T03803 INDEX: THE STUDIO AT 3 WESLEY PLACE (VI), ILLUMINATED BY AN EXPLOSION NEARBY 1982
Photograph mounted on sandwich of paper and plastic foam, 42 × 63 1/8 (1067 × 1603)
Presented by Art & Language and the Lisson Gallery 1983
Exh: As above, Lisson Gallery (6)
Repr: Art and Language, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham 1983 (as ‘The Studio at 3 Wesley Place (VI), illuminated by an Explosion nearby (V)’), no.28; Art and Language, Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1983 (as ‘The Studio at 3 Wesley Place (VI), illuminated by an Explosion nearby (V)’), no.27
The first maquette for Art & Language's ‘Studio-Drawing (i)’ - could be seen as fulfilling two requirements. It serves to establish the nature of a composition; it also assembles and lists a set of objects and references. It is both a ‘study’ and an ‘index’. As an index ‘Drawing (i)’ describes or represents the practice of Art & Language in terms of certain persons and activities, certain products of that practice and of other practices associated with it, certain resources, certain interests and so on. The picture is retrospective - in the sense, for instance, that both early works and early reading are represented. It also serves to map out a current position.
As a consequence of its being an adequate index ‘Drawing (i)’ is inadequate as a ‘compositional study’ for an ambitious modern painting; i.e. it seems to presuppose a somewhat conservative (literal, descriptive, unexpressive) end result. Modernism in painting has conventionally been identified with the precedence of (expressive) composing over (descriptive) listing. ‘Drawing (ii)’, in a private collection, provides a less literally descriptive and apparently more expressive version of the Studio picture. It was drawn from ‘Drawing (i)’ with a pencil held in the mouth. For the painting ‘Index: The Studio at 3 Wesley Place Painted by Mouth (1)’ and accidents and distortions generated by the by-mouth process were copied exactly, by hand, onto the full-sized paper, 12 1/2 × 25ft (3750 × 7500mm). This was coloured in by hand and then painted over by mouth, in black ink, by reference to ‘Drawing (i)’, in order to generate an ‘expressive’ surface. For the painting ‘Index ... (ii), Drawing (ii)’ was copied on to full-sized paper by mouth, with brushes and ink and without squaring up. The levels and scale of distortion were thus increased while the legibility of descriptive detail decreased.
The third painting, ‘Index: The Studio at 3 Wesley Place in the Dark (iii)’ was based on ‘Drawing (iii)’, an imaginary representation of the subject-matter of ‘Drawing (i)’ seen as if under different and more dramatic lighting conditions, and ‘Drawing (iv)’, a second by-mouth copy of ‘Drawing (i)’ produced without initial squaring-up (thus generating a larger scale of distortion than ‘Drawing (ii)’. In the finished painting, in acrylic on canvas 12 1/2 × 25ft (3750 × 7500mm), the great majority of the detail has become indecipherable in the darkness of the surface. Across this surface are stencilled representations of Art & Language's own ‘failures’, works edited-out in compiling the list which ‘Drawing (i)’ represents. The positioning of these ‘embarrassments’ was worked out in ‘Drawing (v)’. As the by-mouth process calls into question the authenticity of the expressive qualities it appears to produce, so the self-conscious and embarrassing failures call into question the authenticity of the original descriptive list.
All the drawings are working drawings. The ‘Studio’ paintings were envisaged as a series, and the series was originally defined in terms of a system. The system broke down and the series developed through seven large images in ways which could not have been envisaged at the outset. The drawings reflect this breakdown and also allow some order of development to be perceived in retrospect. ‘Drawing (v)’, for instance, was produced mid-way through work on the third ‘Studio’ painting, when it became clear that something had to be done to it. The requirements of practice are critiques of planning.
What happened to the details, the autobiographical, artistic and intellectual references assembled in ‘Drawing (i)’? With hindsight it can be seen that though they were necessary to the project as a whole, and though they continued at some level to determine the appearance of the ‘Studio’ paintings, it was increasingly unnecessary that they be discernible as imagery. Indeed, for the purposes of going on painting, it seems to have been necessary that they be obliterated or otherwise stripped of significance. This may say something about painting.
In ‘Drawing (vi)’ the details and references are as it were sealed in by the superimposition of another representational level. Here the picture of the studio is itself represented as a surface - the reflecting surface of part of ‘Drawing (iii)’ - on which light falls from an event in another world and time, on another representational level. The all revealing light within the first ‘Studio’ is now remote. No firm perceptual line divides the fragmentary illumination of depicted people and things from accidental features of an actual illuminated surface. From the series as a whole a kind of theoretical and critical assertion might be derived: what is described and expressed in art is always indirectly described and expressed; there is no simple truth-value in description or expression; to be plausible now, painting must live with the ironies involved.
T03800-T03804 were made at 3 Wesley Place, Chacombe near Banbury, Oxon, where Charles Harrison lived in 1982.
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986