This exhibition was held at Thelma Hulbert Gallery in Axminster. The show was a culmination of two years work for the artists: Sara Dudman and Debbie Locke, RWA.
The introduction for the exhibition explains:
“Flock Together” attempts to capture the working relationship between a farmer, his sheep and his dogs. The artists’ collaboration reinterprets webcam footage and GPS data to depict this interaction through sequential layering of painterly gestures and precise, machine-drawn lines.
The upstairs of the gallery was dedicated to the context behind the artwork, and we were encouraged to start our tour there. One darkened room contained an installation involving four videos on a loop. Each video had a different viewpoint – one camera was attached to the farmer, the next to his sheepdog, then one on a sheep and finally one fixed to the barn. It was engaging and at times disorientating to watch. Along the galley there were also cabinets full of the cameras and GPS equipment that had been used for the project alongside some examples of sketchbooks with the artists’ notes. I felt that this context added to the richness of the exhibition, by providing this insight and information allowed the audience to connect deeply with the subject matter which in turn meant that the artworks became much more accessible.
Downstairs the main part of the exhibition was arranged across two large rooms. My immediate response to the works was wow! I loved the colours and the strong use of line and mark-making in the drawings/paintings. There were accompanying notes beside the works which again assisted with understanding with the process behind the works. One artist had focussed on retrieving GPS co-ordinates from the animals and then programmed these into a drawing machine which then drew very precise lines across the surface. The other artist had a more painterly approach. She used a large number of frames from the web cameras which she projected onto the canvas which she then drew in free gestural marks. The contrast was noticeable and yet worked well together.
The paintings drew you into them – the layering process: different lines, which were in turn overlaid and partially obliterated with gesso, gouache and ink. These created a strong atmosphere of time passing and movement which clearly demonstrated the artists’ intentions.
The colours used were very subtle: whites; greys; browns evocative of the rugged landscape; and the variety of marks were made with graphite, charcoal and ink which blended well with the other materials used. These drawings/paintings were hugely successful and presented the ephemeral nature of things beautifully.
There were two prints on display which unfortunately I felt were not as successful as the other work. The artists had wanted to create an edition to accompany the exhibition and so were limited with the techniques – as they needed to be repeatable.
One print was titled “Bring them on” which was the command that Tony, the farmer, used for Fly, the dog, to move the sheep forwards. The writeup said: “This print interprets the movement of the sheep as they rush along the track from fields to pasture.”
A screenprinting technique was adopted as the background with photo etching used to suggest the destination of the sheep. This created an image that was very solid and graphic which, to my eyes, felt at odds with the rest of the work being exhibited. The atmospheric, ephemeral qualities that were so successful in the drawings had been lost in the transference to a printmaking medium.
This last point made me stop and think about my own work. I am particularly interested in ephemera and time and also would like to catch an atmosphere in my work. Is this not possible with the medium of print? Does the result have to be solid, rigid and graphic?
After the exhibition I did some further research into these artists’ processes and found a whole website dedicated to the project. I found that their initial attempts with printmaking using monotype appeared to be more successful and closer in feel to the other work. Obviously this method could not be used for a multiple edition, hence the move towards etching and screenprint. I know that it is possible to create atmosphere in etching processes but it seems that the layering process that they were trying to adopt created deeper and darker lines than they had initially desired. This has been a learning curve there are obviously benefits and limitations in all media and it is good to be mindful of this as I start working with printmaking myself. I wonder if in actual fact it is the one-off prints that happen by chance that engage me more that those that can be reproduced numerous times.
I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition, plus it has given me lot to consider for my future studies, so it was a very worthwhile experience.