Monday, 28 February 2011

Torres Strait islander Alick Tipoti

Kid's in bed, cup of tea brewed, settled down to watch something on the iplayer and the Griff Rhys Jones new series 'Hidden Treasures of... Australian Art ' catches the eye. Always a sucker for the intensity and originality of spiritual art but wasn't sure if Griff was the man to deliver it.

So imagine my surprise when about 6 minutes in the first artist he visits in his search for the maker of a tribal mask is Alick Tipoti, a Torres Strait Islander now living in Cairns. Who while also carving masks usually works in .... fanfare.. Linocut. Huge bloody great things, in black and white, dense with fascinating pattern and incredibly rich in meaning and belief.

Here is an explanation of his work;

"Alick Tipoti is a Torres Strait Islander who is guided by the traditional cultural practices of his people. He believes in the Zugubal who were spoken about for many years by his ancestors. He is most diligent about what he sees as his responsibility to document the stories, genealogies, songs and other aspects of his culture so that it is available for future generations to learn, understand and practice. He speaks his native language, Kala Lagaw Ya of the Maluilgal nation of Zenadh Kes. Alick believes that language is the vital ingredient that binds all cultures in the world today. ‘Without your language you become a foreigner, lost in another persons culture. * The Australian Art Print Network "

'Koedalal ar Sapural'

Kuyku Garpathamai Mabaig 2007
linocut on paper, edition 3/45

And just to give you an indication of the size and impact of the prints heres the man himself with his wonderful pictures.

 A great deal of his philosophy regarding the place of language in defining and grounding a culture has many parallels with the place and importance of the Welsh language in shaping the resurgence of the welsh culture and nation today. There is also a very interesting piece in the programme where he talks of the spirits of his ancestors helping him with the print, although not as strongly in Cairns as they do back home. To help them with this he usually prints at night. A lot of artist talk of the Muse but his is much more personal and effective it seems. I was fascinated to see how his immersion, his belief in his traditional belief system gives him an unshakable confidence and self belief in his own work and his place, both historical and cultural, in producing that artwork. Which gives his artwork not only a vast wealth of subject to draw upon but a passion and integrity in the execution of that subject, that has such meaning for him, and which then goes a long way towards giving the work it's power.

If as a modern western artist you have no religion, no organised beliefs, where does that passion, that belief in the point and meaning of your own work come from. Do you need it at all? Or do you have to scrabble around and find something else to believe in, spiritual or not to replace the lack of a coherent system in which you have a place. Can you create your own things to believe in and find important enough to give your work  a sense of depth and veracity? Or can you ( can I ) draw on the religious, historical and cultural baggage into which I was born without the belief in that baggage.

Really loved the idea, especially after the shots of the Torres Islands Landscape, of an Artist as different from me as can be in terms of location, climate, culture, language, geography and especially belief, but still using lino, a language we could both speak.

Will have a big think on this and see where it takes me. Back to St George and the Dragon I think.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Number two, The Misty Mountain (Not Tolkien!)

The second smaller illustration for the i-ching was to be a mountain path ascending up through the mists. As luck would have it I found a great sketch I had done, but not yet used, of Tryfan. A great grey shattered peak of a mountain in North Wales. It rears like a broaching whale above Llyn Ogwen and I had sketched it from below the main road and included the bridge so with a bit of judicious photoshoppery majigerry, Tryfan was stretched up to mountain of heaven proportions, I then redrew the bridge to make it a bit more 'Chinese' and put a winding path in and then 'bigged'up the river that runs under the bridge. The actual river Ogwen is concealed by the cut it runs in but I wanted a rushing mountain stream so lifted it right up and made it foam and splash. It was also a good way to take the eye into the composition and accentuate the path/steps by separating them out from the main body of the picture.

Initially the path started with steps just in the immediate foreground with the idea that you went out of the picture and back in again at the bridge to suggest the winding nature of the path.  The client then decided they wanted it a bit more obvious that the steps in the foreground connected directly to the bridge and up the mountain.
Rough 2:

 Steps wind up to the bridge and the cliff on the edge has gone. This does have the added bonus of making the main mountain seem higher. Mmmm steps a bit too erm steppy and maybe too easy! How about more of a rough path to suggest the hard and worthy work involved. Mmmm what about that bridge? Too bridgey maybe? Maybe it should be more of a rough mountain track all au natural. yes lose the bridge!
Rough 3:

Path rough and stoney, bridge, one of my favourite bits, transformed cunningly into a natural arch and the difficult path switch backing up the mountain accentuated. That's it, perfect!

This was a two colour print, with a graduation in the layers to add more variety and depth.  I do like the background mountains emerging from the mist in a paler colour. Was a nice chance to experiment with rubbing out part of the ink to knock that part of the print back and also try the cutting of the mountain sides in lines to suggest the form. Overall a happy client.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Intermission - A little illustration job

My agent in London NB illustration passed on a nice little illustration job to me recently doing a pitch for a book publisher to take to the Frankfurt Book Fair. The book is a new fully illustrated edition of the I-Ching for which I was asked to do two sample illustrations for page mock ups.  The first half page full colour picture is of a chinese junk, the second a typical misty Chinese mountain with ascending path.

The first sketch I sent (Above) had all the elements , but not enough vavavoom. Not oriental enough, so I spiced it up with more than a hint of eastern promise, sent it off and it was a hit. (Below)

The Junk needed a bit of work as it currently looks like a bathtub, which I corrected for in the print sketch. 

Final print. As you can no doubt see the main inspiration for the waves was good 'ole Hokusai's 'Great Wave' and other wave images from his 100 views of Mount Fuji. Although I put a lot of effort into the various sections and shades of blue in the foreground waves. Really wanted to get a sense of depth and distance in, with the feel that the sea was choppy all the way to the horizon. Really pleased with the way it turned out, more so now that I can see it fresh, not having looked at it for a couple of months.

Next post: The misty mountain...