This catalogue entry discusses a group of works; details of the individual work are given at the end of the introductory text.
Five drawings from a group of six, various media, on paper various sizes
Each inscribed ‘The Days Residues 1982 Avis Newman' on back b.l.
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1985
Lit: Avis Newman, ‘The Day's Residues,' statement accompanying exh. at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham 1982; Jean Fisher, ‘On the Margins of Forgetfulness', Avis Newman, exh.cat., Lisson Gallery, Nov.-Dec. 1987, pp.5-29
Unless otherwise indicated, this entry is based on conversations with the artist in 1987 and 1988 and it has been approved by her.
T03946-T03950, now collectively titled ‘The Day's Residues' are drawn from two sets of drawings first shown at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham in 1982 in an exhibition also titled The Day's Residues. One of these sets was of four drawings and the other of two.
When T03946-T03950 were exhibited in Birmingham, T03946-T03948 (together with a fourth work, not in the Tate's collection) were titled ‘The Day's Residues'. T03949
were originally titled ‘Black Traces' in the exhibition. They have since been retitled ‘The Day's Residues V' and ‘VI' by Newman, who was never happy with the original title. When exhibited, T03946-T03948 were accompanied by another drawing which formed part of the original ‘Day's Residues' Group. This drawing, ‘The Day's Residues IV' (reproduced as ‘Day's Residues V' on the poster for the Ikon Gallery exhibition) is now in a private collection. A drawing reproduced on the Ikon poster as ‘Day's Residues I 1981' is not from the series but from another set titled ‘Far From the Immensities of Sea and Land' 1981-82, (four drawings, 1016 x 1372, 40 x 54 each, no.3 on Ikon hand list). The exhibition also included three other sets of drawings: ‘Rage on death' 1980-82, (twelve drawings, 508 x 762, 20 x 30 each, no.1 on Ikon Gallery list); ‘... of things past' 1982, (three drawings, 610 x 788, 24 x 31 each, no.8 on Ikon Gallery list); and ‘Only the beginnings of Terror' 1982, (four drawings, 1017 x 1372, 40 x 54 each, no.5 on Ikon Gallery list).
T03946-T03948 are more open, lighter drawings, where the white surface is dominant. The remaining two works (T03949-T03950), are darker. The latter have been referred to by Newman in conversation as ‘implosions' or ‘black holes', suggesting that they may be seen as the mirror or reverse of the lighter works.
The drawings in the exhibition at Birmingham in 1982 were accompanied by the following explanatory note by the artist:
The drawings in this exhibition consist of work produced over the past two and a half years. They are grouped under the collective title, ‘The Day's Residues' which, according to the psycho-analytic theory of dreams, are those elements ‘from the waking state of the day before, which are found in the narrative of the dream. They are connected more or less distantly to the unconscious wish that is fulfilled in the dream' [J. Laplanche & J.B. Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, London 1980, p.96-7].
The images contained in the work - birds, animals, strange horned heads - have universal and mythic meanings attached to them but, when particularised by individual experience (as in dreams and daydreams), act as pivotal points for a mass of associations accrued in memory and which give tangible form to ancient feelings. The reality of a bird or figure is less important than what it evokes, through a natural relationship, of something absent or impossible to perceive. The bird is used in the work to suggest the mobility of the image and that ambiguity of form which one experiences in dreams. The images stand in a symbolic relationship between the real and the imaginary and exist within the picture space which, like a slow-motion film, distances the sights and sounds of an everyday reality to both reveal and conceal the monumental, but barely visible sensations which vibrate through our consciousnesss, spin off and are gone. They stand for those moments of consciousness which, glimpsed momentarily, are felt to hold great truth.
The drawings exhibited at the Ikon Gallery were made at the same time as a set of large works on unstretched canvas, exhibited at Matt's Gallery in London in 1982 (Scenes, Matts Gallery, February 1982). These larger works (some of Newman's earliest on unstretched canvas), although more open in form than T03946-T03950, nevertheless explored the same ideas and reportoire of imagery that Newman was experimenting with in the contemporary smaller works. The artist finds Jean Fisher's press release for the exhibition at Matt's Gallery also useful in aiding an understanding of the smaller drawings:
is a visual lyric poem, epic in its dimensions, which encloses us in an imaginary and ambiguous space. This space is not illusionistic but historical: a narrative of seeing, through whose leaps in scale we journey from the diminutive signs of the archaic past, almost embedded in the texture of the work, to the expansive ‘presence' of forms which sweep across our field of vision. Scenes reflects the infinite space of our daydreams, those fantasies in which our thoughts drift from the minutiae of immediate sensation into the time and space of memory, and in which desire momentarily captures its unattainable Ideal ...
The bird is a psychic emblem, a leitmotif which is prepresented in Scenes
by its different aspects: soaring free and joyous or displayed aggressively; fractured and part-hidden in the confusion of conflicting elements; or arrested, with limbs braced, in that moment between the possibilities of consummation or annihilation.
The work speaks of the search to relocate meaning in those existing codes of visual representation from which woman-as-author has traditionally been excluded. The sensual, illusionistic conventions of painting are grounded in the desire for possession. How, then, may woman express her own desire and ‘aggressivity' under a phallocentric order which has sought to repress her passions; which in both desiring and fearing her sexuality has tragically reified her image as the object of the all-consuming gaze? The artist turns to the anti-illusionism and physical immediacy of drawing, whose potential for expression remains unfettered by tradition. She draws from signs which predate the conditions of patriarchy, and from an activity of making enjoyed before the full force of the Symbolic order confines the child in its predetermined codes of representation. By these means, drawing is sustained as primary and organic process, an experience whose contents remain in a state of ‘revealing', not yet ‘revealed'. In contrast to painting which defines that which has been made ‘whole' and concrete, drawing expresses the ineffable: that which is still possible.
Consequently, the artist does not present us with finalised ‘pictures'; to do so would be to impose a ‘resolution' that would limit the extent to which our own associations may articulate with the immediate reality of the work. Instead she confronts us with a play of dualities: quiet rhythms juxtaposed with angry explosions; forms that move gently in and out of focus, or that violently collide and fuse.
Discussing the drawings exhibited later at Birmingham (which included T03946-T03950), Jean Fisher has also written:
‘The Days's Residues', refers to Freud's description of those seemingly insignificant elements of the day's events which in dream become invested, through their particularised associations, with the repressed contents of unconscious desire ... The reference is important to an understanding of Newman's working process, insofar as the completed drawings derive from an interaction between, on the one hand, the particular qualities of materials and the supporting surface, and on the other, a body of thought. The surface is a transformation site, in the sense in which we understand the Lascaux caves, where close attention is paid to the way drawing interfaces with the space and integrates the physical characteristics of the material surface: nothing is left to chance.
The process by which marks and stains accumulate and transform in their relation to the surface in Newman's work, is analogous to the dream-work's internalisation of almost imperceptible external images or events, and to its condensation of these minutiae with the signs and figures that populate the potentially limitless and timeless space of dream.
The bird is a recurrent motif in this body of work; it conceptually condenses oneiric space with aerial space, a medium which sets our gravitational limits, and in so doing, it evokes a sense of the self's psychic and physical vulnerability in the absence of defined linguistic boundaries. In one drawing the spatio temporal immensity of this domain is suggested by the differential scale of the drawing's components, a large form recalling a bird in flight, juxtaposed with clusters of tiny archaic signs.
... The work is not grounded in a particular formal reference but exists as a process of articulation that produces meaning through the mobility of its differing effects: overlays, reinscriptions, transfers, repetititions, and retracings (Fisher 1987, pp.8-9).
Avis Newman has worked with a variety of grounds and formats but since 1982 has chiefly been associated with large mixed media drawings on unstretched canvas, which have generally been pinned directly to the gallery walls during display.
Both in the larger works and in drawings such as T03946-T03950, recognizable elements, outlines of parts of human bodies, bird shapes and paleolithic symbols have been woven together. Avis Newman has used dictionaries of symbols as source material and told the compiler that she had used André Leroi-Gourhan, The Art of Prehistoric Man in Western Europe
(London 1968) as a reference for these works. She told the compiler that she selected archaic, for example paleolithic, signs because these had evolved through a refinement of thought and she has been particularly interested in forms of art where a system of codification has taken place, the key to which is now lost. ‘The combination of such signs with emotive imagery has been used as an analogy for the negotiation of meaning which takes place when viewing any work'. Newman has spoken of her work as being
the cultivation of knowingness and unknown and of those elusive sensations which prompt the interior monologue to which we are all subject. As with the larger works, these drawings [T03946-T03950] do not aim for a form of unification but rather such traces of what was, or glimpses of possibilities. The viewer became the meditator (conversation with the compiler June 1988).
The framing of T03946-T03950 was closely supervised by the artist. Newman selected a simple heavy moulding which was finished with polished graphite paint. The overall effect is of box-like solidity. By this the artist hoped to emphasise the object nature of the work.
In 1986, John Wilkinson published ‘The Day's Residues', a set of five poems written in response to T03946-T03950, which he saw at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham. The poems were published in Equofinality
No.3, Spring/Summer 1986 (Leeds University Press).
Inscribed ‘The Day's Residues 1982 Avis Newman' on back b.l.
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1985
Exh: The Day's Residues, Avis Newman Drawings, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham Nov.-Dec. 1982 (7, as ‘Black Traces', no cat.)
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.218-20