particular construction in mind, but all are part of the same family. There was a large exhibition of the ‘Annals’ at Bradford’s Industrial Museum in 1981. A small number of related sculptures were made in aluminium, one as a private commission for a garden.
During this time I was constantly returning from Eastern Europe or other places to a region that was disassembling itself. For 200 years Bradford had been the centre of a colossal textile industry; the giant mills were the landscape within which people lived. Now they were being stripped of their machinery and auctioned off, and the jobs with them. In that respect, the `Annals’ was a kind of elegy for the loss of that industry and for the direct and elementary encounter with materials that went with it.
‘Escapement’ iroko, part painted blue 85x110x50
‘Annals of the Machine’ charcoal on paper 44x36cm. 1981
10 The use of the etching press began with photo-montage images that were transferred onto copper. Barbara received a grant to enable her to work at a print studio in Leeds, run by Steven Barraclough; after that she built herself a series of presses and etching became an important part of her work. The physicality of etching appealed to her imaginaton, though she could rarely bring herself to make large editions.
It was around this time that I taught myself photography, bought a decent camera and established a properly equipped darkroom. The initial purpose was to record my work, but I very soon began using photography creatively This was stimulated by my visits to Hungary, where there was a very strong tradition of inventive camera-work. The artists I knew made a definite connection back to Moholy-Nagy and Rodchenko. I had a book on Rodchenko that I spent a long time studying. Here was photography being used, not for picture-making descriptive purposes, but for the transformation of the image into complex metaphors through processes and experiments, even before it is printed. From the very start I felt free to do with it what just I pleased, as an adjunct to print-making and drawing- through-collage and even sculpture, transposing from one medium into another. The juxtaposition and blending of images creates further layers of meaning, and the actual physical process has something of sculpture in it. Photography as descriptive representation is now completely part of the mega-visual spectacle of commerce, and serves it. But my aim was always: not to describe the world but to transform it.
‘Sawpiece’ II mahogany, part painted 30x30x30cm.
‘Annals of the Machine’ ‘Annals of the Machine’ etching IV ed 6 etching IV ed. 6 23x20cm. 23x20cm. 1981 1981
11 In 1976 she attended a symposium on photography organised at the Mestna Galerija in Koper - now in Slovenia. This was a gathering devoted to what they termed ‘interfered photography’ - which required an intervention between the negative and the print. Working in an area of marble-quarries she produced a quantity of work which mingled photography, painting and drawing. This approach was simplified and developed during her first year in Northern Ireland when, for want of a permanent studio, she spent a month at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. The work made there was exhibited during 1984 in the early programme of the Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast.
The quarries of Koper dig out the marble which is part of the same geological formation that goes right through the Alps as far as Carrara. I became fascinated with the traces of stone cutting that went back for centuries, the raw marking of work, the drill holes, the machines that sliced through rock like sliced bread. The whole mountain being an ‘annals of the machine’, with the human hand at work on a giant scale. I returned from Koper with a large collection of photographs, mostly details of quarry work. It took a long time to assimilate this experience. What I was most interested in was the juxtaposition of lens-based imagery with another world of drawn and painted work - a sort of montage in which I would be compressing one plane into another whilst keeping them separate - a spatial push-and-pull between figure and ground: `which would be which’ and `either/or’. This seems to me an essence of painting, without it actually being a painting. The use of metallic powders was a way of upsetting the expectations of the eye. Colour always creates and manipulates space, but the metallic surface reflects space back at you, like a real material, with a matching physical quality. Looking back with the hindsight of almost twenty years I can see myself spiralling back toward painting ...
‘Istria’ I photo, charcoal, pigment on paper 58x58cm. 1984
12 The work she did in Koper led to participation in group exhibitions and the award of silver and bronze medals in 1976 and`79; with invitations to spend time as a photographer on board the Yugoslavian fishing feet. She was working on deck, sorting fish and witnessing Titoist worker’s democracy in action.
My photographs of the fishing became part of another exhibition the following year. Whilst I was on board the fleet was voting on how the cooperative should spend its profits - on a new canning factory or a fleet of trucks. Some of the men I met had voted at the end of the war on which side and to which country they were to belong when peace broke out. One captain from Trieste had voted to join Italy, but he was then coopted into the Royal Navy and ordered to sail to Trieste and shell his own home-town. This was the sort of place it was, where you could be in one country at breakfast, another at lunch and a third for supper; yet you didn’t move and the place remained the same. You come to feel the importance of place very acutely in these circumstances, and it becomes (if you are sensitive to history and people’s experience) part of what you are making. There was a group of Polish photographers working beside me, and they were producing a kind of surrealist photography, in content if not in style. It was easy to see why. What most impressed itself upon me was the archaic quality of the Balkans - older than Rome or Venice, almost preclassical, yet blended into the most up-to-date and sophisticated culture. The one penetrating the other.
‘Istria’ V photo, charcoal, pigment on paper 58x58cm. 1984
13 Barbara Freeman’s first large exhibition in Ireland was at The Solomon Gallery, Dublin in 1984, where she exhibited a group of paintings under the general title of ‘The Simorgh’, following the Persian fable of the birds who set out to find the Greatest of all Birds and discovered that He was themselves, collectively. In these paintings she explored several kinds of pictorial space, from the deepest gulf to pure surface, following on from time spent looking carefully at Persian miniature paintings. The creation of space by the juxtaposition of colours, linear elements and different textures, in a sumptuous and highly decorative mode, was followed through thirty different paintings and studies, done in a spirit of pure playfulness.
What I found in Persian art was the relation between different sorts of surfaces and the spaces they create; metallic surfaces create a very different space from that created by colour. I found intense pleasure in doing these paintings. They were a sort of fancy. The fabulous and legendary nature of the story invited a playful approach; this time the place and the space I was in was purely imaginary; everything was turned into pure colour and pigment.
‘The Simorgh - Kauser’ mixed media on paper 70x70cm.
‘Studyfor for‘The The Simorgh’ Simorgh’ Study charcoal, pigment on paper paper charcoal, pigment on 70x50cm. 70x50cm. 1985 1985 private collection collection private
14 The series entitled ‘Two Cities; Roma/New York’ was first shown in London at Art Space Gallery, in 1986, and subsequently at the Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast. Most of the work was done at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. The thematic use of different locations followed from a series of visits and responses to the different cities; titles are always names rather than descriptions and they are usually based upon a precise memory of something seen, or done, or heard. However, the appearance of both cities is a definite feature of these paintings, The `Roma’ works allude to altarpieces, frames, architecture and drawing instruments; there is something baroque about them.
At the time I was preparing to go to the Orchard Gallery, Derry, for a residency; Declan McGonagle invited me to write a piece about my recent work , and I replied with a sort of open letter. One passage reads .....‘ I am trying to explore an area in which the reality to which the work refers is the problem of how we know our own lives. We do this through reconstruction of memory, through very precise sensations recalled, the state of your own body ........I am dealing with problems of representation. I am looking for visual forms that are representational without being pictorial. I wouldn’t dream of painting a leg or a foot! I want something existentially based in what the world feels like rather than what it looks like. Painting is a material art; its about sensation in a way that literature can never be - about the movement of the hand as well as of the eye. About our sense of location or movement in space. Walking across the Borghese Gardens in the rain, or meeting a lone skater whilst crossing Central Park. They are initiated by exact memories and minute particulars. But the process of painting demands degrees of generalisation in order to make it communicable .... a formal language needs the continuous contact with particulars to keep it in tune, It’s in the tension between the general and the particular that you know your own life. Am I sharing or am I telling? There is a moment in one of Beckett’s plays where someone is buried in sand up to the neck, and she keeps on worrying about her toothpaste running out.!
‘Galilei’ mixed media on paper 63x91cm.
‘Two Cities - Roma - New York’ ‘Two Cities - Roma - New York’ drawing for Roma drawing for Roma mixed media on paper mixed media on paper 66x56cm. 66x56cm. 1986 1986
15 Another ‘Roma’ drawing, in which seeing and seeing as become jumbled up. The artist spent many hours looking at church ceilings which cohere pictorially from one angle, but disintegrate completely from another in such a way as to challenge our sense of the ‘real’ architectural space. Columns and cornices seem to fly apart, domes dissolve before your very eyes. The paintings, on the other hand are altogether more stable; the space of the paintings is disrupted by real collaged elements and geometric, flat, formations.
‘I think a great deal about modern music, and tend to look to it for principles of construction. How, for instance, one holds together utterly different elements - as in Stockhausen’s ‘Hymnen’ where some of the musical material is given, in the sense of being already well-known, and yet it is embedded in a completely abstract structure, so that fragments of the ‘real’ world emerge out of waves of sound and dissolve back into them .....This reminds me of what I find in Giotto, who has been in my mind almost continuously. There is an intense particularity of detail - of dramatic detail - set in a frame of generalised architecture and ideal drapery. I am thinking, for instance, of the scenes of the life of St.Francis such as ‘The Renunciation of Worldly Goods’, in which there are two structures at work - a structure of abstract form and space as set out by the architecture, and within that the very precise drama of gestures and glances - a structure of signals.’
‘Borghese’ mixed media on paper 63x92cm.
‘Two Cities - Roma - New York’ drawing for Roma mixed media on paper 66x56cm. 1986
16 In 1986 the artist lived for some months in Manhattan on Upper Broadway, when her husband had a fellowship at Columbia University. She spent time taking photographs from her twelth floor one-room apartment window and in the streets below. These photographs were subsequently printed onto an emulsion painted freely, even calligraphically, over water-colour paper to form a `notebook’ of images which in turn fed into paintings such as ‘Grand Central’.
Continuing excerpts.... ‘It is very difficult to say what`influences’ are at work. Over the years one has admired and learnt from many different artists for many different reasons, and one makes references and connections which to someone else might seem quite arbitrary, but which are mostly to do with the problems faced at certain moments in the working process. I think there is a general influence of constructivism, not so much as a style, but for the example it gives of a willingness to tackle any medium, and the attitude to reality that goes with it. If one begins with the assumption of a non-figurative art, one is still not free of the problem of representation; of how things map back onto the world.’
‘Grand Central’ mixed media on paper 76x82 cm,
‘Two - Roma - New York York’ ‘TwoCities Cities - Roma - New Photo from a a Manhattan photowork from photowork from a Manhattan Manhattan Notebook Note book
Notebook 34x28 34x28cm. 1986 1986
17 Drawings and photoworks from this time, and the associated paintings, nearly always work through methods of cancellation, misdirection and ambiguity. An apparently simple image is obliterated, but not quite, by second, third and fourth thoughts. The conventional pictorial rectangle, as well as the cone of vision, is cut apart and reassembled. Nothing is asserted without being doubted, and the doubt becomes the assertion which is then questioned. Drawings like this, integrating gesture with photograph, are closely correlated with the artist’s pursuit of ‘negative capability’, the faculty of feeling at home in conditions of doubt and chronic insecurity. Different ways of knowing the world are combined into a single way.
‘If I sometimes use photography it is because it provides a residue of picturing which anchors the work in some actuality that anyone can identify; in this case a very smokey rainy version of New York. The reason I no longer make sculpture is that I can see no way of bringing doubt and irony into three-dimensional form: sculpture is too assertive for this sort of exploration....’
‘Broadway’ mixed media on paper 76x82cm.
‘Two York’ ‘Two Cities Cities -- Roma Roma New - New York’ drawing for ‘New York’ drawing for New York mixed mixedmedia mediaon onpaper paper 58x58cm. 58x58cm. 1986
18 Barbara Freeman has not been an artist to whom biography, overt or covert, has ever been an aim; this is not work that carries a heart upon its sleeve. But the death of her mother occasioned a huge body of work that all relates, in diverse and occluded ways, to the body. However, it would be a mistake to regard this work as being wholly concerned with mourning and mother-daughter imagery. She had been planning a body of work about Belfast and its sufferings and this was now subsumed into a larger series about fragility and death. The exhibition entitled ‘De Humani Corporis Fabrica’ consisted of paintings and drawings in which drawing and painting are intermingled, because drawings, tracings and textures on paper have been torn apart and then embedded into the surface (of paper or canvas) between layers of colour. The drawings that relate to the painting ‘Medulla’ are already full of visual puns and immured figures which in this example begin to resemble an homunculus, who reappears in the final painting as part of a reversed ‘madonna and child’ image. The artist had also collected a small library of classical psychoanalytic texts, notably the essays and articles by Julia Kristeva, along with a number of anatomical atlases, ancient and modern, that have found their way into the drawing. This exhibition was seen at the Arts Council Gallery in Belfast, The Butler Gallery in Kilkenny, Art Space Gallery in London, and the Hart Gallery, Nottingham. There was a substantial catalogue with pieces by Fionna Barber, Leland Bardwell and an interview by the composer Kevin Volans.
I have some difficulty speaking about this work. I had been rereading Kristeva’s text in which she analyses the Stabat Mater, both from a psychoanalytic/feminist point of view and simultaneously (using a different typography) her own experience of remembering her mother. There are parts of that text that have an uncanny relation to what I made, which I find rather scary. My relation to my mother had always been...shall we say fraught. My own relationship with my daughter has been curtailed. People were being blown to pieces in the streets of Belfast so that the place I was in (always important to what I did) was a site of horrors. And then I had taken my mother out of hospital so she could die at home, and looked after her as though she had become a child again. Kevin elicited some fairly careful remarks that I’d like to repeat here. `It’s almost like discovering memories I thought I had not got. You discover them as you paint. There are some quite peculiar elements that go on; for some reason you have a notion there should be a bit of red there, and you can’t describe to anyone why that should be...and after a while you realise you are painting your mother’s counterpane as well as, of course, blood. All sorts of analogies come in with just putting a colour down.’
‘Medulla’ acrylic on canvas 164x124cm. private collection
‘De Humani ‘De CorporisFabrica’ Fabrica’ HumanCorporis ‘De Humani i C ‘De Humani Corporis o r p d o rawing III ris FFabrica’ drawing abrica’ drawing IIII I I drawing III ccharcoal h on paper a r c o a charcoal l oon n paper charcoal per 776x50cm. 6 x50cm. onpapaper 76x50cm. 76x50cm. 11990 91990 90 1990
19 The drawings rarely relate directly to a particular painting, but all together form a family of images that, like any family, is not always in agreement. The larger drawings have a life that is all their own and some have a tapestry-like scale and character. Some of the paintings are sonorously coloured, like altar - pieces. All the titles refer to parts of the body, but ‘Pleura’ is making some kind of pun between the lining of the lungs and the shedding of tears (pleurer). This anatomical theme continued for the next few years, in prints, other paintings and an installation; she has also found herself working at the Royal Hospitals in Belfast, on a clinical project concerned with the visualisation of pain.
A fair amount has been written about these paintings and drawings which say it better than I think I can. Fionna Barber links them with Freud’s idea of the ‘dreamwork’ in which `the impulses and desires of the unconscious mind....are subject to processes of displacement and condensation whereby initial emotions and impulses become repressed and transformed.’ The sequence from displacement through to transformation seems to me absolutely fine, but I was not looking for anything `therapeutic.’ Wendy Beckett, writing in `Contemporary Art’ ( (Autumn 1992), saw what I was doing in terms of the Christian drama of incarnation. ‘`What it means to be human, to live in a body and know that one day it will die....To have a body is a mystery of such significance that it is as well we can only approach it by signs and symbols’. I’d rather stay with what I said to Kevin Volans...`When I’m painting, the painting seems an incredible mess until a certain type of calmness comes over it. The structure becomes stronger and I recognise it as something I wanted to make... I feel that what I do is like an open book - nothing is hidden. I hope that nothing is pretence. It’s all there. Its what I do....One mustn’t always succumb to the surface of the world out there. After all, most people experience life in very similar ways.’
‘Pleura’ ‘Vertex’ acrylic acrylicon oncanvas canvas 80x92cm. 106x106cm. private privatecollection collection
‘DeHumani Humani Corporis Corporis Fabrica’ Fabrica’ ‘De Humani Corporis Fabrica’ ‘De ‘De Humani Corporis Fabrica’ drawing V drawing VI charcoal on paper drawing drawing V 76x76cm. charcoal oncharcoal paper on paper charcoal on paper 100x76cm. 1990 100x76cm. 100x76cm. 1990 private collection 1990 1990
20 What returns in both the drawings and paintings is not only the repressed Mother, but the repressed practice of life drawing, which seems to have been inverted; this is a life drawing done from within. Moreover, it is not on the paper, but in it each sheet is made from numerous drawings on tissue which was then laminated together into a new substance not unlike vellum or mummified skin. The drawings contain tracings of human parts, bones and organs. We are not far from the dissection theatre and the autopsy room. In paintings such as ‘Vertex’ we touch on extreme states of mind.
I feel that a lot of this work takes place in a very enclosed and intense space, in which memory sensations from the unconscious surface in a painterly mode, in a kind of indirect figuration. This is figurative painting in an estranged form. It comes from what Kristeva calls the pre-linguistic, the ‘chora’ which precedes propositions about the world. The actual paper is itself a metaphor in tactile form; a form of understanding of death which could not be produced in ordinary language. How far I knew this at the time I cannot really say. You don’t always understand what you are doing. Certainly I don’t. But I know that ‘Vertex’ was something about extreme fatigue and nervous stress, and about the trance-like condition you reach when you are at the end of your tether. Fionna writes that the streaks and lines that float over the deeply coloured surface`suggest the impulses of neural activity, physiological processes of which we are obviously not conscious. Here, however, they are singled out and given a momentary fixity.’ I will go with that. The concept of the `chora’ seems to me very important in connection with any sort of art. Kristeva arrived at it by way of Mallarmé, Joyce and the idea of poetic language, in which the meaning is kinetic, vocal and rhythmic, and precedes figuration; it is`the place where the subject is both generated and negated’. From the chora all non-verbal signifying systems are constructed.
‘Vertex’ ‘Pleura’ acrylic on on canvas canvas acrylic 106x106cm. 80x92cm. private collection collection private
‘De Humani Corporis Fabrica’ ‘De Humani Corporis Fabrica’ drawing I charcoal on paper drawing V charcoal on paper 76x76cm. 100x76cm. 1990 1990 private collection
21 ‘The Anatomy Lesson’ was an exhibition seen at the Hart Gallery, London during 1992, and at the Fenderesky Gallery later. John Hart, himself a doctor, had lent Barbara a ninteenth-century anatomical atlas which included pop-up and fold-out diagrams of the body. This book, its text, its images and its method of instruction was of immense interest to her because it combined at least three ways of knowing and explaining. It formed a valuable iconographical source for drawings, prints and paintings. Following her usual habit, the artist was writing down sentences ( her own and others) and pinning them on her studio wall. These included an astronaut`s report on returning to earth ... ‘For a few minutes after landing I could feel the weight of the muscles and bones inside my arm. I could feel my brain inside my skull.’... and her own questions... ‘Can we know the body only through what it feels like, or must it be represented before we can know it? If so, how is it to be represented, and by whom?’ The result was a body of very ‘impure’ work, partly figurative/diagrammatic and partly abstract, mixing the gesture with the photograph, and fixing shallow relief forms onto the surface of the paintings. These different elements were all, in a sense, negations of the others, and the intermingling was itself a metaphor for the richness of visual languages which bodily experience demands for its full expression.
The paintings for ‘The Anatomy Lesson’ were all on gesso coated boards, and the elements that I placed on them were also in gesso. What I had seen in the Balkans were icon paintings in which, or rather on which were sheets of wrought silver work signifying such pictorial conventions as halos. My real (i.e. non-pictorial) elements were all based on bone sections and fragments. They were strange free-wheeling pieces that did not always work, as if I was attempting to bring in another dimension. Actually I was looking for a mixed visual language because that is what is needed to express an understanding of the body in all its complexity, which includes things that are ordinarily considered unpictureable, such as weight, buoyancy and other resolutely non-visual experiences. Including perhaps even time. I remember looking at heat maps of the body ( and of the universe) in which the colour chosen was completely arbitrary. You have to work on the edges of a language if you want to expand it. I was quarrying another visual language in order to expand my own. There is an essay `Toward and Impure Poetry’ by Pablo Neruda, .... ‘It is good, at certain hours of the day and night, to look closely at the world of objects at rest .... The used surfaces of things, the wear that the hands give to things...the confused impurity of the human condition, the massing of things, the use and disuse of substances, footprints and fingerprints, the abiding presence of the human engulfing all artefacts, inside and out .... let that be the poetry we search for.’
‘If She Be A Wall’ mixed media on board 107x 122cm,
‘The Anatomy Lesson’ drawing VI mixed media on paper 71x53cm. 1992
22 23 The Thisexhibition exhibitionisisdedicated dedicatedto tomy mydaughter, daughter,Sophia SophiaJane’ Jane’. The catalogue catalogue begins begins ‘‘This In contemporary terms this enquiry into the representation of the body is most fruitfully conducted in terms of feminist theory, and it is unlikely that work such as this would have taken its present form without that theory. But this artist also brings to bear an historical understanding. In the course of the past three years she has immersed herself in anatomical illustration of all ages, in the development of surgeon’s models, in the history of dissection as a practice and as a public performance. These are all systems of representation and display, with their own evolving assumptions and ideological force, and all have their origins in the zone of intersection between early medicine and the arts of painting and sculpture. It is also relevant that the artist spent several years supporting her studies by a combination of nursing and figurative model-making, that she knows what the world looks like through an electron microscope. More keenly, that her daughter is profoundly handicapped, with uncertain and altering levels of consciousness. The cut out pieces are not additions; they were there well before I started to paint and they went through many changes of These These have been approached several shapequestions and texturre...wood rubbed downdown till it’s bone.roads. I wanted to incorporate fragments of images whose original intention was cut This objective enquiry has andbeen impersonal. The down way inseveral whichthere roads. the body is reprresented always been a went vital theme; is it to be repreThe out pieces are approached not additions; they were well before I startedhas to paint and they throughhow many changes of ‘The bodily experience is gap not visual and cannot pictured devious routes. The most direct displacement of sented andtexturre...wood by whom. The between representation reality is very by poignant, especially so for women. I sed all these mashape and rubbed down tillitit’s bone.be I and wanted to except incorporate fragments of images whose original intention was this experience into the materials of art has to be ‘non-figurative’. A more reflective further development may bring in other terials This bodily and processes experience toishelp not me visual find and the itmetaphors cannot be that pictured are already except by within devious materials routes. and the processes. most direct I remember displacement anrepresented exploded of this objective and impersonal. The way in which the body is reprresented has always been a vital theme; how is it to be elements which denote, or a least allude to, what wereality think we know ( ie. recognise ), some system of representation needs to be skull, experience into apart; thegap materials cut-outs of ofrepresentation art bodies has folded to be ‘non-figurative’. into books. How Amany more days reflective did I spend further casting development pieces may myall bring body in materials other wax - eleand and byscrewed whom. The between and is very poignant, especially so for women. Iof sed these brought into play.’ thenprocesses ments scrapping which denote, Looking atfind least atallude the Sistine to, what Chapel think and seeing we know real( architecture i.e. recognise); mixed somewith system painted of representation architecture ad needs painted to be and tothem? help or me the metaphors thatwe are already within materials and processes. I remember an exploded skull, figures mixed brought into play. with paintings of sculpted Objects different mixed. Withe respect prints, a photographic screwed apart; cut-outs of bodies foldedfigures. into books. Howofmany days status, did I spend casting pieces of to mythe body in wax - and then element isthem? not pictorial inat the same sense. The and image slidesreal in on the surface; a different experience of spaceadis painted involved, one scrapping Looking the Sistine Chapel seeing architecture mixed with painted architecture figures Iyou think can this also explains see in Giotto thesculpted ‘impure’ or Rauschenberg. natureObjects ofMy these paintings have and often prints. had a The sense mixture of space of different that pictorial elements, without partly acyually figumixed with paintings of figures. of paintings different status, mixed. Withe respect to theisprints, a photographic elebeingispictures; rative, partly abstract, the flat space thesame juxtaposition of classical abstraction ofimage the modelled doesn’t and permit full figure/ground with the painted, relations, or theof sincethe gestural body with relationships the photoment not pictorial in the sense. The slides in on thecut-out surface; a different experience space is involved, one you create graphic. spaceor they are in; the figure is alwayshave in the ground/space. there be a deep figure/ground space that is can alsothe seedeep in Giotto Rauschenberg. My paintings often had a senseCan of space that is pictorial without acyually being not also figurative in a of regressive These are somepermit of thefull ideas and questionsrelations, with which I was dealing at that time. pictures; the flat space classicalsense. abstraction doesn’t figure/ground sincethe body relationships create the deep space they are in; the figure is always in the ground/space. Can there be a deep figure/ground space that is not also figurative in a regressive sense. These are some of the ideas and questions with which I was dealing at that time. I think this accounts for the ‘impure’ nature of these paintings and prints - the mixture of elements, partly figurative, partly abstract, the juxtaposition of the modelled and the cut-out, the painted, or the gestural with the photographic. The intensity of the colour is achieved through the use of raw pigments and glazes, mixed with graphite, carborundum powder, tissue etc., each medium giving a sparkle to the others. The colours are not ‘natural’, they do not model or define form through light, nor do they function symbolically. Just as in illustrations of outer space conventions of limitlessness and immense speed have to be expressed by graphic means, or as in heat maps of the universe temperature has to be rendered into tone, so in the inner space of the body colour sensations have to express weight, lightness, pain and pleasure.
‘Skull’ mixed media on board 41x36cm.
‘ The Anatomy Anatomy Lesson’ Lesson’ ‘The Photoetching etchings I photo ed.10 24 x18cm. 24x18cm. 1992 1992
23 ‘The Anatomy Theatre’ was an installation shown at The Orchard Gallery, Derry, in August of 1992. It consisted of a set of eleven large drawing/collage works, and an automated lantern-slide lecture of a deliberately archaic kind which rehearsed the history of anatomical drawing from the most ancient times to the present day using the artist’s considerable collection of visual material. One hundred slides were projected onto the floor of the gallery. The whirring of the automatic projector provided a sound element - completely unlike the silence of a digital presentation such as one would use today. It gave a rhythm and sense of physical effort to the whole experience. This was Freeman’s first gallery installation and it was commissioned specially for a medical conference that was taking place in the city at the same time. A main concern all through this work was the tension between how the body is represented and how it is felt. I spent an enormous amount of time looking at intricate diagrams and models of lungs and nerves - the way things look the same, tiny or large; slices of brain that look like geology, cells like landscapes, a section of bone like a rock face. Anatomical atlasses, like botanic illustration, are the places where you see drawing at work. I had the drawings suspended from the ceiling on threads, and they swung and swayed gently; and the light of the lamp altered their colours. They were like medical charts but they expressed the subjected feel of the body rather than the objective look. It was important that the images were projected downward onto the floor of the gallery, as if the floor was an operating table, or even a mortuary slab.The whirring projector was very much a part of this experience; something like a heartbeat. I always had in the back of my mind the real anatomy theatres of the past, where people paid to watch the show as in a music hall. They were a definite type of architecture; there is a nineteenth century one in The Royal Hospital, which has hardly altered in design since the 17th century theatre in Leiden.
‘Marsyas’ oil on board 188x215cm ‘Marsyas’ private collection oil on board 188x215cm. private collection
‘The Anatomy Theatre’ ‘The Anatomy Theatre’ ‘The Anatomy Anatomy theatre’ Theatre’ ‘The Anatomy Theatre ‘Marsyas’ ‘The Anatomy Lesson’ ‘The Anatomy Theatre’ ‘The Anatomy Theatre’ ‘The Anatomy Theatre’ charts V and IX drawing V and IX charts V and andIX IXThea‘The Anatomy Anatomy Theatre’ drawing Vand and IX ‘The Anatomy Theatre’ ‘The carborundum print drawing and IX charts VVand IX charts V IX drawing V and IX mixed media on paper mixedmixed media on paper media media on on board paper charts V and IX tre’ mixed media on paper charts V andon IXon ed. 6 media mixed paper mixed mewdia pamixed media on paper mixed media on paper 146x102cm. 146x102cm. 146x102cm. 146x102 charts and IX mixed V media on paper paper 146x102cm.each mixed media on 45x88cm. 146x102cm. per 146x102cm. 146x102cm. 1992 mixed media 1992 on pa1992 1992 146x102cm. 1992 1992 146x102cm 1994 1992 104x102cm.
24 ‘Marsyas V’ was one of a series of prints with that title using a variety of techniques, and a large painting. Marsyas was the legendary poet of classical times who challenged Apollo to a singing competition. This was not a good idea, because when he was judged the winner, Apollo had him flayed alive. He is also the unacknowledge hero of Vesalius; he appears in the ‘De Humani Corporis Fabrica’ of 1543 as a secular St. Sebastian, and in a late Titian where his skin is being peeled away by various satyrs. Not surprisingly he has become a patron martyr for artists....
It’s about skin. Why say more.
‘Marsyas’ oil on board 188x215cm. private collection
‘Marsyas’ carborundum print ed. 6 45x88cm. 1994
25 In 1994 the artist spent four months at the British School in Rome, as an Abbey Fellow. At that time the print workshop was largely neglected, and many old rusted and eroded plates could be found. She began printing off found sheets of steel and off whatever surface would take ink and pressure. Some plates were worked up roughly with gesso and glue, without any intention to make editions. Some were repeated to make a small, but varied, edition of up to 5 images under the general title of ‘Roma’. All investigate the zone of activity between the foreseen and the circumstantial. The appeal of such a method,or lack of method, seemed to follow from the daily experience of the city, in which every thing, from etching plates to buildings and indeed the entire fabric has been eroded, kicked about haphazardly, and acquired a dense patina of age and multiple use.
Rome is full of ancient past, not just the Coliseum and the Pantheon; you find bits of ruins in couryards and gardens, even in the corners of restaurants. The images became a metaphor for the fabric of the city, and I accepted the surfaces as given, in the spirit of John Cage and his use of indeterminacy and chance. The inking up of the plates gave me a sense of improvisation and a new air of freedom. I was looking for a way in which I could bring into my work the understanding I had gained from music. I had no desire at all to imitate musical form or pretend that my reaction to this or that chord was anything other than personal. But I had begun to see musical structures as offering a very rich repertoire of ways of making. The varieties of musical symmetry, for example, translate into visual symmetry very easily; as do ideas of randomness. The technical vocabulary of contemporary music is very largely borrowed from visual art - notions of ‘colour’ and `chromaticism’, and distinctly late modernist ideas of `stochastic’ methods, `blocks’ and `walls’ of sound. My exploration of `found’ surfaces was definitely related to this. I had been reading `A Year from Monday’ and other texts ever since I had been in Washington. I had also made some collage texts of this kind. Above all I was hoping to rediscover a way out of personal and biographical experience as a creative impetus.
‘Roma’ I etching ed. 5 67x54cm. 1995
‘Roma 1V’ was a found plate with alterations in gesso. Barbara’s discovery that gesso makes a good ground for etching, that can be used many times over, encouraged her to make several prints in mixed and not easily controlled media. Gesso could squashed between two plates which, taken apart, produce inverted images of each other. Bitumen, for example, could be set on fire....
I made friends with the archaeologists and historians and went to see `unknown’ Caravaggios in obscure palaces with Helen Langdon, who was just then completing her biography of Caravaggio, or I went olive gathering with some nuns in the mountains. I went to Ostia to look at the Roman mosaics of marine creatures. I was lucky enough to see Giotto’s chapel at Assisi before the earthquake... and to see the chapel with a Cimabue mural. The ancient architecture at Assisi was pretty much what we had lived in, at Prilep.
‘Roma’ IV ‘Roma’IV IV ‘Roma’ etching ed.6 etching ed.6 etching ed. 5 66x49cm. 66x49cm. 66x49cm. 1995 1995 1995
This was a period of intensely hard work and creativity, sometimes with two separate solo exhibitions running simultaneously in Belfast, London or Dublin. ‘Gong’ was another set of prints, exploiting the meeting of the unforeseen and the planned. The plate in this case was a much rusted lid of an oil drum, found on waste ground, flattened in a press, and then worked upon from the centre outwards in gesso. There were four subsequent images, in which the central roundel grew larger until the rusted part was reduced to a fringe. A very heavy paper was used, creating a deep plate mark. The whole set was exhibited as part of the ‘In Parallel’ exhibition at the Ormeau Baths Gallery in 1998, as part of the ‘Sonorities Festival of New Music’. (see Plate 36).
This and the next plate, though they do not look alike, were made with similar principles in mind. Nicola Lefanu remarked, in the course of our collaboration for the `In Parallel’ exhibition of the importance of ‘letting things happen’, and she remembers me speaking of exploring ‘that which is willed, that which is unwilled’. What this meant in practice was trying different ways of inking up the same plate and working on the surface with pastels in bursts of quick improvisation.
‘Gong’ etching ed. 4 62x62cm. 1997
28 The found and random surfaces that were exploited after the artist’s visit to Rome set in motion a great number of different printing activites which exploited several barely controllable techniques with the deliberate intention of using as little intention as possible and accepting the accidental. Carborundum plates were treated with fire, smoke or trails of gesso. Colour might be spread randomly. ‘ Fire’ and ‘Smoke’ were two such prints. `Editioning` was limited to small numbers or not even attempted. A quantity of this work was exhibited at The Original Print Gallery, Dublin during 1999 at the same time as the Xenakis exhibition was being shown at The Rubicon Gallery (Plates 31 and 32).
It was when I was working on these carborundum prints that I realized fully how much could be done in the inking up of a plate and the quality of improvisation you could bring to bear. Of course, practice means that you become skilled at the accidental and know how to encourage it. Then you have to stop doing it. These ideas and methods of composition occupied me for a long time, but not exclusively. I was doing other work too, and it is hard to make a good chronology for it. I spent my Sundays at the Seacourt Print Workshop in Bangor when the studios were very quiet.
‘Smoke’ carborundum print 72x58cm.
‘Fire’ carborundum print 72x58cm. 2002
29 I was invited to do something for the Waterfront Hall by Sean Doran who was directing the Belfast Festival that year; and I had several ideas related to maps of Belfast and the idea of excavation, following my time in Rome. Maps of the older city were to have been part of this, because I had found drawers full of them in the old gas-works building on Ormeau Road, where I had my studio. I was also to include plans of the Waterfront Hall itself, which had just been completed. This looked like an optimistic time. Then came the Omagh bomb. I just could not see any way to work through that, until Liz MacManus (T.D.) took me aside and made me see that it is exactly at such times that hope becomes imperative and that one must never succumb to despair. And that very same day I remembered a scene from the film ‘City Hall‘ in which Al Pacino as the Mayor of New York gives an impassioned speech at the funeral of a child killed in gang warfare, in which he quotes from Pericles’ oration over the Athenian dead. Someone found me the original and I have taken some sentences from it. ‘Our government is not copied from those of our neighbours; we are an example to them rather than they to us. Our constitution is named a democracy, because it is in the hands not of the few but of the many. Our laws secure equal justice for all in their private dispute, and our public opinion welcomes and honours talent in every branch of achievement, not for any sectional reason but on grounds of excellence alone. And as we give free play to all in our public life, so we carry the same spirit into our daily relations with one another. We have no black looks or angry words for our neighbour if he enjoys himself in his own way. Our citizens attend to both public and private duties, and do not allow absorption in their own various affairs to interfere with their knowledge of the city’s. We differ from other states in regarding the man who holds aloof from public life not as `quiet’, but as useless. Yet ours is no workaday city only. No other provides so many recreations for the spirit - contest and sacrifices all the year round, and beauty in our public buildings to cheer the heart and delight the eye by day. We are lovers of beauty without extravagance and of wisdom without unmanliness. Moreover the city is so large and powerful that all the goods of the earth flow into her. The gates of our city are flung open to the world. No other city of the present day goes out to her ordeal greater than ever men dreamed. Fix your eyes on the greatness of the city as you have it before you day by day, fall in love with her, and when you feel her great, remember that this greatness was won by men with courage, with knowledge of their duty, and with a sense of honour in action. And now, when you have finished your lamentations, let each of you depart.’
This work has been seen at The Waterfront Hall, and at the Convention Centre, Seattle. There were 14 drawings in all.
‘The City Dreaming’ ‘The City Dreaming’ ‘The ‘TheCity CityDreaming’ Dreaming’ mixed media on paper pamixed media on paper mixed mixedmedia mediaon onpaper paper 218x150cm. each per 218x150cm. 218x150cm. 218x150cm. each 1998 218x150cm. each 1998 1998 1998
The family of paintings under the general title of ‘Catalogue d’Oiseaux’ (1995) is a direct reference to Messiaen’s musical works of the same title - a collection of short pieces for piano, each referring to a particular birdsong and in fact scored directly from the sounds of birds in nature at specific times of day. The composer had a rigourous approach to this appealing subject matter and developed very definite ideas about colour/sound/time relations and the phenomenon of synaethesia. The artist makes no such claims, and her catalogue is a set of variations on some simple compositional motifs, which include squares, chevrons and parallel marks made by dragging combs of different kinds through the paint, which reveals the layer underneath. The paintings, being composed from several layers of transparent paints and glazes, acquired a richly coloured surface and sumptuous texture. In the course of this process the outlines of shapes or motifs become lost and replaced by a mist of colour. It was not clear what were figures and what were grounds. The ‘Catalogue d Oiseaux’ was first shown at the Fenderesky Gallery in Belfast .
In Rome I spent time thinking about the transcription of musical form into visual form, and about the idea of specificity in both. Back in Belfast I was so moved by Messiaen’s keyboard music that I wanted to do something equally precise without actually trying to imitate it in another medium, nor in any form of equivalence, but in the translation of musical structures in time into visual structures in space. These little paintings were done in a spirit of play, in which colour became much more important than the form. In fact the forms are dissolving under the build up of many glazes; they become fragile. And why contemporary music? Because that is the situation we are in. We live in our own time, not just in the head, but in the fingers and the senses too. I also think I am working in a tradition - about 150 years old - which evolved to cope with what happens when you abandon literary narrative and text as subject matter. Was what Malevich describes as `the supremacy of pure feeling’ enough to base a painting on? Music, and especially contemporary music provides a set of practices and procedures which offers a respite from the anxiety the question provokes. But like any serious question the answer lies in posing the question in the terms it can be answered, in this case the practice of painting. And why do I want to pose it as a problem in history - in other words with a sense of what is necessary to be done at a particular time (this time). And Cage had a good answer for that - `In order to thicken the plot!’
‘Catalogue d’Oiseaux’ oil on paper 44x48cm. 1996 private collection
31 31 In 1999 the artist artistshowed showed aa number number of of paintings paintings and and prints prints at atThe TheRubicon Rubicon Gallery, Gallery, Dublin. Dublin. All All were were related relatedthe thework work of of In 1999 the In 1999 the artist showed a now number of paintings and prints at The Rubicon Gallery, Dublin. All werebooks, relatedwhich to theincluded work of Iannis Xenakis. She had by a very large collection of recorded music and kept by her several Iannis Xenakis. She had by now aa very large collection of recorded music and kept by her several books, which included Iannis Xenakis. Sheon had by nowShe very largethis collection music and kept by times. her several books, which included Nouritza Matossion Xenakis. has read analysisof ofrecorded compositional method many The exhibition included a set Nouritza Matossion on Xenakis. Nouritza Matossion on Xenakis. She has read this analysis of compositional method many times. The exhibition included a set of 5 different etchings entitled ‘Psappha’ in an edition of 5. She used a plate she had used many times before, with the addition ‘Psappha’ in an edition of 5. She used a plate she had used many times before, with the add of 5 different etchings entitled ‘Psappha’ each in an edition of 5. She used a steel plate she had used many times before, with the of two small cut-out pieces. When the plate had been inked she drew across it very freely with a wax crayon (on this occassion, addition of several small cut-out pieces. When the plate had been inked she drew across it very freely with a wax crayon (on this red). of ition The twocrayon small left cut-out its pieces. track, now When in the red plate and now had in been no inked colourshe at drew all, thus across enhancing it very freely both with colour a wax andcrayon texture. (onThe this use occasof occassion, red).crayon The crayon left itstriangle track,innow and inand no colour all,enhancing thus enhancing both colour and texture. primary colours spirals back the paintings of Plates 6 7atand forward to the most work. sion, red). The left itsto track, now red in andred now innow no colour all, at thus both recent colour and texture. The useThe of use of primary colours spirals back to the triangle paintings of Plates 6 and 7 and forward to the most recent work
primary colours spirals back to the triangle paintings of Plates 6 and 7 and forward to the most recent work.
I had spent many hours with the diagrammatic graphs from which Xenakis had derived the instrumental score of the piece I‘Metastaseis’, had spent many with the graphs from name whichwith Xenakis hadof derived the instrumental score of the or piece andhours I worked outdiagrammatic my painting of the same the aid somethimg similar - a set of rulers di I had spent looking at graphs fromof which had the instrumental score of ‘Metastaseis’, and hours I worked mythe painting the same name with theXenakis aid of something similar, a set rulers or grams whichmany determined the out density of diagrammatic colour of and juxtapositions events across the derived surface, or along the of edges. Here the piece ‘Metastaseis’, and I worked out my painting of the same name with the aid of somethimg similar a set of diagrams determined the density of colour and juxtapositions of events across the surface, or along the edges. Here are three which of them. rulers or of diagrams which determined the density of colour and juxtapositions of events across the surface, or along the are three them. I had spent many hours with the diagrammatic graphs from which Xenakis had derived the instrumental score of the piece edges. Here is one of them. ‘Metastaseis’, and I worked out my painting of the same name with the aid of somethimg similar - a set of rulers or diagrams illustr. which determined the density of colour and juxtapositions of events across the surface, or along the edges. Here is one of them. illustr. Combining two or more together produced something very complicated but orderly. As in a lot of musical composition of the time, a great deal of the work had to be done before you actually touched the painting. This makes it sound very calculated, but the choice of this approach was intuitive and actually allowed spontaneity. There is no real hierarchy of shape , and so no narrative of spaces through which the eye must move. Once you get going you have real improvisational freedom. But the form produced is still the logical result of the process. The prints that followed are, I feel, something like epitomes or summaries of this - everything is there, but in a severely reduced form - colour, shape, surface detail, outline ; figure/ground relations of the Combining two or more together produced something very complicated but orderly. Just as in a lot of musical composition starkest kind I could manage. But the effect of them, there on the paper, is anything but stark or reduced. of the time, a great deal of the work had to be done before you actually touched the painting. This makes it sound very calculated,two but or themore choice of this approach intuitive very and actually encouraged spontaneity. no real composition hierarchy of Combining together producedwas something complicated but orderly. As in aThere lot ofismusical shape , and so no narrative of spaces through which the eye must move. Once you get going you have real improvisational of the time, a great deal of the work had to be done before you actually touched the painting. This makes it sound very freedom. But produced is still thewas logical resultand of the process. The prints that followed feel,hierarchy something calculated, but the form choice of this approach intuitive actually allowed spontaneity. There isare, no Ireal of like epitomes or summaries of this everything is there, but in a severely reduced form colour, shape, surface detail, shape, and so no narrative of spaces through which the eye must move. Once you get going you have real improvisational outline; figure/ground relations of kind I could manage. ButThe the prints effect that of them, thereare, on the paper, is anything freedom. But the form produced is the stillstarkest the logical result of the process. followed I feel, something like but stark or reduced. epitomes or summaries of this - everything is there, but in a severely reduced form - colour, shape, surface detail, outline; figure/ground relations of the starkest kind I could manage. But the effect of them, there on the paper, is anything but stark or reduced.
‘Metastaseis’ oil on board 88x88cm.
‘Psappha’ ‘Psappha’ etching ed. 5 etching ed. 5 60x60cm. 60x60cm. 1999 1999
32 Among the other works shown at The Rubicon Gallery were eight new pieces called ‘Nuits’ which were made in gesso on a heavy paper. The stand oil used as a medium for the gesso created a very strong but flexible surface which was then drawn upon. Xenakis ‘Nuits’ had been written as a musical protest against the colonels who had seized power in Greece and you can interpret it as a determination to express the ancient and lasting qualities of the landscape and the culture, against trashy conservatism of any kind.
There were several ideas going on when I was making the ‘Nuits’ pieces. I wanted something very stark indeed, and that meant getting rid of colour. My aim was to compress meaning into as simple a form as possible, using the most basic of materials such as gesso, pencil and white chalk. I had been listening to Xenakis choral music in which he has reduced words simply to the vowel sounds; this leaves the meaning of the text to be inferred rather than stated. And I had in mind the Balkan landscape of Macedonia - all stones and olive trees and scrub. Also, I suppose the heat and the sound of it. But this is also how I imagine the landscape of ancient Greece, full of cliffs of white stone and broken carvings .... Other vocal works by Xenakis also use texts from this ancient world - with settings for Sophocles and the Oresteia. This is an eruption of the archaic into the most modern, and vice versa. I had had a glimpse of this in Jugoslavia. And here I was using materials about as primitive and ancient as they come.
‘Nuits’ II ‘Nuits’ II gesso and pencil on paper gesso and pencil on paper 45x72cm. 45x72cm.
Study for Study forXenakis Xenakis Study for Xenakis gesso and pencil on paper gesso and pencil on paper paper gesso and pencil on 44x50cm. 44x50cm. 44x50cm. 44x50cm. 1999 1999 1999 1999
33 The idea of `Transcriptions` continued with the set of prints called ‘Fontana Mix ’ which used the same 3 plates, differently inked and treated, to produce a coherent but varied sequence rather than an `edition`. The title is taken from a piece by John Cage in which, from a diagram-like graphic score on transparent sheets and a tape, the performer or radio producer can create individually varied pieces from the same starting point. Certain motifs recur in the prints - the circle, the parallel lines. The space created has something of the quality of a stage-set. The different qualities and conventions of musical scores is something that the artist had studied, informally, since the idea of a score as applied to visual form is something that is part of the very idea of a transcription. In this case, the `score’ comprises three steel plates, a pair of compasses, crayons and pigments etc. and the general question ‘And now what can you do?’. This is similar to problems in mathematical logic, of the kind known as ring theory. These prints were commissioned for the Claremorris Festival in 1997. John Cage’s study Cage’s score forJohn ‘Fontana Mix’ for ‘Fontana Mix’ composed in 1958
composed in 1958
john Cage score for Fontana Mix The music that most concerns me is that in which the process of composition determines the sound. In most cases the music has no`narrative’ though there are symmetries, repetitions, pulses, inversions, reversions etc...Without narrative there is no idea of causality and development; the connections are not linear and the sound is built up in layers and blocks. Turning to visual matters, it is this architectural quality that preoccupies me, not the illustration of sound; to work using the same kinds of compositional processes to obtain a similar space. After years of working with intensely personal subject matter, musical composition has provided me with what I think of as an objective, external discipline.
‘Fontana mix’ IV monoprint 60x92cm.
‘Fontana mix’ II monoprint 60x92cm. 1999
34 The large paintings continued with an escort of much smaller ‘studies’ of which there are a great number. ‘ A Song of Circles These and Triangles’ colour studies, that is of now which in the there collection are many, of John accompanied and Kitty several Hart with large whose paintings. galleries They Barbara investigate Freeman ways hasinhad which a long the surface association. can be activated. The large painting ‘A Song of Circles and Triangles’ is now in the collection of John and Kitty Hart with whose galleries Barbara Freeman has had a long association. The title is that of an orchestral piece by Toru Takemitsu. ‘I love gardens. They do not reject people. There you can walk freely, pause to view the entire garden, or gaze at a single tree’. These are the words of Töru Takemitsu. The metaphor of the garden and its elements of trees, flowers, grass and water recur in so many of his compositions, .... we should not look for formal structures, but rather imagine a walk through a sonic garden.
Takemitsu has some words somewhere about gardens. ‘I love gardens. They do not reject people. There you can walk freely, pause to view the entire garden or gaze at a single tree’. This sums up what I would like to achieve in a painting. It would not direct anyone but allow them them to find their own way. I suppose that what I do is to treat the music as a story...it sets the whole process of painting in motion and remains a constant point of reference; but the content, the meaning, All these small that only studiies exists onbetween paper explore the painting ways inand which the Iviewer. can activate You have the to surface createthrough it by walking colour through. and gesture. My own aim is not to describe the music by some sort of colour/form/sound analogy, but to work using the same kind of This compositional has consequences strategies.In for how what youI paint. am doing The here idea of the a single music focus has ahas similar to befunction looked at to story critically; or subject the space matter must- it not sets be directing, the wholenot process be composed of painting so much in motion as grown. and is a constant point of reference. But the content, the meaning, that exists between the painting and the viewer. I loved my own garden and my real regret in coming to Northern Ireland was to leave the really big patch of earth I had for a Belfast yard!
‘Song of Circles & Triangles oil on board 125x164cm. private collection
Study for ‘Transcriptions’ pastel on paper 30x23cm. 1996
35 The idea of ‘colour studies’ is rather too deliberate for these little paintings; they are not done with a particular purpose in mind, but as a means of keeping certain visual ideas in play. They are improvisatory. The artist uses them for reminding her hand as much as her eye what it can do. There is also a strong element of pure pleasure in making them. It is not surprising that they have been collected. There is, however, something to be said about the way in which colour is being used. The various families of small paintings have each their own attitude to the colour from which they are made. Some treat colour atmospherically, as light and space (see esp. the `Delta’ family in Plates 40-43). This group treats colour as a substance and is as much about pigment and material as about colour and light. Colours are not generally mixed because the thick pigment does not flow over the layer beneath, but is superimposed. Nor are the pigments mixed to make new colours. Each layer is in relief with the next and can be excavated away. Some surfaces are like archaeological sites! Because they are done on paper and are easily handled and turned around, the idea of ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ is of less importance; they contain, as it were, there own centre of gravity. They feel in the hand rather like pieces of leather, flexible, heavy and substantial. They are quite definitely objects. Spatial effects are created by surface texture as much as by colour contrasts. For my part I am reminded of how, when a student, the artist spent a long time working in very low relief in clay, making transcriptions of carvings by Donatello and others in the Victoria and Albert Museum; the originals are like carved drawings, creating deep space out of scarcely detectable alterations of surface. These ‘colour studies’ are, in effect, sculptural as much as painterly pieces; not only because they are physically dense and ‘artisanal’, but because colour is conceived in solid terms, as if it existed in order to be quarried. In perceptual terms the figure/ground relations tend toward emphatic contrasts - blue butts up against red without compromise, but the virtual spaces created are stable because the texture tends to be overall. ( At this point Barbara wanted me to write a sentence about Gibson’s distinction between field and world perception; but my instinct is to discuss the necessity of texture in spatial perception.) The large paintings related to this particular groups of studies are all heavy works on boards; some of them are made in a mixture of gesso, wax and pigment which sets into a substance as hard as concrete.
‘Double Escapement’ oil on board 132v232cm. coll: Norwich Union Dublin
Colour Study oil on paper 36x36cm. 1997cm. private collection
36 This particular set of four prints is part of a wall of 36 similar images, from the installation `Patina’ which was made with the composer Michael Alcorn. This was based around steel, as a source of reverberant sounds, as a richly coloured surface, as a means of creating spaces. The construction was an enclosure of hanging steel plates below a grid. The sound was a composition of steely sounds. Each print was done from the same basic plate - a rusted sheet of steel - onto which has been laid different but all related shapes in very thin metal, each inked up separately. ‘Patina’ was one of three installations which formed the exhibition ‘In Parallel’ at the Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast. Each installation was made in differing degrees and kinds of collaboration with composers - in addition to Michael Alcorn, the artist worked with Nicola Lefanu and David Lumsdaine, and with Ian Wilson. The exhibition was a significant part of the Sonorities Festival of new music for that year (1998). The installation was accompanied by a catalogue. (In Parallel -Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast 1998.)
Michael said of the steel that it “provides a shared resonance which on the one hand creates the surface detail of Barbara’s work and on the other hand the timbral detail of the electroacooustic music...a rusted beer-keg was scraped with a wooden stick and the sound stretched twenty or thirty times - its duration reveals sonic details which otherwise would pass unnoticed. All these many sounds are mixed in a slow-moving collage; the rate of change mirrors the stretched nature of many of the transformations and the ear should be drawn to the subtle shifts of colour”. We had huge fun making these sounds - oil drums, farm machinery and scrap iron. Then pouring nitric acid over the steel sheets and making rorschach blots between them. Clouds of poisonous fumes. Some splendid surfaces become visible through the cinnamon coloured smoke, whilst we slowly choke to death. By printing from them we can help the installation take its own picture. I recall a lot of laughter as we worked on ‘Patina’. In collaboration you must from the start suspend your personal will and allow other thoughts to enter your imaginary world. You must be able to determine a clear starting point - a seed. Then as you go along you will develop new ideas that you might never have had. Collaboration has taken me to places I would not have gone otherwise.
‘Patina’ installation at the Ormeau Baths Gallery Belfast
‘Patina’ intaglio prints 64x64cm. each 1998
37 37 In 2000 Barbara was Gaileari at Falcarragh, in Donegal to create a sound/image installation with In was invited invitedby by Una UnaCampbell CampbellofofAnAn Gaileari at Falcarragh, in Donegal to create a sound/image installation students from the Foinn Chonallacha, a school of traditional musicians .... The result was a concert, an exhibition of prints, with students from the Foinn Chonallacha, a school of traditional musicians .. The result was an exhibition of prints, a hanginga hanging installation paper and with a CD-rom, based and around a common which in this case was kelp, the seaweed installation in paper in and concert, a catalogue CD-rom, basedtheme, aroundaa‘seed’, common theme or (in Barbara’s terms) a ‘seed’ which has played an important part in the economy and village life of Donegal. Kelp (in Irish, ceilp) is a curious substance, which in this case was kelp in, the seaweed which has played an important part in the economy and village life of Donegal. Kelp half plant and isseemingly that plant growsand in undersea forests all around coast. (in Irish, ceilp) a curious half-flesh, substance, half seemingly half-flesh, that the grows in undersea forests all around the coast.
This was a chance to jump at. It offered a specific location, a common theme, a common working method and procedure, This was a chance to jump The at. It offeredwas a specific location, common a common workingnot method and process, and a common structure. location important - realaplaces andtheme, a real history discovered through landscape and a common structure. The location was important real places and a real history discovered not through landscape painting but through a kind of micro-landscape of geology, botany and sound. Wonderful fun it was. A common working paintingrather but through a kind of micro-landscape of geology and botany and sound. Wonderful fun it was. A common method than outcome. working method rather than outcome. Unlike music, visual composition has no consistent technical vocabulary except in one music, area, symmetry. There are 17noand only 17technical types ofvocabulary symmetryexcept on theinplane, all created by such operations as Unlike visual composition has consistent one area, symmetry. There are 17 and repeating, rotating, inverting etc. But they cooincide in a very interesting way with similar operations in music; theme, only 17 types of symmetry on the plane, all created by such operations as repeating, rotating, inverting etc. But they repeat, inversion, inversion of the retrograde Digital theme, technology reveals this very clearly; the software cooincide in a very retrograde, interesting way with similar operationsetc. in music; repeat, inversion, retrograde, inversion of concepts in both fields are very similar and (along with compression, layering, filtering and so forth) form a sort of the retrograde etc. Digital technology reveals this very clearly; the software concepts in both fields are very similar and grammar, common to both the eye and the ear. A shared procedure: starting with `found’ material sounds and stuff (along with compression, layering, filtering and so forth) form a sort of grammar, common to both the eye and the ear. lying about on the sand. In mywith`found’ case I was material taking real pieces of kelp andlying putting them through scanner, rather A shared procedure: starting - sounds and stuff about on messily the sand. In mythe case I was taking than taking photographs. The students started dropping the microphones directly into the sea. Then, using the common real pieces of kelp and putting them messily through the scanner, rather than taking photographs. The students started grammar the of digital processing we followed noses independently. This isgrammar where artistic judgement comes play. our The dropping microphones directly into theour sea. Then, using the common of digital processing weinto followed original material seems to disappear watery fronds become trails of flat colour and watery sounds become booms and noses independently. This is where artistic judgement comes into play. The original material seems to disappear - watery whispers. fronds become trails of flat colour and watery sounds become booms and whispers. There is no reason and traditional traditional themes working is There reason why why advanced advanced technology technology and themes should shouldnot notcoexist coexisthappily. happily.Digital Digital working intensely craft-like and requres exceptional eye/hand/tool coordination. I was surprised to be told that the notion is intensely craft-like and requres exceptional eye/hand/tool coordination. I was of ‘Nature’ `Nature’had hadentered enteredmy mywork, work, after aftermany manyyears yearsabsence. absence. of
‘Coastal’ installation at the Old Museum Arts Centre Belfast The Banks of the Bann Installation at the Millennium Court Arts Centre
nos 22 ‘Ceilp’ nos. and Study the space, nos.2 ‘Ceilp’ of nos. 2and and55 5 planes, print giclée prints and roof girders from a giclee prints 33x73cm. each 33x73cm.each digital notebook 33x73cm. 2002 2005 2002
The The large large installation installation built built at at the the Millenium Millenium Court Court Arts Arts Centre, Centre, Portadown, Portadown, with with composer a sound environment Paul Wilson created could not byhave composer been undertaken Paul Wilsonwithout could not preparatory have been drawings undertaken andwithout geometry, preparatory since it required drawings a small and geometry, team of technicians since it required to assemble a smallit.team The central of technicians construction, to assemble a spiral it. The of heavily central construction patinated steel is a spiral sheetsofhung heavily from patinated a wooden steel grid sheets and hung was surrounded from a wooden by clean grid, steel and surrounded sheets eachbyofbright which steel heldsheets two small each speakers. of which These holds aspeakers, small speaker. whenThese activated speakers, by the when passers activated by, emitted by the a passers range by, of sounds emit a that rangecaused of sounds eachthat sheet caused to vibrate each sheet at a low to vibrate frequency. at a low The frequency. sonic material The sonic created material by Paul created consisted by Paul of aconsisted body of sound of a body recorded of sound from recorded many sources from many and transformed. sources and transformed. It was activated It was byactivated a set of cameras by a set of in the cameras girders in the of the girders roof of which the picked roof which up movement, picked up triggering movement,a triggering different sequence a differentofsequence rustles, booms, of rustles, hums booms, and whistles hums and as whistles well as fragments as well as fragments of speech and of speech poetryand andpoetry some and obscure somemuttering. obscure mutterings. It was so devised It was soasdevised never to as repeat never to itself. repeat itself. This This drawing, drawing, which deserves comparison with Plate Plate 2, 2, then then becames became aa source source of of ideas ideas for for some some subsequent paintings, seen in Plates Plates 44 44 and and 45. 45.
NOTE ON DIGITAL tech and working with younger artists
Several local people remarked to me that it looked like a set of standing stones around a dolmen, and the idea of an ancient monument rendered into the 21st century pleased me greatly. The archaic and the most contemporary both at once! A good deal of this piece was designed on-screen. I taught myself digital practices for the purpose of keeping records of my work, just as I had done with photography; but I was immediately into its creative use. Not as an extension of photography, but as a new way of developing ideas. The speed is so useful and liberating; but it was only when I had got myself a large top-class printer that I was able to use it for really good art purposes. I rarely start with a photo, but with an object scanned in directly. This keeps me closely in touch with materials. I have found myself collaborating a good deal recently with people much younger than myself. It is good to watch them. They keep my mind wide open so that I am always learning.
â€˜Banks of the Bannâ€™ installation at the Millennium Court Arts Centre
Hanging diagram for spiral of steel sheets
39 39 Megan Millennium Courtthat suggested that the installation should be about ‘something about Portadown’. This was Court Arts Centre suggested that be the‘something installation should be ‘something Portaown’. Megan Johnston of the the Millennium Centre suggested the installation should Portadown’. Thisabout was surely better surely better than working in and for a centre-less and anonymous `art world’ which in fact always focusses upon national This was surely better than working in and for a centre-less and anonymous `art world’ which in fact always focusses upon than working in and for a centre-less anonymous `art world’ which in fact always centres upon national institutions, institutions, that arethe generalised thePaying world over. attention to the particular clarifies thecentral mind. national museums and galleries that are generalised the Paying world Paying attention to particular placmuseums institutions, andmuseums galleriesand thatgalleries are generalised world over. attention toover. the particular focusses the mind. The The central spiral of steel plates was a wild and scary object that looked dangerous at close quarters, with sharp edges quaters, 39 spiral of steel plates was a wild and scary object that looked dangerous at close quarters, with sharp edges and blades. and The blades. ThePaul sounds that Paul Wilson and the extremely nature ofthat them (‘where did that come sounds that Wilson created, and thecreated, extremely unexpected nature unexpected of them - ( ‘where did come from ......how did I set from! ...Johnston how did I set ... for what that,. ...? ) made for an unsettling experience. Readers from outside Ireland Megan of thethat Millennium Court suggested that the installation should beIreland ‘something about Portadown’. This that off ...what was that...? )off made anwas unsettling experience. Readers from outside should understand that the banks should understand that the banks of the Bann have been a boundary, for centuries, between different loyalties, languages was surely better than working in and for a centre-less and anonymous `art world’ which in fact always focusses upon of the Bann have been a boundary, for centuries, between different loyalties, languages and faiths - going back probably into and faiths -- going back probably into the distant past.long It has been thefolk site ofPaying massacres, some passed intowhich folk national institutions, museums galleries that are some generalised the world over. tolong the very particular the most distant past. It has beenand the site ofmost massacres, passed into history andattention myth but others recent history and myth but others very recent which are like family crimes, unspeakable. A precarious carillon of muttering steel clarifies the mind. The central spiral of steel plates was a wild and scary object that looked dangerous at close quarare like family crimes, unspeakable. A precarious carillon of muttering steel may be a fitting emblem for this locality. may a fitting forblades. this locality. ters, be with sharp emblem edges and The sounds that Paul Wilson created, and the extremely unexpected nature of them -( ‘where did that come from.!.how did toward I set that off..!..what method, was that...? madeyears for an unsettlingand experience. The work as a whole represents a return a constructive seen) thirty previously, shows herReaders prolonged The work as a whole represents a return toward a constructive method, seen thirty five years previously, and shows her from outside Ireland should understand that the banks of the Bann have been a boundary, for centuries, between difinterest in the art of Rodchenko, Tatlin and other Russians of the revolutionary period. prolonged interest in the artand of Rodchenko, Tatlin other Russians thedistant revolutionary ferent loyalties, languages faiths - going backand probably into the of most past. Itperiod. has been the site of massacres, some long passed into folk history and myth but others very recent which are like family crimes, unspeakable. A precarious carillon of muttering steel may be a fitting emblem for this locality. The work as a whole represents a return toward a constructive method, seen thirty five years previously, and shows her prolonged interest in the art of Rodchenko, Tatlin and other Russians of the revolutionary period. Not just the history of the river, but also of this particular space, which had been a market with a roof of girders. These had to come into the work in some way. This print (which I have never editioned) was a step on the way, because fragments and shards of it appear painted or etched into the steel sheets. The spaces created by spirals are very complicated, and in this case had to be coordinated with the triangular spaces of the roof. I have come to think of my life, too, in terms of a spiral that always returns but never to the same place. Not but also of of this which space, had been a market withpast roof of concepts, girders. These The installation alsoofgives a river, chance to work onthis aparticular large scale.place, Size matters. The moment youbeen get mere Not just just the thehistory history ofthe theriver, but also particular exhibition which had aa market with a roof of had to come into the work in some way. This print (which I have never editioned) was a step on the way, because genuinely artistic idea have to include issues of scale. There is now so little genuinely shared space or shared mind - for girders. These had to come into the work in some way. This print (which I have never editioned) was a step on the fragments and shards appear painted etched the steel spaces by Minister spirals are we are all privatised nowof - itthat the idea of aor public art into is non-starter. onceThe suggested tocreated a Jugoslav of very way, because fragments and shards of it appear painted oraetched into sheets. theI steel sheets. The space created by spirals are complicated, and in this case had to be coordinated with the triangular spaces of the roof. I have come to think of Culture that he instituted a Department of Vandalism, and I think this might be a good idea in Ireland. So the temporary very complicated, and in this case it had to be coordinated with the triangular spaces of the roof. I have come to think my life, too, in terms of a spiral that always returns but never to the same place. installation has a real function. You have a chance to think big and work big. Space matters too, real space, because the of my life, too, in terms of a spiral that always returns but never to the same place. manipulation of material in real space is itself a way of thinking. It is an encounter with reality. w 39 The The installation installation also also gives gives a a chance chance to to work work on on a a large large scale. scale. Size Size matters. matters. The The moment moment you you get get past past mere mere concepts, concepts, genuinely artistic idea have to include issues of scale. There is now so little genuinely shared space or shared -- for Megan Johnston of the Millennium Court suggested that the installation should be ‘something about Portadown’. This genuinely artistic ideas have to include issues of scale. There is now so little genuinely shared space or shared mind mind for we are all privatised now that the idea of a public art is a non-starter. I once suggested to a Jugoslav Minister of was surely better than working in and for a centre-less and anonymous `art world’ which in fact always focusses upon we are all privatised now - that the idea of a public art is a non-starter. I once suggested to a Jugoslav Minister of Culture Culture that he instituted a Department of Vandalism, and I think this might be a good idea in Ireland. So the temporary national institutions, museums and galleries that are generalised the world over. Paying attention to the particular that he instituted a Department of Vandalism, and I think this might be a good idea in Ireland. Then temporary installation installation has a real function. You have a chance towas think big work big. Space matters too, real space, because clarifies the mind. The central spiral of plates a wild and scary object that looked dangerous at close quar-the has a real function. You have a chance tosteel think big and work big.and Space matters too, real space, because the manipulation manipulation of material in real space is itself a way of thinking. It is an encounter with reality. ters, with sharp edges and blades. The sounds that Paul Wilson created, and the extremely unexpected nature of them of material in real space is itself a way of thinking. It is an encounter with reality.
â€˜Banks of the Bannâ€™ installation at the Millennium Court Arts Centre
Study of space, planes and girders from a digital notebook 2005
40 Accompanying the installation as a kind of annex to the main part was a collection of small paintings under the family name of ‘Delta’. While Paul Wilson recorded sounds and voices, Barbara photographed all the ways in which the Bann can be crossed (short of swimming it). The result was a collection of photographs of bridges, stepping stones, fords and ferries. Each digital image was then broken down into its constituent hues in a computerised `colour analysis’ of a kind hardly ever seen by anyone who is not professionally concerned in colour printing. Printed out onto paper, they emerged as coloured checquer boards. These then formed the basis of paintings extensively worked upon with coloured glazes and stuck onto plywood. The colour exploration involved in the paintings then fed into a further family of larger paintings named after rivers or towns in the Appalachian Mountains where we were travelling in the summer of 2004. Ephrata is a small town and the site of a utopian religious settlement of the 18th century.
I was determined to produce some work that was attractive, beautiful and optimistic. The work we had been doing in Rochester was continuously grim (see Plate 46 ), much concerned with oppression and difficulty and war - there was a lot of war around at the time. We had been working relentlessly for rather too long. My diabetes was getting me down. I was often tired and anxious. I would be sitting in the car watching these enormous landscapes passing and thinking about what happens when we focus upon colours and what shall I paint when I return to my studio in Belfast I have always found green rather hard to handle; painting these two required me to screw up my courage....in fact I think `Ephrata’ is a beautiful piece and there was plenty of green in the ‘Delta’ series. We were in Ephrata as part of the research David was doing into the protestant settlements of Philadelphia and their architecture; we were also at Shaker and Amish sites, where everything is made and done so perfectly. These people tended (and still tend) to use colour very sparingly for very good and well-argued religious reasons, and for the reasons that they also renounce pictures, but I think my saturation in colour was a spiritual condition even though I have no religion.
‘Ephrata’ oil on canvas 77x92cm.
‘Delta’ III oil on paper 36x36cm. 2005
41 Another Delta. But for this informal little work on paper to grow up into a big painting on canvas it has to go through a process of some complexity. Every one of these large paintings is based upon a set of `rulers’ - strips of paper marked out with lines, divisions and proportions which in turn provoke the next stage. These rulers, which can at a pinch be compared to harmonic keys, are themselves derived from a list of sources which include architect’s drawings, prime numbers and musical scores. (See Plate 31). They have existed in various forms over the years and their guiding hand can be seen in prints and constructions and under the surface of several paintings. For these ‘River’ paintings they mark out along the edges the parameter of a dense mesh of lines that guides and initiates the work of the hand. They pass below through and above the different layers of painting. (See, for example, ‘Lebanon’ , Plate 43.) In the latter stages of the painting Barbara will sometimes excavate them out of the surface once again and release the colour lying underneath.
But, and this is the main point, a procedure such as this is a point of departure, not the destination. I think I have said this before. I think that now I am mostly interested in colour; and not the interaction of colour, but yellowness, redness, blueness; the single qualities of colours. To see yellow or blue to advantage you may have touches of another colour, or some complication of the surface, to bring it to life and give it space to breathe. I have also encountered in reading the distinction between field and world vision, described by J.J.Gibson. Briefly, ‘field’ vision is what we have when we fix our gaze upon objects and see and focus on them only as arangements of coloured patches; ‘world’ vision is what we see as we move through the world, recognising things and finding our way through them. I believe, and others have told me this is true, that there are two distinct distances at which to look at these paintings, when the differences between field and world become quite clear. I am sure that to be a good painter you have to be aware of this kind of dual seeing, and practise it. Think how Cezanne conjures up a mountain out of flakes and touches of colour. Lazy seeing, which only seeks to recognise things, is really about looking for the signs for objects, not the objects themselves.
‘Potomac’ oil on canvas 107x122cm.
‘Delta’ II ‘Delta’ II oil on paper on board oil on paper on board 36x36cm. 36x36cm. 2005 2005
42 ‘Sequenza’ was yet another family, sixteen siblings this time, done in thick impasto with several dense layers of paint, scratched and combed. It has a definite relationship with ‘Shenandoah’ but cousinly rather than parental. Both were done around the same time, and it is worth noting that the landscape of upper New York State is patchworked with large fields of rape-seed, corn and lavender. You tend to remember it as composed of huge patches of colour.
There is a time-dimension to the pleasure of looking at a painting, particularly when colour is its main theme. The more you look at one colour the more you see in it. A good painting, like a person or a place, is not known all at once The layers float up and through one another and they can change dramatically as the light changes in the room. It is best if you keep coming back to them and catching them unawares. You ought to use patience. I hope I can do it. I would like to be making a slow art, just as I like slow cooking rather than fast food. Is it important to know how they are done? The way in which a composer will build up a ‘wall of sound’ or develop a scale ‘chromatically’, about how sound can be `granulated’ is actually realised by the sense of hearing; but it does require that we listen. And look carefully. Just as chromaticism always tends to dissolve the musical form, so colour steadily dissolves visual form, and with form, any kind of narrative. Either the narrative of a literary text, or the narrative of spaces and hierarchies of spaces. We can hear and see ideas. The way it is made is part of the meaning and the pleasure may be in finding this out.
‘Shenandoah’ ‘Shenandoah’ ‘Shenandoah’ oil on canvas oil oil on on canvas canvas 107x122cm. 107x122cm. 107x122cm.
‘Sequenza’ V ‘Sequenza’ V oil on paper oil on paper 33x36cm. 33x36cm. 2003 2003
43 The painting ‘Lebanon’ shows the armature of lines very clearly, and also the layers of colour, from green through blue to red, which build up the final colour world. The details repay scrutiny. The underlying scaffold of drawing is half revealed and half-occluded. The distance, even the time of day, from which you watch a painting of this kind tends to determine what it is you see. the purple bloom, for example, is an induced colour caused by dragging the comb through the red and into the blue. This cannot adequately be photographed because it takes place within the optical system and how this works depends upon how near or far you are standing.
‘Lebanon’ has a companion piece, a little darker and more angular. When they were shown at the Vanguard Gallery in Cork someone bought them both. I wouldn’t want them to be lonely. I like them very much because they sum up a great deal of what I have been doing in the past few years. I didn’t intend that they should but sometimes you surprise yourself and the work surprises you. That’s good. ‘Brandywine’ is not a drink, but a valley and a river in it. ‘Lebanon’ was the first of the Shaker settlements, and a mountain of cedars.
‘Brandywine’ ‘Brandywine’ oil on canvas oil on canvas 107x122cm. 107x122cm.
‘Lebanon’ I oil on paper ‘Lebanon’ oil on paper 46x54cm. 46x54cm. 2004 2004 collection private private collection
44 The paintings on black paper called collectively `Soundings’ and the larger ones on canvas all mark a return toward a directly mathematical foundation, but now with the addition of very strong colour and rich surface. Each began with a mesh of lines determined by prime numbers distributed along each edge, though, as before, the numbers serve as a starting point rather than as a conclusion...... each is a vivid figure on a ground of black paper, which contains within it a virtual figure/ space which itself contains a pulsing arrangement of lines. Where are we going next? `Soundings’ as a title refers presumably to depth, navigation and sound; perhaps also echo-location. Several paintings in this series have been shown at The Gordon Gallery, Londonderry, and the Vanguard Gallery, Cork and at the Fenderesky Gallery.
The use of the primes, though I don’t expect anyone to see it at this scale, is formative, for if we enlarged the scale strange things would start to happen. You can’t predict where the prime numbers come because they are irregular, so what you are doing is creating a proportional system that has uncertainty. You get visual sensations that are very hard to put into words, because vanishing points don’t always vanish, parallel lines looks though they are about to meet somewhere off-stage. Where is the surface? Instead you get a depth in which it is impossible to identify a single continuum. All is push and pull. A pulsation of the depth. This takes me back to school lessons and what I loved about geometrical drawing and its empty space. The painting is not based upon a mesh of lines - the lines are the painting and their different colours and strengths create the pulsations.
‘Soundings’ ‘Soundings’ I oil oil on on paper paper 76x76cm. 76x76cm.
‘Soundings I oil ‘Soundings’ on paperII II ‘Soundings’ II ‘Soundings 76x76cm. 0il on paper oil on on paper paper oil 2005 76x76cm. 76x76cm. 76x76cm. 2005 2005
45 I find this new work disconcerting because I have no idea what will happen next. In one respect uncertainty has been built into the reception of it; you can’t possibly work out why one line is at one position and another elsewhere. I don’t know what I am looking at. I feel as though I am walking in half way through a performance. But it is a purposive uncertainty, if you can have such a thing. I have been trying, all through these notes, to centre what I have written upon facts. But it is not at all clear what a `fact’ is in this cloud chamber full of particles, whizzing about.
I began with clearing out the plan chests of my studio and finding a biography - not a personal story but an artistic narrative that I hoped would make sense. I am aware of much that is left out I have been shocked at how consistent it has been; and also surprised at how various. I have worked continuously through the ups and the downs of my life. Sometimes I have thought `I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy!’ I see the narrative now in terms of colour, of a progressive exploration of colours that still has a long way to go. But every colour creates its space and by itself it has one space, and with another it builds up more and more space. So an exploration of colour is also an exploration of space. Matisse talked about the relative weights of colours; when I write about pulsation I seem to be trying to describe something like wave-length or vibration; but it is very deep and usually slow and hidden. It can’t be described, but only shown. .............................................................................
‘Early Morning’ oil on canvas 107x107cm.
‘Soundings’ V ‘Soundings’ V oil on paper oil on paper 76x76cm. 76x76cm. 2005 2005
46 AN AFTERWORD ‘Khazaria’ is a joint work by the artist and the editor in close collaboration. It consists of a growing number of pages in which themes of immigration, exile and chaos are followed through images and texts drawn from a great variety of sources - ancient Persian history, the miserable death of Stalin, bureaucracy and frontiers, departure lounges, casualty wards, borders, customs, guns and car parks. Some of the text is original, other parts `found ’ or emended quotations. It has involved ‘straight’ photography and ingeniously constructed scenes or models. At the present the different pages or sheets have each their own title and the whole can be arranged in any order you please - but there is a narrative thread of sorts, involving a father in search of his daughter through evacuations, flight and the sacking of cities. At the moment there are some 16 pages, but if it ever reaches completion there will be 100 pages. At a time when there are more people on the move than at any time for centuries, in which whole populations have been uprooted or exterminated or turned into seekers of refuge from the gales of history, it seemed to us an appropriate subject. With this in mind we turned to the Khazars of the Caspian region who, in the 8th century, finding themselves caught between the expanding realm of Islam and the aggressive certainties of the Orthodox Christian, decided to convert to a modified Judaism. They devised four different systems of law, for Christians, Moslems, Jews and pagans, and for a while they managed very well, and had a huge Empire between the River Don and Central Asia. But they stood in the way of Vikings coming one way and wild tribes coming the other, and the great Empire of Khazaria was dispersed. Until the end of the last round of the Great European Civil War there were still Khazar villages in the Carpathian mountains and it has been suggested that most Russian and Polish Jews ( while they were still there) were descendants of these Khazars. Work has been done on ‘Khazaria’ at the Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester (N.Y.) where we had a joint residency in 2004 and later - and very differently - at the Curfew Tower in Cushendall, Co.Antrim. It has been shown at the Art Tank, Belfast as part of the Belfast Festival at Queens in 2005, in Downpatrick and recently at The Gordon Gallery, Londonderry. It is printed in archival quality inks and appears in two sizes - a basic printing at 33cm x 46cm, in an edition of 12, and in specially commissioned single sheets at a larger size.
‘Khazaria’ ‘Khazaria’ -- Files’ Files giclée print ed. 10 giclee print 33x46cm. 33x46cm. 2004 2004
BARBARA FREEMAN: RECENT CURRICULUM VITAE Barbara Freeman was born in London and studied at St Martinâ€™s and Camberwell Colleges of art, with postgraduate study at the University of Leeds. She has lived and worked in Belfast for the last twenty four years. SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS 2006 SELECTED PAINTINGS 1996-2006 Gordon Gallery, Derry. NEW PAINTINGS Vanguard Gallery, Cork. 2005 THE BANKS OF THE BANN collaboration with composer Paul Wilson at the Miillennium Court Arts Centre, Portadown. 2004 TIME FRAMES collaboration with composer Paul Wilson at the Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast. Also a new series of paintings. KHAZARIA a book of combined images and text with writer David Brett. 2002 CEILP collaboration with composers from Foinn Chonallacha at An Gaileari Donegal. Also at The Old Museum Arts Centre, Belfast NEW PAINTINGS at the Eigse Carlow Arts Festival. 2001 PAINTINGS Hart Gallery, London. 2000 MILLENNIUM IMAGES - Ireland / America, Seattle U.S.A. (invited artist). PAINTINGS AND PRINTS AFTER BOULEZ Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast. 1999 PAINTINGS AND PRINTS AFTER XENAKIS Rubicon Gallery and the Original Print Gallery, Dublin. PAINTINGS Keller Galerie, Weimar, Germany ( European City of Culture) 1998 THE CITY DREAMING large drawings at The Waterfront Hall, Belfast. IN PARALLEL Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast collaboration with four composers for the Sonorities Festival at Queens University. PAINTINGS AND PRINTS Hart Gallery, London. 1997 TWO INSTALLATIONS Moon Gallery, Berry College, Georgia, U.S.A. PAINTINGS AND PRINTS Context Gallery, Derry. 1996 INSTALLATIONS AND PAINTINGS Model Arts Centre, Sligo, Ireland. in association with Concorde Contemporary Music Ensemble. PAINTINGS AND DRAWINGS Hart Gallery, London. 1995 PAINTINGS Fenderesky Gallery at Queens, Belfast. PAINTINGS Rubicon Gallery, Dublin. SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS 2006 PRINTMAKERS Gordon Gallery, Derry. 2005 CONTEMPORARY IRISH ART Boyle Arts Festival, Ireland. WORKS ON PAPER Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast. 2004 CULTURAL LANDSCAPES print exchange Northern Ireland and U.S.A. NEW IRISH PAINTING Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast. WORKS ON PAPER Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast. SMALL WORKS OF ART The Saint Patrick Centre, Downpatrick. 2002 WORKS ON PAPER Fenderesky Gallery,Belfast. ARTISTS FROM ULSTER Boyle Arts Festival, Ireland. THE REALLY BIG PRINT SHOW Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast.
2001 THE LAST LINES OF WAITING with composer Paul Wilson Fenderasky Gallery, Belfast. 2000 EXPERIMENTAL PRINT Seattle Pacific University, Washington, U.S.A. FONTANA MIX after John Cage Claremorris Arts, Ireland. 1998 ACADEMY WITHOUT WALLS R.H.A. Banquet Exhibition, Dublin. 1995 TRIBUTES Queens Council on the Arts, New York, U.S.A. SELECTED PUBLICATIONS AND REVIEWS 2005 THE BANKS OF THE BANN exhibition catalogue with essay by David Brett 2003 REVIEW Circa Art Magazine, no. 102. 2002 CEILP exhibition catalogue with introduction by Cathal O Searcaigh. 2001 DIFFERENTIAL AESTHETICS edited by Dr.Penny Florence and Nicola Foster, Ashgate 1998 MIXED MEDIA edited by Michael Wright, Royal Academy of Arts. 1998 WORK IN PROCESS Circa Art Magazine, Winter issue. 1997 IN PARALLEL exhibition catalogue with essay and notes by David Brett, 1996 TRANSCRIPTIONS exhibition catalogue. Black Square Books. REVIEW Circa Art Magazine, no. 73. THINKING LONG Contemporary Art in Northern by Liam Kelly. 1995 A CRAZY KNOT print collaboration with Seacourt Print Workshop. PRECISE MOMENTS profile The Georgia Review, Athens, U.S.A 1979 NOVEKVO STRUKTURAK Muveszet, Budapest. GROWTH STRUCTURES Visual Art, Mathematics & Computers/Leonardo AWARDS AND RESIDENCES 2002 Residency at The Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester. New York, U.S.A. 2000 Residency at The Centrum Foundation, Seattle, U.S.A. Residency at The Virginia Centre For The Creative Arts,U.S.A. 1999 Guest Artist The Keller Galerie, Weimar, Germany. 1997 Residency at Fundacion Valparaiso, Mojaca, Spain. 1995 Abbey Fellow, The British School at Rome. The Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Co. Monaghan, Ireland. Arts Council of Northern Ireland awards 1992, 1998. 2004, 2006. PUBLIC AND CORPORATE COLLECTIONS The Boyle Civic Collection, Ireland. Royal Court of Justice,Belfast. National Museum of Fine Arts, Hungary. National Museum of Art, Macedonia. West Yorkshire County Council. The Office of Public Works and IAWS, Dublin. Norwich Union, Dublin. S.K.C.,Dublin. Lincoln Buildings, Belfast The Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Northern Bank, Belfast. Life Association of Ireland. Contemporary Irish Art Society. Allied Irish Bank Computer Centre. Trustee Savings Bank. University of Cork. Mestna Galerie. Greater London Coucil University of Bradford. Cartwright Hall. University of Leeds.