Recently, artist and alumni Gino Ballantyne visited the GSA Library to create drawings and writings based on the collection here, which recognise the use of positive and negative spaces.
Gino Ballantyne plans to visit the library several times over the coming months, but we are delighted to share his first blog post, ‘Sounds in Space’, about his return to the Glasgow School of Art.
Sounds in Space
Silently looking up at the Mackintosh building for the first time in six years. The ravages of the devastating fire were enclosed by the multi-layered scaffolding quietly surrounding it as the cold icy wind hummed and whistled through it. My sadness was palpable, unable to walk up the 15 steps to the front door, due to the closure for conservation work. The same steps I first climbed on that exhilarating day in 1983 as a student when a static electricity echoed by my trepidation and excitement seem to fill the air.
I entered instead the Reid building facing the Mac which articulated the contemporary space in contrast to the Art Nouveau flow of the Mac, the conversation between the two buildings appeared to be light and space (“A Study of Space” a book I later encountered in the library discusses space and light very eloquently). I sat in a void drinking my coffee and drawing in my journal, trying to make sense of the harmonics in the space which stretched skyward. There were some deck chairs and an umbrella with natural daylight bulbs in the void an art installation called S.A.D., which seemed apt. Later sunglasses were added to the deck chairs by the South Korean student responsible for the installation. We struck up a conversation and he told me about his work.
A small connection but in that bubble I instantly felt at home it reminded me why as a student I wanted to go to GSA. It was the energy, the international conversation, the need to learn from and challenge the best. To experiment and take risks. To make new art, developing ideas and answers to questions about the human condition. I wanted to learn how to communicate these ideas and to make art that was demanding and not just an illustration of the idea.
These concerns have been a constant throughout my arts practice; at present, I am thinking of “Sounds in Space” and will be resident with the Libraries, visiting the Archives and Collections at GSA. The initial idea for “Sounds in Space” started when I was making my “Book of Sounds” as a contribution to “Artivity” for Research Fellow Dr Athanasios Velios at Ligatus, a research centre of the University of the Arts London, Chelsea College of Arts, with projects in historical libraries and archives
Rebecca Oliva,organizing my project and introducing me to the staff and facilities, met me. This was done seamlessly and with a warmness and friendliness which made me feel right at home. I immediately began work on the initial research for “Sounds in Space” my attempt to translate sound into “optical space”. I will make drawings that recognise how sound exists, in virtual spaces and which capture input and output the “image spaces”.
Connections are a constant element in my work, patterns of existence and energies that drive them are core concerns, systems that orientate the behaviours of these patterns when manipulated by man’s intention are an intrinsic element of human behaviour. How do we recognise the mood-music that exists in these patterns. I see this music as the negative and positive sounds. The empty sounds the inflexions and patterns that float in the air. Sound poetry with colour, flow, emotions, harmonies, cadences, highs and lows, discordant juxtapositions, brevity, screeching, silences, jarring landscapes, codas, vibrations and more. There visual forms elicit patterns and shapes, the ripples in a puddle, sand shifting, dust settling and resettling, movements of the mouth, sizzling bacon, chairs scraping. Each has an internal and external harmony. However, a more subtle exploration of the sense and slight change in the landscape of each is needed to articulate the mood.
I found a wonderful book in the library “The World’s Writing Systems” which laid out visually the meaning and sounds of languages. I was instantly drawn to these visual elements, and surprised to find in Cherokee an honesty of expression wedded to the world and its landscape. Another book “Man-Made America: Chaos or Control” reflected on the building of Freeways across America. Where designers struggled for order and control in creating an internal and external harmony over the macrolandscape. Perhaps these designers could have asked the Cherokee for advice.
Later, siitting in the canteen of the Reid building and looking at the flow of its lines I was struck by the similarity of the internal and external harmony that the Freeway designers in America had to understand to articulate the flow of the freeway over the landscape. It helped me to analyse the internal and external harmonies of the space in the Reid and the Mac.
The Reid building has lines of perfect harmony, which are set against abrupt endings, like a Philip Glass composition. The Mac is the perfect Beethoven symphony in which the idea and intention of the artist are in perfect balance. The Mona Lisa of Architecture.
Both buildings emphasise the power of the creative process to consider its time and place while looking to the future. The Glassian flow of the Reid influenced my interpretation of its optical space and the sounds I drew are chaotic and controlled but also inherit a Lissitskyian world as does the Reid.
Subsequently in the library I was thinking about a conversation I’d had with the prize winning art critic and writer Robert Cumming about the dearth of conversation on the quality of art. I miss conversations about the quality of the finished art and how it intelligently evolved in its making. Sadly an overlooked part of the process today. Particularly in contemporary discussions where the idea has become paramount with the art simply an illustration to support it, any discussions about its artistic qualities become unimportant.
Four books that caught my eye were on artists Richard Serra, Eva Hesse, Michael Andrews and Victor Pasmore all consumate artists with a very wide arts vocabulary. Serra’s work bound in the industrial processes of forging and rolling steel are at one with his vision, Dylan Thomas would say Serra’s work is “Hewn from form, “out” of form”. Eva Hesse robustly pursues a language, which engages with materiality and finish to make psychological art that communicates organically her “soul” her life and her art. Michael Andrews a painter’s painter explores the mystery of the medium and the human condition and the process of painting is a melody to these concerns. Victor Pasmore breathes life into perfunctory materials developing compositions, symphonies of space and shape materialise under his gaze. These artists tell me that to be an artist you don’t need to be passive or follow the prevailing style to be part of the Zeitgeist.
“Explanations are such cheap poetry”. (Stephen King)
The feeling of impoverishment gathered momentum as I looked at many of the books in the library where newer interpretations had less and less of an internal and external harmony to highlight the concerns of the artist but built a story of a product for the market.
“Vitamin D. New Perspective in Drawing”, the artists are diverse and said to reference and emphasise newness through newness of assimilation and idiosyncrasy. Novel interpretations, highlighting the mimetic nature of art, and its ideas. I found myself thinking about J. D. Ballard’s book “The Kingdom” in which he says post-modernism is the sales campaign that gets rid of the need for a product. This sales language now has a formal title “International Art English”.
When Richard Serra speaks of drawing he says, “There is no way to make a drawing – there is only drawing”.
Kitaj once said to me “drawing is about first marks”
I echo these great artists, drawing is about: first marks and last marks, the invisible and the visible, the tangible and the intangible, the positive and the negative, the autonomy of the individual response which Eva Hesse would describe as “In my inner soul art and life are inseparable”
In this spirit, I look forward to developing the initial work I have made and my next visit to GSA in a few weeks.
Gino Ballantyne has also provided a list of books he encountered in the Library:
- Reed, John and Charles R. Schulze, Man-made America: chaos or control?: an inquiry into selected problems of design in the urbanized landscape. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963).
- Torres, Ana Maria, Isamu Noguchi: a study of space. (New York: Monacelli Press, 2000).
- Blanciak, François, Siteless: 1001 building forms, (Cambridge: MIT, 2008).
- The Art Of Music, ed. by Patrick Coleman, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015).
- Temperamenti: contemporary art from Italy, (Glasgow: Tramway, 1990).
- Serra, Richard, Rolled and forged, (Göttingen: Steidl, 2006).
- Serra, Richard, Richard Serra, (New York: Rizzoli, 1988,)
- Andrews, Michael, Michael Andrews: the Thames paintings, (London: Timothy Taylor Gallery, 1998).
- Andrews, Michael, Michael Andrews: lights, (Madrid: Fundacion Coleccion Thyssen-Bornemisza, 2000).
- Lynton, Norbert, and Victor Pasmore, Victor Pasmore: paintings and graphics 1980-1992, (1992)
- The world’s writing systems, ed. By P. T. Daniels and William Bright. (Oxford: University Press, 1996)
- Wilk, Christopher, Modernism 1914-1939: designing a new world, (London: V&A, 2006).
- Hesse, Eva, Eva Hesse: drawing, (New Haven, Conn.; London: Yale University Press, 2006).
- Kentridge, William, Carnets d’Egypte, (Paris: Musee du Louvre, 2010).
- Palmer, Samuel, Samuel Palmer: the sketchbook of 1824, (London: Thames & Hudson, 2005).
- Butler, Cornelia H., Afterimage: drawing through process, (Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT Press, 1999).
- Jodidio, Philip, Santiago Calatrava, (Köln; London: Taschen, c2001).
- From Mantegna to Picasso: drawings from the Thaw Collection at the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1996)