Saturday, 17 May 2014

How I learned to love Lichtenstein. (Not really)

Lichtenstein was not my choice.We all had to pick a piece of paper out of an envelope; on each was written the name of an artist. My colleagues got Klimt, Klee and Rothko. Delauney, Josef Albers, Rauschenberg. I got Roy Lichtenstein.I've never been a fan of his work; subconsciously aware of WHAAAM! and the ubiquitous reproduction of his iconic images commercially, but it's not my sort of thing. Our brief for our BA hons Surface Design and Textile Innovation was to create textile samples inspired by a particular artist. Not only was I miffed to have been landed with someone who did nothing for me, but when all the names had been drawn I commented (well, actually I ranted) to the tutor that they were all men. "What about Bridget Riley?" I moaned. "Louise Bourgeois? Paula Rego? Frida Khalo?"One of the group piped up: "I've got a woman! Joan Miro!"Anyway.I struggled to create textile pieces inspired by Lichtenstein's bland two-colour dot paintings, his Brushstrokes series, and his Mondrian copies. While everyone around me was creating dainty delicate stitches, on chiffon, velvet and silk, I was lost in a chasm of disengagement. An inspired moment of combining pages from comic books into my knit, stitch, and textile work kept the boredom at bay, and I managed to pull together an excellent (in my opinion) samples book for the final assessment.
Hand felted Lichtenstein 'Eye'

Although I got a B for my project, I wasn't happy. I felt I had really worked hard with a limiting brief, and had created something out of nothing - something varied and beautiful. At least, I thought, I could forget about Lichtenstein for ever now. After the festive break we started on a new brief: again, just up my street (not). To work on woven designs for cushions for the choral area of Bradford Cathedral. We would be weaving samples based on our drawings and interpretation of elements within the building. However, my interest in the course was starting to unravel.On a cold January morning, all three year groups met up in the centre of Leeds to be sent off to research fashion fabrics. We got denim. Yawn. We spent the afternoon debriefing; two hours of monotonous chitter chatter about baby clothes, lingerie and coats.It was Kate Moss who saved me from more of the same; forced to watch a video of her at a lecture, her inane gushing over textiles and fashion left me cold. It was then, in a flash, that I finally realised - I was doing a degree on fashion design. WTF was I doing?Not creative textiles, as I had envisaged. There had been no real opportunity for experimentation. The lovely people in my group, and the second and third years I got to know too, were all warm and friendly. But they all ooohed and ahhhed over pictures in Vogue; had photos of designer dresses up on their cubicle walls. I was not of their ilk.Immediately after Kate imparted her exquisite knowledge, I went straight off to get a college brochure outlining the other degree courses at Bradford School of Arts and Media. Visual Arts jumped out at me immediately, and it was like an Eureka! moment. This is the course I should have taken! There was no time to waste. I managed to talk to tutor Heather, who encouraged me to go to see Wendy, head of department. Wendy was busy and I spent a good 15 minutes waiting nervously outside her office before she was able to break away to see me. I blurted out that I was on the wrong course and wanted to swap to visual arts. "Come and see me tomorrow at 1, and bring a portfolio of your work," said Wendy, and vanished back into her office.I could hardly contain my excitement. Bursting, I managed to get through the rest of the afternoon where we were painting colour schemes of textile fabric colours  in our sketchbooks. Dull.At home, I pulled together a few bits and pieces that I had done over the years and which I felt could qualify as visual arts. Some large drawings, a zine, some altered books and a painting. In the event, Wendy loved my work and said she would be delighted to have me on the course. The relief was incredible; that was it, no more knit and weave and bloody fashion design.It was strange, swapping courses half way through. I didn't know anyone on the VA course and the early days were uncomfortable; I felt like an outsider. News of my departure from the textiles course was greeted with indifference by the tutors, with one snapping at me that I would regret my decision. It had been hard enough for me to find the confidence to return to an educational environment after so many years, so I put the negativity behind me.As a latecomer, I had to fit in where there was space, and thus a section of wall and a wobbly table were found for me wedged between year 2 and year 3. For the first few weeks I didn't really have a clue what was going on; however In 2D and 3D drawing I have surprised myself with my mixture of mark-making and collage; in print I have discovered a whole world of surprises. I was really starting to enjoy studying.
'Life' drawing

Then Lichtenstein reared his ugly head again. To be fair, it wasn't entirely his fault. My brief in VA was entitled 'transcription', and was very loose, to the point where if you didn't like it you could set your own brief. I had a few ideas, but somehow ended up thinking about dear old Roy and coming to the realisation that a) I had done a bloody hell of a lot of work on him for textiles which had gone unappreciated b) I could transcribe that work to fit the brief.For my presentation I put together a show entitled "How did Roy Lichtenstein engage with comic book art?" It went well, and some weeks later I was informed that I had got a B+. The next stage was to write a 2000 word essay on the same subject, incorporating feedback from the presentation. Duly submitted, and some weeks later I was informed that I had got an A-. Roy even managed to creep in to my modules of studio practice and techniques & processes. Experimenting with lino, intaglio and letterpress blocks, I printed a variety of satirical artworks mimicking Lichtenstein's work. A collage of lips, train tickets with beautiful women and speech bubbles, and I even managed to sneak in some of my textile pieces from the previous course.For my final modules I received an A and an A+. Pretty good letters to end a sporadic but ultimately invigorating first year on a university degree course. And I owe it all to Roy Lichtenstein.
My studio space with my final work on show

1 comment:

  1. Well done on the grades. And glad to see that Roy wasn't wasted. Good luck for next year. :)