Art Workshop at Wolfson College

On Saturday, I went to Wolfson College at Oxford to attend a workshop by Mark Rowan-Hull, who you may remember from earlier this year.  Mark is an abstract artist, and he uses his synaesthesia, his ability to sense music as colour, to inform his work.

Gerald Garcia, musician, played guitar for us, pre-composed pieces in the morning, and improvisations with Tibeten Bowls in the afternoon, which the workshop group painted to.   The group was made up of a mixed bunch, a photographer, a couple of poets, a biographer/academic, some students from Oxford.  I don’t think we all responded in the same way, which is to be expected.  One of the group used text, words as objects, freed from their meaning.  The young lady opposite me, produced some amazing artwork, really amazing, but I don’t know how she got their from the music.  I wish I’d asked her.

My own attempt to respond to what I was hearing was to not think about it.  With the event we did earlier this year, I used free-writing as a way of getting at my response.  I felt that to think about what I might write was to censor what I wanted to write.  My painting was similar, here.  I didn’t think that chord seems blue, or that note should be high or low on the page.  I just did whatever I did when the brush touched the canvas.  That’s not to say I didn’t make decisions.  Of course I had to choose the brush size, the colour, etc, before I even got to make a mark, but I tried to make those decisions quickly.  When I did think about what I was doing, or notice what I was doing, I did feel there was a relationship between the long curling downward strokes, and the tumbling scales and arpeggio I could hear beside me.  However, I did find myself consciously wanting to find a way to represent the Tibeten Bowl bell sounds, perhaps because they were quite piercing and fractured my focus.  I think I thought they were yellow, starbursts, that sort of sound.

There is obviously a difference between the two events for me, and that is the free- writing formed the material of the poem “June,” but I was able to go back and shape the poem.  The paintings I produced are finished, unrevisable.  And I don’t know how I feel about that.  Giving yourself over to a process like this is easier when you know you can go back and make the artwork/poem closer to what you value in your work.  There is still an element of control, although ekphrastic writing does require you to be more open to what comes from the source, to create an honest response, rather than manipulating the source, or your response, towards a preconceived outcome.  Perhaps, this was a valuable lesson in opening up to that process more completely.

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