During October last year, I spent a large amount of time travelling and camping around northern Scotland. I made plans to explore the Pictish trail, a journey to find beautiful engraved stones which date back to the 6th Century AD. Over 20% of these stones were found throughout Aberdeenshire and as both historical and artistic objects, their history is shrouded in mystery.
I went on this journey after a different trip to Lindisfarne. Most of the work I was creating was inspired by the Lindisfarne Gospel, and during my stay in Northumberland I discovered huge amounts of the imagery in the gosepel were inspired from Pictish symbols. It seemed like a natural continuation of my investigation to travel to Aberdeenshire and see these symbols first hand.
Tiny Book is a collation of some of these symbols, patterns and zoomorphics. After completing the book, I sent it around the UK to individuals who expressed an interest in my work. After receiving the book, each individual posts it to the next, allowing the book to complete its own journey around the UK.
This is the first mind map for my art practice this year. It contains ay array artists I have a genuine interest in. As can be seen in my study plan, Ruth Speer features in this mind map, and I aim to research her work first. I believe each of these artists is linked through style, colour or subject matter which means they will be easy to use it as a guide for further research.
I have not included any artists credited for manuscripts at the moment, but this is something I aim to look further into. At present, I think that will be a challenge in itself as the artist as an individual did not really exist in the period I am looking into. Many manuscripts were made in monastic workshops rather than individually. In addition to this, as far as I am aware, gospels, codexes and psalters were created in teams of people. I can still research the images themselves though, even if the individual artist behind it is hard to trace.
With a natural interest in portraiture and a desire to foster my enthusiasm in the subject, today I began to consider the works of artists who have gone before me.
The art of pre-Raphelites, as a relatively modern group of creators, has a vastly diverse collection of styles, colour palettes and ideas regarding the direction art should follow. Particularly interesting to me is their fastidious method of creating art; every centimetre of the work is filled with meticulous detail.
When I was younger, my mother had a large print of Rossetti’s Proserpine displayed in her office space. I vividly remember the contrast of my mother’s plain, and lightly coloured office, and the dark, dramatic painting which dominated the room. Although I would not learn the story of Persephone and Hades, or the name Dante Gabriel Rossetti, until many years later, the image of her fair skin, pronounced features, slender fingers and incredibly long hair left a lasting impact on me. That image will always remain prominently in my mind.
I frequently consider contemporary art to have lost this attention to detail: the focus is more on concept than execution, and this is something which irks me. As a result of this, I have a desire to go back. Back to the fairy tale scenes of Millais, Waterhouse and Rossetti, to the landscapes of Moran, and the delicate figures featured in the works of Bouguereau.
But before I do this, I will to travel much further back. I want to look at the manuscripts created under candlelight, with cold hands and damp in the air. A different purpose fuels my desire to examine illuminated manuscripts. It is not through a nostalgic interest in the subject, as is perhaps the case with the pre-Raphelites. Instead, it is more out of a response to my current circumstance. As I write this, I sit on the bunk of a caravan in North Wales. The wind is howling past the window and at the edge of every field, ferns, grasses and gorse bushes wildly sway.
Here the sun rises late, taking its time to creep out from behind the Snowdonian Mountain range far at the horizon. And in the evening it sets quickly, casting cold air and a layer of darkness on the field where I stay. Because the moon is low at this time of year, it often cannot be seen at night. Instead, the stars are the only light. Although there are decidedly more of them here than back home in central Edinburgh, they do not offer much light throughout the night.
All of these details made me consider how I will create art here, the caravan seems too small, the evenings too dark and my hands too cold. Through this consideration, I thought to look at how art was previously created in similar, if not more extreme, situations. My first thought is of religious texts, crafted in flickering candlelight with limited resources and space. After investigating the university’s LEDA software, I found an abundance of medieval illuminated manuscripts. What struck me was not the vivid colours, preserved after hundreds of years. Nor was it the subtle pencil marks in margins which too had survived the destructive nature of time. It was the meticulous attention to detail displayed in every millimetre of every page.
So here I am, at day one, with copious resources at my fingertips (as long as internet connection stays strong), an almost magical landscape around me, and a burning desire to create. As the night falls around me, I hope tomorrow contains as much enthusiasm as I experienced today.