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Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Grandma Drawings

'The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living' is the name Damien Hirst gave to his 1991 shark in formaldehyde piece. These words (more than the work itself) seem to have stayed with me, and replay in my mind whenever I try to think about death.

How do you comprehend death? After my Grandma died in May I chose to try and understand that she was no longer here, through a series of drawings.

The role that drawing has in my life gained new significance three years ago, when I became a parent. Now drawing is also an opportunity (sometimes the only one) to think over and process things properly. Though not particularly looking forward to it, I knew I had to make these drawings in order to face grief.

Some of my drawings made while under hypnosis involve telling Devin the sensory associations I have with the proposed subject of my drawing (i.e my son), which he then relays back to me while placing me under hypnosis, priming me for the drawing. Devin pointed out that I could try this by myself too, it would not be hypnosis, but could build a similar framework for a drawing.

And so remembering this, I sat alone one day and I though about Grandma; white hair, flowery swimming costume, the colour peach, crying with laughter, soft skin... I wrote these down to cement them for me. Then I drew.


Monday, 4 July 2016

A Performance with Epiphany at the Whitworth

This was my first collaborative performance with Epiphany who improvised with french horn, electric harp, cello, viola, flute and more, while I drew in response, resulting in my largest and most physical drawing performance to date.

Watch films of the performance
2 minutes by Andrew Brooks
8 minutes by Epiphany 

I wanted to work with Epiphany as I felt they were already blurring the lines I had been edging towards in Drawn to the Beat and my previous performances. I was struck by the fact that they moved among the audience as they played, and as I drew in response to them the first time we met, they would immediately and instinctively move closer to me and begin to respond back. These explorations in movement and increased call and response were amplified in our Whitworth performance.

I think of the music as a space I enter, a room in which anything is possible, many things are sensed and felt there and most are forgotten the moment the music stops. Here Epiphany made that space cathedral like with their scale and varity of sounds, and I felt myself responding with more intensity as a result.

Blind (focusing fully on listening, I never look up ) I sought out the different sources of sound, drawing towards them. Afterwards looking back at the photos and film it is almost a surprise to see the familiar form of a person with an instrument, knelt or stood alongside me. In the moment the sounds were just parts of this shifting, shimmering space, gently pushing and pulling me to be moved and to draw.

Afterwards people said they were trying to work out who was following who at which point, looking out for the shifts in control. I am always listening, taking in the sound as a whole or getting lost in individual parts of it. The musicians also respond at times to my actions, here we meet head on and will often get stuck in a loop until one of us breaks it off. Then there are those indescribable moments when we are working totally as one, and I am careful then to be as unconscious as I can, so as not to break the spell. It is at these times that the very tip of my finger, or the edge of the charcoal becomes like an anchor, perhaps the only thing preventing me from pure dance, or even flight.

Further images available here
Photography and film by Andrew Brooks

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Drawing under hypnosis - Session two

My drawings describe an inner world; imaginings, sensations, a particular motion, memory or emotion. I set up environments to draw within, for example I could position myself in an imposing or comforting part of a room, immerse myself in live improvised music or be placed under hypnosis. I then draw the impact these outer environments have on my inner world. Though the environments are planned, what emerges during the drawings is unpredictable. I respond in the moment, choose whether to follow a mark or form and what it suggests, is it right? There is always a fine balance between release and control, this is perhaps most evident in the hypnosis drawings. 

I have been collaborating with Devin Terhune (Lecturer in Psychology at Goldsmiths, London) to create drawings whilst under hypnosis, as part of my Arts Council England funded project 'Drawing as Experience'. Below are some of the drawings made during our  second session. For the full notes from this session, including Devin and I discussing the drawings follow this link


Anarchic hands and arms - Your hands and arms will move independently of you, and each other

Anarchic hands and arms (large scale drawing)

Anarchic hands and arms

Imagining Jackson (my son)

Imagining Jackson (my son)
Draw freely, without any constraints (large scale drawing)

Without Constraints

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Mark Devereux Projects Residency

For two weeks in April I was Artist in Residence at Mark Devereux Projects in  Federation House. This residency began my Arts Council England funded research and development project 'Drawing as Experience' which over 18 months will enable me to create a new body of drawing work, including an exploration of drawing and hypnosis. I will be collaborating with musicians, artists, psychologists, curators and workshop participants along the way, and all of it will be documented here.

When I draw in response to sound, using a metronome, under hypnosis or using the physical gesture of drawing itself to create or enhance a certain state of mind, I work in the moment, going on journeys within the drawing emotionally, physically and visually, balancing the conscious and unconscious. The remaining drawings describe something of these journeys. The most significant thing that happened during the residency was the realisation that my attempts to inhabit drawing fully could mean extending beyond those moments, having a conversation with them. My exploration of this involved the act of 'drawing back in' to existing drawings, revisiting, reflecting and retelling.

The sheer scale of the space I was given, and looking closer at the work of Anselm Kiefer helped me to consider how to position my work within a space, exploring where each drawing 'belonged', for example on the floor in the place of it's making, or confronting the viewer like a stone monument. I also developed a new way of working for my performance work (drawing in response to live improvised music), whilst exploring new collaborations with musicians.

Below are some examples of the work I made at Federation House, along with my notes on their making. For more images from the residency and other recent work please follow this link


'Ghost', chalk on black paper, 256 x 135 cm

'the act smoothing chalk into the skin of the crumpled paper, like smoothing or taming the surface of a sculpture' - Residency sketch book

The drawing above began life as a drawing made in response to live music, made in the moment with energy and abandon. Looking at the drawing one day I was struck by an overwhelming tiredness and the reminder that these moments are just that, we can not exist in a permanent state of intensive energetic expression, afterwards there comes a heaviness, a slowing down and reflection. And with distance, what is remembered of those moments? what remains of that particular set of lived feelings and actions? Our memory is selective, things are lost and changed.... 

I wanted to act out the sensation of heaviness and restraint; moving onto the 'music drawing'  I started by penning in the existing marks with a line, containing them, then held them more firmly still, with a thick sea of chalk. And finally a lengthy act of slowly smoothing the chalk over the surface repeatedly with the palm of my hand - veiling parts and letting others remain. I was commenting on the contrasting explosion of energy beneath, distilling it to a still and shadowy, almost bodily, form.


Detail 'Untitled', charcoal and burnt log on black paper, 
271 x 168 cm

'Physical doing (repetitive especially) unlocks something, your mind can drift and walk, things rise' - Residency sketch book.

'Untitled' took many forms and was made in one long sitting. I began by responding to the sounds of the space (building work outside and the metronome inside) but soon, as my note above says, things began to rise. I was fully inside this drawing, every move and mark was directly bound to my thoughts and feelings, it was a drawing that had to happen. However drawing this was an intensely felt experience, and afterward became something I did not want to talk about. It was also the one people who visited were most intrigued by (because of the clear presence of a figure within it, amongst a body of mostly abstract work).

The definiteness of the figure in this drawing is unusual, in most of my work if something representational emerges it is only half there or becomes obscured completely, and I like this tension. I think this is partly because this suits the subject of my drawings - sensations, feelings, an otherness. But perhaps there is also a limit to how much I want to say, or how direct I want to be in the telling.

 Untitled (Pink One) 

'Untitled (Pink One)', chalk and pastel on black paper,
 598 x 135 cm

I see this one as a skin, showing on it's surface the space it grew in, the processes It had been subjected too and the time that passed during it's making. As with 'Ghost' It started life as a drawing made in response to live music. I began by dragging it over a table and 'wiping it' with my hands, methodically obscuring much of the original drawing. It then returned to the floor and underwent a series of more gentle processes, like a ritual, in which I tentatively smoothed edges, or protectively covered parts. The softness of it all and the trace of the worn floor boards seeping through into the drawing felt right, I wanted it take on this place and these acts. I was slowly fossilizing the drawing beneath, preserving something... an archeologist at a dig with a tiny brush, making thousands of tiny meticulous sweeps over many hours, unsure of what would eventually be revealed or where it would end...

The material of dust (charcoal, pastel, chalk) is important, although it starts as an independent held tool, it very quickly becomes my hands, my body, and the paper as it disintegrates.

Drawing in response to live improvised music

'Sound Drawing (Vonnegut Collective)', charcoal on paper, 
1000 x150 cm Photo Darren Nixon

Detail 'Sound Drawing (Dan Violin Solo)', charcoal on paper,
 390 x 275 cm

These drawings remain in the moment, they are joined to the speed and energy of the live improvised music, the conversation between myself and the musicians, and the large area of paper I negotiate as I (very physically) mark my response. The drawings are 'known' to an audience through the witnessing of their making, whether in a live performance or documented through film (as I will be exploring during this ACE research and development project). There is no set rule in my mind for the resting place of the drawings after the act, it depends on the meaning each individual one holds for me. Some will be kept and seen, others will become engulfed by a new drawing. A moment frozen or a moment lost.

Please follow this link to find out about the performance Dan Bridgwood Hill and I carried out at the Whitworth gallery soon after the residency.

Hypnosis Drawings

'Hypnosis Drawings Three' and 'Hypnosis Drawing Four',
 charcoal on paper, 59.5 x 42cm

During the residency I spent a day in Oxford carrying out my first session of drawing while under hypnosis (in collaboration with Psychology researcher Devin Terhune). Please follow this link to find out what happened.

Developing live drawing performance work with Dan Bridgwood Hill Photo Darren Nixon

Whilst reflecting on the work I produced during the residency, I have have begun to look to others; Alan Davie's paintings and drawings, 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams' by Werner Herzog, 'The Mind in the Cave' by David Lewis - Williams, Australian rock art and 'The Songlines' by Bruce Chatwin. I'm not sure yet where these sources of inspiration may take me, but for now I know that they each somehow intersect with the place I have reached at the end of this residency.

'Aboriginals could not believe the country existed until they could see and sing it' - 'The Songlines 

'Although every work of mine must inevitably bear the stamp of my own personality, I feel that each one must, to be satisfactory, be a new revelation of something hitherto unknown to me, and I consider this evocation of the unknown to be the true function of any art' - Alan Davie

‘The process of painting was very distinctive – layer upon layer destroying what was underneath – and always working spontaneously and automatically – so of all the works done, very little was kept – only those images which happened in the rare magical moments when I was completely surprised and “enraptured beyond knowing”.’ - Alan Davie

'Maybe the animal and landscape like images that sometimes grow out of your drawings are archetypes that have been allowed to come out. Or maybe they are influenced by Jackson's (our son) story books as well? And that means that it is hard to tell if this kind of imagery is innate or learned when we are very young. Having Jackson gives you an idea of that first learning of images, so its an interesting time for you to be doing this' - Andrew Brooks 

Photos by Andrew Brooks unless stated otherwise.

View more images of my recent work here  Gallery  

The Whitworth Performance

On May the 14th Dan Bridgwood Hill and I performed at the Whitworth Gallery as part of the Thursday late program. Dan played an improvised violin solo, and I drew in response.

This drawing was particularly physical because of the new long and thin format of paper I had chosen, I 'traveled' up and down the paper's 10m length many times as I moved closer or further away from the call of Dan's stunning violin playing. The effort of this traveling meant I was aware of my body and the significance of my movements more than the marks at times. I felt I was taking greater risks, even more comfortable in my acts of destruction - erasing obscuring removing, smoothing, gathering and dragging across the surface of the drawing.

I remember feeling at one specific point, and for the first time, that what I was doing was close to dance. My movements during drawings made in response to live music have always been a consequence of trying to get the marks out, rather than making a conscious decision to move my body in a certain way. Here though I felt like I was almost hovering above the drawing, connected to the surface of the paper but not through the making of a mark alone, through many things. Mind, body and material combining more completely than I remember before.

All photography by Andrew Brooks

A film clip of this Performance

Further images of this performance and other recent drawings

Mark Devereux Projects Residency

View more images of my recent work here Gallery

Drawing under hypnosis - Session one

I have formed a collaboration with Devin Terhune a psychology researcher in the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University who specialises in hypnosis, consciousness and suggestibility. In many ways my existing drawing processes, particularly drawing in response to sound, are forms of suggestion. And in a practice where I view each drawing as both a visual and psychological journey, hypnosis felt like a natural progression. Over a number of sessions I will be drawing whilst under hypnosis and documenting and discussing what happens. This forms an important part of my Arts Council England funded research and development project 'Drawing as Experience'

Prior to our first session Devin and I talked about how hypnosis works and what I might expect to happen (I had never been hypnotised before) Devin also asked about my current drawing processes and what drives me to make a drawing. These conversations formed the basis of what we chose to explore in the first session.

In a tiny lab I sat in a huge squashy black arm chair, a desk with my paper and materials on was positioned in front of me. Devin asked me to concentrate on his voice and to keep focusing on the knot in the wood on the wall above me. He talked and I listened, focused and listened........Then I drew.

Over the course of the day I was under hypnosis four times, and produced five drawings. Here are some of the drawings and (an abridged version) of the notes I made immediately after the session.

Drawing under hypnosis - Drawing One

Drawing One  (Just Hypnosis)

I remember feeling amazed that this was actually working, I felt so heavy, my hands, arms and head, were almost motionless and I held my face very, very close to the page as I drew. I moved my hand (slowly I think) and drew small circles, loops and lines. I knew I had to draw loops and did this, without hesitation. And remember at one point happily noticing that I was 'inside' the drawing completely, I was nowhere else. 

Though I was still aware to a certain extent and thinking about what was happening, it was as if I was literally distanced from it, 'I' was at the back of my mind, the front was doing or maybe watching what I was doing on the page. And all of it happened as if under a layer of heavy water.

Drawing under Hypnosis - Drawing Two

Drawing Two - (Hypnosis with hand moving independently suggestion)

I had thought earlier that when Devin suggested my arm move independently of me, that It would fly around as if belonging to the conductor of an orchestra. What it actually did was almost the opposite.

My right hand held the charcoal very, very loosely, just barely balancing in my hand, the side of my hand and forearm would not move from the paper, they were firmly planted there. And so my marks were initially limited to this point on the page, as far as my fingers could stretch. I thought the whole drawing would happen in that top right hand corner of the page until my hand lost 'grip' on the charcoal and it rolled down to the bottom of the page. It took a lot of will power to respond by picking it up, and to begin drawing again where it had come to rest (Devin confirmed afterwards it took me along time to make this move).

Scale was strange as if there were new rules, the (A2 sized) paper felt huge and each tiny fragile mark significant.

I wanted to change pressure and make a darker mark, but it was an effort, the light loose looping marks prevailed. Some kind of internal rhythm? Towards the end of the drawing I felt like I couldn't stop it, and was stuck within one repetitive mark, I had to really tell myself to stop drawing. This was not an entirely unfamiliar sensation, it happens when I  draw in response to music sometimes, stuck in the rhythm, though this was far harder to come out of.

It was like pulling marks out from thick treacle at times. And I enjoyed the idea of working  within these perimeters, what can happen? What did I make the effort to get out onto the page? And what was left behind?

Drawing under Hypnosis - Drawing Three
Drawing under Hypnosis - Drawing Four

Drawing Three/Four -  (Hypnosis with suggestion to draw without constraints and less self criticism, to draw freely)

Saying I have been drawing without hesitation, and observing the drawing happen in front of me can sound as if I had been reduced to an 'unthinking drawing hand'. This is not true. A part of what happened with each drawing was me straightforwardly drawing i.e responding to the situation, putting in marks what I was sensing, thinking, feeling in that moment. The other part of the process is the hypnosis - the collaborator I cant predict. Which is the greater part or whether they are indeed equal, is currently unclear.

What happens if you purposefully, and successfully turn off criticism all together and are given permission to draw with total abandon? I distinctly remember that as Devin was placing me under hypnosis (suggesting I would draw expressively and without restraint) I felt really excited, the freedom of it! I was gagging to start drawing and, bizarrely, even felt like laughing. I then proceeded to make two very quick, almost violent drawings, creating definite marks and shapes and  enjoying what was growing on the page, the simple possibilities of the material. Afterwards Devin and I talked about what this meant, and how hypothetically I could be hypnotised before one of my live drawing performances, to remove my nerves and make me 'more expressive'. A compelling and I think potentially dangerous thought. Is it not precisely that adrenalin, backstage nerves, and the whole environment of the performance that shapes the drawing? Perhaps even as much as the live music I am responding too? I would like to explore this suggestion more, acknowledging and addressing the tension between abandon and constraint and the role of both in making a drawing.

N.B Using a pen (Drawing five) did not work as well as the charcoal that picks up and shows every tremor and nuance of the drawings process, which is important. The pen simplified too much.


These few small drawings are important to me, they represent a long awaited and incredible journey but they are just the start. I am learning a process and there is much more work to be done. the 'independent hand' and 'drawing without constraint' suggestions should be explored further as they have each raised some really interesting questions.

I would also like to try suggestions with specific visual subject matters, can I imagine, occupy and draw from a recognisable landscape in my mind, for example? And what would I bring back from there through the drawing?

And most importantly how can these drawing experiences be fully expressed? Will it be achieved through the drawings alone, through words, recordings and other documentation or a combination of these?

My time with Devin is limited but the desire to explore this is not. Should I, can I, continue beyond the lab? Beyond the moment?

Please feel free to leave a comment on this post, your thoughts and suggestions are very welcome as I negotiate this new way of working.

View more images of my recent work here Gallery