You can blame Denis Dalby for this blog. He recently mentioned on Facebook something about him never being able to see a clothes line in the same way ever again, after attending a course I ran at the Swarthmore Adult Education Centre in Leeds. I worked there during the mid to late 70s and early 80s and as I ran the course on my own and had no paperwork to do at that time, just made it up as I went along. I learnt a lot in terms of what worked and what didn't and was able to put into action stuff I was learning on other days as I also worked on the long established Foundation Course over at what was then the Jacob Kramer College.
So back to the clothes line.
Before the students came in I would put up several clothes lines across the drawing studio. Three or four, with old fashioned clothes pegs placed at irregular intervals. As the students came in they were asked to position easels so that they should not interfere with the construction or their ability to see at least two of the lines and associated pegs. Before starting to draw anything the talk would be of spatial awareness, where people were positioned was examined, how had they arrived at the decision to set up where they had. The gradual taking of space by them as individuals was reflected back as an essential human factor and that awareness of space was as much a psychological as a physical phenomena. Then set-up for a drawing would start. Easels were adjusted according to sight lines. We focused on where people were, where their easel and therefore paper was and where the object to draw was. In this case it was hard to find the object but this was the point. The previous session and following session were about perceptual drawing. A life model (Anne and that's another story) was available, but the looking had been slack and people had been very unaware of the space that the figure sat in. In particular I had tried to introduce a method of drawing we were at that time calling "Giron and Fesspoint" drawing. This is a term that was used by a collection of staff at the Jacob Kramer, a term I hadn't come across before but which I on first contact associated with a type of drawing introduced by William Coldstream at the Slade and which was eventually practiced by Euan Uglow in a very hard nosed form. However I was soon to realise that this was only superficially similar. A giron was an imaginary line connecting specific points between two masses in space. Fess points were the points where the eye would momentarily rest as it sought to make connections with other points. Gradually a network of connections is arrived at that reveals the space as it is perceived by the observer. The difference between the "giron and fess-point" method and the Coldstream/Uglow tradition however was the rejection of the fixed anchor points. This was also related to the problem of perspective. In order to 'see' we seek out what's there. The head rotates on its axis and both eyes come into play as depth is explored. So the problem of spatial awareness was not just to find the 'anchor' points which help understand the space, but to also engage with the visual scanning of left to right, up to down and in and out of the space. A giron was therefore as much an indicator of perceptual travel as a link between one thing and another. A fess point could therefore come into being at any point along that travel, not necessarily at a point where the edge of an object might cross where this line might be, because it ought to be an important point in space that was indicated by an awareness of relationships. And, more importantly, that point itself was in flux. Already I can see the students' brains descending into a foggy unknowing but I would persist. At this point I'd walk out and physically pinch a point in the air, ask students to watch carefully where this was and then let it go. Students were asked to scan around that point and find others, then try and find the invisible point that I had moments before indicated. This was a 'fess' point. Finally we would get to the drawing. The clothes lines were to be seen initially as physical manifestations of the girons. The pegs as fess points. Students were to look at how the space was traversed by this construction and how it could be used to make drawings that explained their growing awareness of the space.
The main problem I had was getting students to stop drawing clothes pegs and clothes lines. Things are not important I would state over and over again, its all about relationships. At the end of the day we would be left with drawings consisting of faint lines and marks indicating the students' struggle to come to terms with what I was asking them to do. The 'crit' at the end would consist of us looking collectively at these images and assessing whether or not the spatial experience had been realised. However this had to come out of individual's approaches, some making tiny delicate pencil insertions, others working in charcoal and creating a mass of rubbed out and energetic marks. The test was the spatial re-creation, but the levels of energy and personality within these constructions was unique to each student. Many of the processes used to open students' eyes were introduced to me by my older colleagues who worked at the Jacob Kramer. In particular the man who wanted to re-create the eye movements as actions that could be read not only in space but time, was Patrick Oliver. But others there stressed structure and the tension between the flicker of momentary perception and the need to structure any experience if we are to act in relationship to it. Colin Cain was a structuralist and he used perspective, so was Gavin Stuart, who didn't. When I started (academic year 1974/5) Frank Lisle, the then principal used to come into life drawing classes I taught and make comments on my ability to articulate the underlying anatomical structure. He had no truck with 'giron and fess-point' drawings, he was much more Henry Tonks/William Coldstream and had taught David Hockney when he was a student at Bradford. Hockney came to Newport to do a bit of part-time when I was a student I think John Selway had invited him in. (1969/70 I think) I mainly remember Hockney talking about why he had placed a plant pot in front of someone's feet in a drawing he was showing us, basically because he couldn't get them right. A useful lesson I thought in getting round a problem by avoiding it. I was into conceptualism at the time though and wasn't really listening to what he was saying. The stupidity of youth.