“It’s not really about drawing history” said Mark, munching on a sandwich, as we settled in. “I thought you could draw this rather complicated still life”. And he pointed to an arrangement of chairs, tables, chess board, flowers, lamps, with a small toy pig balanced on top.
This was an experimental art class as part of the Hayward Gallery’s innovative Wide Open School programme this summer. I was wondering how the Turner prize winner and bear impersonator would cover the advertised programme ‘Drawing through history: from Alberti to Pixar’ in two three-hour sessions and the answer was he wouldn’t, at least not in a conventional way. He set the lucky twenty of us tasks covering observation, drawing from memory, collaboration and learning from others, and communication. Not a bad set of lessons for drawing practice at any point in history.
Mark took us through films and images of his work, discussing sources of inspiration like the politics of the time, and how the works were realised. This included such nuggets as his being moved on at London City Airport after unauthorised filming for ‘Threshold of the Kingdom’ (what else can an artist do when refused permission?) and Mark trapped in an orgy of bonobo monkeys in Berlin zoo, while researching for his 10-days-in-a-bear-suit-piece, Sleeper. An unsolved mystery was a second identical bear that appeared on one of those ten nights, which pined through the glass, but never returned.
We did life portraits of Mark, as he modelled while answering any questions we had for him. This was a strange exercise. I realised afterwards I didn’t really hear a fraction of what he said because I was so lost in my IPad drawing. I asked him a question myself about perspective, which he refers to a lot. He said the things that most art history says about the moment of the Renaissance, Brunellschi and the renegotiated position with god, but there was also a more personal sense, in that he had always been fascinated with how pictures appear to spring out from the vanishing point, like a source for the work, and he’s made two pieces that play on this idea. Frustratingly I forgot what they were as I was concentrated on the drawing at that moment. I’m hoping someone else will blog on these insights as I was vaguely aware of some interesting comments, particularly around the need for drawing skills for contemporary conceptual artists. This was the juxtaposition about these two classes, in that he set us exercises with pencils and charcoal but his own art is in other media, although I did hear him say he’s always drawing in notebooks so maybe this is the implicit takeaway lesson.
The following day we all stuck our drawings on the wall. Real variety in the class and some very fine sketches. Mark commented on some. I was pleased he seemed to be impressed with my iPad piece, done with the ArtRage app, which I had printed out. I think he was surprised that the ipad tool had ” a real semblance of drawing” as he put it. I would say it is drawing.
The second day was a series of group tasks and a fun variation of drawing guessing games. Mark had previously been a tutor at Goldsmiths so was quite comfortable in this studio class session. He was full of good humour and it was a great opportunity to have such access to a high profile artist, especially for the £20 ticket price.
Wide Open School is a great pedagogical model. I will be working with colleagues on experimental short courses in our Brighton Fuse project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (www.brightonfuse.com). We will be working with entrepreneurs and creative techies from the Brighton digital-creative cluster together with academics to try some new forms of learning and teaching and this experience of wide open school has given me another source of inspiration.
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