Sarah Youseman is a student on the new OCA drawing course: Drawing 2 – Investigating Drawing. In that course, students are required to complete a ‘parallel project’ which offers a degree of freedom with regard to subject and execution and run throughout the duration of the course. It offers students a chance to engage over an extended period with a body of work. What’s interesting is that Sarah has found that the more structured exercises and the parallel project are feeding one another.
Although the example outlined here uses a specific location as a way of anchoring the project, but that’s not the only solution. I’m particularly pleased that Sarah is using the work of other artists – and consciously integrating some of their thinking and techniques – to understand how a landscape might be approached. This isn’t plagiarism, but a sort of ventriloquism. Even if an artist tries hard to mimic another, something always intervenes to make the results different.
Bryan: You’ve decided on a place near your home to be the focus of your Parallel Project. Can you give a quick description of the place?
Sarah: I have chosen the Thames estuary coastline between Greenhithe and Gravesend. This is primarily an industrial area featuring jetties and piers, cement works, some smart riverside residential developments and some leisure gardens.
That sounds varied. It could offer a chance to highlight or exploit issues of regeneration or land-use, or are you drawn to one thing rather than the other, or is it the margins that really attract you?
The regeneration tends to be smart and practical yet sterile. I am drawn to the discarded such as finding unexpected beauty in piles of aggregate or a story in a broken, abandoned bike.
You’ve said in your notes that it’s somewhere from which you feel excluded. Is that just physical, or is it a deeper feeling of not-belonging?
The sense of exclusion is twofold; firstly there are physical barriers – large boarded fences which surround all the interesting bits such as cranes and diggers peppered with ‘Private Property’ signs but secondly, and more importantly, it is not my world. I am an intruder, an interloper sketching, note-taking and photographing interesting shapes, tonal values and thinking about possible compositions. I haven’t got a clue what is actually going on. Their world is real stuff, making things, earth moving, men – only men – in the high-visibility jackets eyeing me with suspicion. I am seeking to express this sensation in my work.
How is the course in general feeding this project (or vice versa)? Are techniques and lessons resonating with the parallel project?
Yes, very much so. I have found that each project will trigger off an idea that I could relate to the parallel project. Also some work I’ve been exploring involving tidal mud in the parallel project seems as though it’s going to crop up further in the course and so tie in rather well.
Are you looking at any artists in particular in relation to an idea of site-specificity?
It was studying Prunella Clough that triggered off the site-specific idea. I had been looking at her crane studies and I know she spent time working in Gravesend. At the moment I’m looking at the work and ideas of Richard Long.
That’s quite a leap. Long’s works are evidence of a process in (or perhaps a dialogue with) the landscape, and only pictorial as a side-effect. Melding two distinct approaches is a great way to create something new. How might the geography / geology of the site influence the work? Are you moving towards something less figurative, for instance?
The two finished pieces have become about the geography/geology of the area rather than the people. The starting points have been about using site-specific materials such as chalk, mud, grass and stones to create an abstract-style organic work. I then have juxtaposed a figurative motif with the addition of a collaged wind turbine in one work and a realistically drawn bike in the other with the intention of given a playful tug back to the sense of place and scale.
How does it feel to have a project that’s self-driven and less bounded by exercises and so on? Could it take over all your OCA time?
To start with it was difficult. I like the safety of having a brief and ticking items on a list. Now that I’ve got my teeth into something that has given me the freedom to explore a subject in a way I want to, I could just keep going. I have time-managed this so far by taking breaks from the exercises at a suitable point That is, once I’ve written up a project, and also when a part of the project then drives an idea.
As I will submit my work for assessment I am mindful of exactly how much evidence of study and finished pieces I need to produce. So far I have spent about two separate weeks of dedicated work on the parallel project and produced two finished pieces. I have several ideas of what I could explore next but will proceed with the course for now and then return to the parallel project once I have had feedback from the next assignment.