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The online editorial and curatorial project for reductive, geometric and systems artists working in the UK

Website: Chestnuts Design

Interview with Wendy Smith by Ben Gooding

May 2015

It is true that coordinates could be fed into a computer and similar images to my original drawings could be produced - even mass-produced. The problem is that without the drawing(s) I would not know what the relevant coordinates would be - and nor would anyone else. If I were a computer artist it would be a different matter, but then I wouldn’t bother with drawing, or drawings, at all. In that circumstance I would likely settle for the screen and/or digital printouts; to suppose otherwise would be both fanciful and sentimental. I don’t draw merely because that’s what artists are supposed to do, nor out of some romantic attachment or association with the medium. I draw because it is the most direct way of pursuing my interests and, whichever way you cut it, the drawings I make could not be constructed (as opposed to being reconstructed or replicated) by computer, or any other way known to me.


One could say that ‘surface’ is the object of my inquiry; this comprises the material surface on which I draw (or paint) but also the more mysterious abstraction of an immaterial ‘something’ which has a given area and position but no volume. The picture plane would be a case in point: the picture plane is essentially two-dimensional. Although the plane surface of a drawing and the picture plane are commensurate in area, they are not one and the same. The picture plane (as distinct from the surface of the drawing) is not a physical entity. The picture plane is phenomenal, an illusory space, available only to visual perception and imagination: it consists in the optical transformation of medium into image. The image originates not in any three-dimensional or, for that matter, psychological reality, but on the surface on which I draw.  

BG    You recently visited Japan, which has long held a particular fascination for you. It’s a culture striking in its obsessive adherence to ritual and ceremony. Is there a parallel here to the way you operate as an artist? You spoke in particular about your experience of Japanese Buddhist calligraphy and the fact that one strives to copy a mark that is not about the individual. Does this relate to your own work with pen and ruler?


WS    My abiding impression of Japan is just how intensely Japanese Japan actually is. I am not particularly well-travelled, but Japan was/is the most foreign place - both in the sense of ‘abroad’ and ‘strange’ - that I have ever been to. I found nothing remotely quaint or picturesque about its people, its cities or its landscape; to a surprising degree perhaps, its customs and traditions seemed of a piece with everyday contemporary life, or at least never far beneath the surface. As far as I observed it, adherence to ritual, ceremony and certain codes of behaviour is not phoney, neurotic or ingratiating, it is simply Japanese. You would be right in supposing that this decidedly non-Japanese artist is, nevertheless, powerfully drawn to aspects of (what she perceives to be) the Japanese way.

My first brush with Japanese art must have been when I was a second-year painting student in Nottingham, and only by way of the Oriental Art section of the college library. The art history component of the fine art course was resolutely Eurocentric, but I picked up on the idea of alternative art traditions from references made in lectures to the influence on French artists in particular of Japanese woodcuts. At the time, I was struggling to find some sort of identity as a painter that I could recognise as being authentic, not just in terms of an art practice but a life lived. In hindsight, and as Jasper Johns once put it, I was “just trying to find a way to make pictures”. In other words, like Johns, I saw myself within a tradition of picture-making rather than at odds with it, but I did not see myself as a figurative painter, nor as a non-figurative/abstract painter - perhaps not as a painter at all. What I did know was that although I recognised the so-called non-objective artists as comprising my closest antecedents, I was committed to some notion of image, and indeed, ‘representation’, as mostly they were not. Or at any rate that was my understanding then.


Japanese art was a revelation for me in several ways. First, brush and ink had an honourable place in the scheme of things. I liked very much the way shades of ink, more or less diluted, were applied to suggest varying intensities of colour, depth and/or distance. I was particularly taken with the relationship between calligraphy - which is to say, the art of handwriting - and painting. Much more recently I learned that the hiragana for ‘to write/draw/paint’ is the same, depending on context (in romaji: ‘kakimasu’). When I was a student, ‘graphic’ was almost a term of abuse in the painting studios.


Second, the spatial organization was quite different to that of the Western tradition. There were no fixed vanishing or viewing points in traditional Japanese art, and the picture plane seemed able to accommodate ‘here and now-ness’ as well as ‘far away-ness’ within the same sweep. I was  particularly drawn to the way whole areas of blank paper or silk might depict the earth’s surface, mist or cloud, or an undifferentiated, but wholly believable, space in which beings of various kinds - trees, birds, travellers - might be situated.

Third, I loved the way narratives could be continuous over discontinuous surfaces, whether they were large-scale works on screens or the more intimate leaves of an album. In either case, the painting on each panel or sheet functioned both as an image in its own right - when folded, say, - as well as in the context of the bigger picture. I enjoyed the way both sides of the screen (or album leaf) served as picture surfaces of equal importance. In fact this last was probably influential in the books I made towards the end of my second year. I was also responsive to the way natural history subjects were treated; the humour conveyed with the seeming spontaneity of a ready smile; and much, much more.


I should perhaps make clear at this juncture that I was not looking to model my own practice on Japanese art, even though I recognise, in all my work, elements that have their origin in this early enthusiasm. At that time, however, I would have counted myself a modernist, and if anything, I was looking to put to one side what I understood about tradition. In that regard, and however incongruous it might now seem to an outsider, the other big influence on my creative development at this point was Dada.

You can perhaps deduce from what I’ve already said that I am uneasy about the coupling of ‘obsessive adherence’ and ‘ritual’. There is of course no necessary connection, unless one has in mind the kind of repetitive behaviour associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder. If, however, we take ‘ritual’ as meaning ‘a procedure that is followed consistently’ as our starting point, then clearly, ritual has a part to play in how I operate as an artist.


Shakyō is the practice of sutra-copying, and my one experience of copying the Heart Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom (the most popular choice, and the one I was given to copy) is the extent of my practical engagement with Japanese calligraphy. Sutra-copying is not a difficult practice. It is used both as a form of meditation and as a devotional act. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at Daishi Kyoukai, next door to the temple lodgings where I was staying on Mount Koya, on a cool, wet and misty morning towards the end of October last year. In the event, I was struck by the similarities between calligraphy practised as a temple discipline and my own studio-based activity. This has led me to reflect, among other things, that ritualising a practice might be a way of ensuring that however often it is performed - be it the construction of a grid, the drawing of a line or the copying of a sutra - the operation commands one’s full attention.


As one painstakingly traces the characters of the sutra, one could scarcely be more aware that this is not an exercise in self-expression: “this is not about me”; “the world is not about me”. The curious thing about this is that it is not as self-denying or self-effacing as it perhaps sounds. It opens one to the amazingness of everything that isn’t oneself, but of which one is somehow a part. In a way, the challenge is to be the best possible nobody that only you yourself can be.


As far as I am concerned, creativity does not entail imposing my will on this surface. For me, drawing is not the means by which ideas are transcribed into visual terms. It is not about the ‘realisation of my intentions’, beyond devising an appropriate methodology, and ascertaining which moves on my part the surface then invites me to make. Having said that, (this) drawing is my response to an urge to mark the surface, to make contact with the world directly and immediately and in such a way that the mutual impact is plain to see. I do what I do out of an awareness of my being in the world. My use of pen and straightedge is not some sort of attempt to deny my part in proceedings, to eliminate my own hand in it, as it were - absolutely not. The only relevant consideration is whether the handiwork in question serves the purpose.

BG    There might be said to be a certain anonymity to a ruled line, a disappearance of the ‘hand of the artist’. Yet you would not be happy for an assistant to follow a set of instructions in order to produce one of your drawings. Sol LeWitt famously used assistants to install ‘his’ wall drawings, often never even seeing them. But for you there seems to be this connectedness to ‘your’ lines. Is there some ontological quality here that precedes purely aesthetic concerns?


WS    I guess I have already answered this question in part, but perhaps some amplification might be useful. The point is not whether it’s my handwriting, Sol LeWitt’s, or that of his ‘assistants’, in respect of the image, but artists arrive at imagery in all kinds of ways and for different ends. I certainly subscribe to the idea that it matters less who does the ‘doing’ than that whatever needs to be done is done. However, it is one thing to acknowledge that it doesn’t matter whose hand is involved, it is quite another to make a song and dance about whether or not it’s the artist’s hand. We might then consider whether what is being said is that there is nothing special about the artist, (s)he is just trying to make her/his way in the world like everyone else: potentially, anyone might be an artist (which would be my

position). Or, contrariwise, it is the artist’s conception (of the image) that is all-important and marks her- or himself out from everyone else.


I have no problem at all with the idea of issuing a set of instructions for the production of a piece of work. The glass panels Arena and Tower are examples - I didn’t actually etch the glass myself. On the other hand, they could not have been made without the drawings and paintings from which they originate and the technical drawings which I supplied to the manufacturers. In so saying, I fully acknowledge the skilled craftsmanship that went into their production.

I do not make wall drawings and, by and large, I do not work to commission. But suppose I were to say, “I make all my original drawings on walls some 2.5 x 1.5 metres in area, with a view to having them scaled down and re-drawn and/or digitally reduced and reproduced in the form of A0-size prints, say, for the purposes of exhibition and/or private or permanent collection(s)”. For all I know, there are artists who do precisely that, or something like it. For me, however, this would be an utterly perverse proposition, not to say a physical impossibility. At the very least, you’d have to ask, “wouldn’t it be easier to make the drawings on a more manageable scale in the first place?”


I happen not to make wall drawings because it is easier and more direct to draw on a table-top in my studio; it is also the case that it wouldn’t be possible to make these drawings on walls at all. I am not

suggesting that drawings and/or paintings of a different kind could not be made directly onto walls - of course, I just happen not to make drawings or paintings of the kind that can. Nor am I saying that my original drawings could not be reproduced in the form of ‘wall-drawings’ (though I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t actually be drawings but, rather, images of drawings). As it happens, I have in the past sanctioned the photographic enlargement of a series of drawings as an installation at the ICA. In principle, it would be possible to reconstruct my drawings (occasionally I have had to do so), though not on walls, of course. The question is, what on earth would be the point of that? If, in effect, you are asking whether I could teach someone else to make exactly the same drawings I make, the answer is, with the best will in the world, I would not know where to begin.

There is, as you say, a (necessary) connection between line (which, incidentally, I do not regard as ‘mine’) and drawer. Perhaps the first thing one learns in drawing a line is just how physical the relationship is, both between the artist - the drawer - and the line drawn, and between the line and the surface across which it will run. I was never taught to draw anything as seemingly basic as a straight line and nor did I theorise about possible methods or techniques. In time I came to understand the necessity of placing myself as nearly as possible over and above the mid-point of the line’s trajectory, before beginning to draw. Relative to me (the drawer) lines run, they are drawn, in one direction only - horizontally - and from left to right (given that I’m right-handed). The extent of the drawn line cannot exceed the reach of the drawer in either direction from this central position, whether the drawer in question is human or mechanical. The length of any line is limited by how far I can reach whilst maintaining this optimum position. The quality of the line, which is to say its precision, depends on physical balance and control, which includes breathing and heart rate. The drawn line is (accomplished in) one continuous movement; a line cannot be repaired and be a single continuous movement. The fluency of movement is evident in the drawn line. It was only having returned from Japan that I thought about this movement as also having a distinct sound. The rhythmic swish of the pencil marking the first lines of the grid put me in mind of the gentle background ‘whoosh’ of the sweeping of temples, gardens and marketplaces with besoms or traditional brooms, often the first task of the morning.

A line is not a stripe. There is only one path for each and every line to take. The line is not merely a graphic entity it is dynamic, it is a moving force. In mathematical terms a line is ‘a straight or curved continuous trace having no breadth, that is produced by a moving point . . . A line is any straight, one-dimensional geometrical element whose identity is determined by two points’. In these terms, a line is not a thing, it is an idea, a concept. The straightedge and pen, together with such skill as I possess, serve the purpose of honouring the integrity of the line. That is to say, they ensure that each line is as straight, regular and accurate as possible, not merely for its own sake but in the interests of the part it plays in the drawing as a whole. When I come as close as I can to realising this idea I am made aware, over and over, of the propensity of the surface to issue in quite startling spatial illusions.

I finally tracked down the quotation from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that I was trying to call to mind when you visited the studio, it seems apt here:


“Precision instruments are designed to achieve an idea, dimensional precision, whose perfection is impossible. There is no perfectly shaped part of the motorcycle and never will be, but when you come as close as these instruments take you, remarkable things happen, and you go flying across the countryside under a power that would be called magic if it were not so completely rational in every way. It’s the understanding of this rational intellectual idea that’s fundamental. John looks at the motorcycle and sees steel shapes and turns off the whole thing. I look at the shapes of the steel now and I see ideas. He thinks I’m working on parts. I’m working on concepts.”

BG    Drawing, as an act, is one of those things that seem to define us as a species and is something that we as children intuitively take up. But most people, when questioned, would claim they "can't draw". Do you think that people's conception of what it is to draw has become constrained by what one might call technical or ‘academic’ drawing? Is the value we seem to place on such proficiency archaic or is it a necessary part of an artistic education? And how does your own drawing practice relate to such traditions?

Years ago, the small daughter of a friend, quite out of the blue, asked me two questions that completely floored me at the time, which I never forgot, and which I can no more satisfactorily answer now than I could then. I hadn’t noticed that Catherine, no doubt bored by the conversation between her mother and me, had been whiling away the time by looking at a couple of pictures on the wall. Suddenly she piped up: “How do you get your drawings to be so 3-D?” (her exact words). And almost before I could draw breath: “Would you teach me to draw like that?”


What was surprising about the first question was that Catherine could see and understand more clearly what she was looking at than could many adults, including fellow artists, at the time. She did not see the drawings as minimalist, neo-constructivist or conceptual works. Nor were they simply patterns, ‘abstractions’, diagrams, or some sort of systemic art. Catherine was plainly looking at pictures, a kind of spatial representation, which puzzled her. She saw (I think) more or less what I see when I view my own work, and with much the same puzzlement (in my case, astonishment would be nearer the mark). This puts me in mind of something Wittgenstein said, to the effect that we find certain aspects of seeing puzzling because we don’t find the whole business of seeing puzzling enough.

I could perhaps have explained to Catherine how I’d actually made the drawings but not how or why she was able to see them as pictures or, if you like, what they are drawings ‘of’, particularly since there are no outlines in the drawings that appeared to her to be “so 3-D”. I think if I had said that this ‘effect’ boiled down to the drawing of a single straight line, over and over and over, she almost certainly wouldn’t have asked if I would teach her to do that. Even if we had set about reconstructing one of the simpler drawings we would both have quickly realised that this was not what she had in mind. Catherine was asking whether I would teach her how to make drawings of her own that would be like mine. All I can say at this point is that every drawing is an experiment brought to completion; there is no guaranteed outcome. Although every drawing serves the purpose of testing pictorial possibility, it does not follow that they are equally compelling in pictorial terms - some are more absorbing than others. I require them to be revelatory in some way, to yield perceptual experiences that defy expectation.


It seems to me that a good deal of thinking about ‘pictures’ and ‘picturing’ is seriously back-to-front or upside-down. This conviction has taken shape gradually, and grew out of an initial bafflement and growing unease about what made [a] drawing ‘objective’, together with my conception of drawing as systematic inquiry, a way of probing the unknown (come to think of it, a probe - i.e. ‘a slender  instrument for exploring’ - would be a good way of describing one of my pens or pencils). I don’t believe in drawing any more than I believe in breathing. I do not commend drawing as a basic discipline or necessary skill; first, because I draw out of curiosity and it seems to me that inquisitiveness is more likely to be drilled out of one. Second, the assumption that it is possible to engage one’s curiosity only after one has acquired the necessary skill, is plainly wrong-headed. For me, drawing is not a skill to be acquired, it is a means of inquiry that imposes its own discipline; it requires an attentiveness that accompanies any honest question.


BG    You also spoke about how what you do is not fundamentally a commercial activity. It seems to be driven by an absolute fascination on your part with the activity itself. Do you think this is the only real approach to making art? Once you bring money in as a concern, one loses authenticity? Obviously artists have to make a living, so how do you retain such an unclouded sense of why you do what you do? And do you think the inflated value of contemporary art over the last few decades has had a detrimental effect on the mindset of subsequent generations of artists coming into the ‘industry’?


WS    I’m going to sidestep this one as deftly as may be, by recalling that Walter Scott famously wrote his way out of many a tight financial corner. To be honest, I’d rather not admit to having worried about money, or the lack of it, as much as I have at times. What I can say is that I have found (relatively) straitened circumstances to be less inimical to creativity than anxiety. Although I need to sell drawings - or should I say, I need to make a living from drawing - it perhaps goes without saying that I never make a piece of work with that in mind. There is a creative, intellectual and emotional necessity about what I do, or I wouldn’t do it, which is why I have always been ambivalent about the commercial art world (come to think of it, not just the commercial side of it) and why, for all its precariousness, I have few complaints about how life has worked out thus far. And the dance isn’t over.



www.wesmith.co.uk

Avalanche (phase 3) pen and ink on paper

Shudder pen and ink on paper

Verso/Recto VI pen and ink on board

Heart Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom copy on rice paper (WS)

Screen Memory pen and ink on board

Light of Day IV pen and ink on board

The Wind Carpet pen and ink on board

Tower (detail) 4-tone acid etch on glass

Screen Grid pen and ink on paper

Location Revisited pen and ink on board

St Lucy’s Day (drawing 10 of a series of 10) pen and ink on board

WS    It is true, at a fairly young age most children draw as if their lives depend on it and I would say that that is probably why, though in ways not altogether understood. It’s also true that, later, most people would say not only that they can’t draw, but that they couldn’t draw a straight line, even! It seems to me that children experience exactly the same impulse to mark surfaces that I mentioned earlier: they draw on paper, of course, but also cupboard doors, floors, walls, curtains, sand, the dog - pretty much anything they can lay their hands on in fact. I’m not competent to speculate much about the part drawing might play in the development of psychological and/or physiological functioning. That said, the marking of a surface, as distinct from merely touching it, is a way of recording the event. Marking the surface leaves a trace of the action and identifies the surface so marked: it distinguishes this surface from that. As to people who say they can’t draw, I’m sure what they have in mind is a certain kind of drawing, as you suggest. But perhaps the reason they don’t draw (it does take practice after all), is not so much because they are constrained by received notions about drawing but that the need to draw is less urgent than it once was, or there is no longer any need at all.


In making drawings, I am not intent on expressing myself or communicating with anyone else. I do not mean to be provocative here; what I am trying to convey is that I proceed from a position of not knowing. My aim is to discover what, if anything, might be of interest to me (other than me). Given what I’ve already said about there being nothing special about the artist, it would follow that what might fascinate me might be of interest to others also. None of my drawings derives directly from any visual, or for that matter any other, kind of personal experience. The convention is that  representational drawings and paintings depict, or at least make reference to, objects in the material world of day-to-day reality. The ‘objects’ I draw do not exist until I have drawn them. They are not ‘abstractions from’, or impressions of, anything. I do not draw things, I draw lines and, in point of fact, this activity distils into the perfecting of a single line. In drawing a line I come as close as I can to making visible an abstraction (rather than ‘abstracting from the visible’, so to say). The fact is, I cannot account for the resultant imagery, even though every detail of the process is explicable. As Robert Persig put it, this process might be called magic if it were not so completely rational in every way. All I can say in respect of any work of mine is that this is what I have discovered. The discovery is twofold: this is what is possible by way of marking this surface; that is what it enables us to perceive by way of the picture plane.

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.


There are many things one can admire about the work of Wendy Smith, but the initial impact is one of astonishment that such objects can be handmade in the first place. Of course, they actually can't be made any other way, yet so meticulous and exacting are these drawings that they can become mesmerising. The process by which such complex and alluring forms emerge is as fascinating as the elegance of the forms themselves. A grid will be measured and drawn out by hand, from which the artist builds up successive layers of linear movements that describe a spatial exploration of the picture plane. They become objects in space, suspended in this non-physical reality like fragile structures. There is no way for the artist to know beforehand how a work will come out. Each is a journey which finds its unique outcome through the physical process of drawing.


For Smith, the drawn line is the fundamental act. It is an actual means of thinking, not merely a means of transcribing ideas into visual forms. There is something I find quite profound in this, and when looking at the work one is keenly aware of the artist's absolute fascination with line, and under the calm, serene surface of each work is an intense investigation into a seemingly endless landscape of possibility.


BG    It’s interesting that every mark you make is by hand, including the grids from which you make the working drawings that determine the specific nature of each work. It would be easy and far more expedient to devise some technical means of mass-producing these grids digitally, but you resist this. Can you talk about your reasons for this, as I think it goes to the heart of your approach to making?


WS    There are reasons why the use of mass-produced grids would be neither convenient nor appropriate. In the first place, I make drawings, not composites of drawing and digital media. More seriously, it would deny the grid any part in the process of drawing, and this is more significant than it might at first seem. The image emerges from the drawing process, as if coaxed from the surface; I have no preconceived idea as to what will emanate from this procedure: no ‘image in the mind’s eye’ is operative at any stage.

Secondly, more than one grid can be constructed on a given surface; grids can overlap, they can be in different orientations one with another and, in my drawings and gouaches, they often are. In other words, grids are not necessarily inert or ‘silent’, as Rosalind Krauss has insisted; grids can ‘speak’ of this surface relative to that. Far from announcing “modern art’s hostility to narrative”, as Krauss has also maintained, the grid can ‘imply’ the superimposition of any number of surfaces, one on top of the other, in exact alignment. The grid is sensitive to the slightest movement, this way or that; it detects and registers the least shift of a surface in any direction. In short, grids can indicate the precise whereabouts of one surface and its relationship with others. Again, this forms part of what might be termed the ‘subject’ or ‘content’ of my work. So, in respect of the ease and convenience of the digitally-produced grid that you propose, we wouldn’t actually be talking about one grid but several and I simply wouldn’t know how many, or in what orientation, in advance of any proposed drawing. You might then well ask: So, why don’t you make the entire drawing on a computer?

Every new drawing begins with the blank sheet of paper. To explore this surface, which is the declared object of the exercise, is to examine or investigate it systematically. As already outlined, the first step in this process is the construction of a grid. For me, the grid is not an extraneous quasi-technical device, still less is it some sort of modernist motif. The grid is an integral part of the process of drawing; the image is the outcome or consequence of this process. Initially, the grid plots the area to be explored, it prepares the ground; it is a way of finding one’s bearings in unfamiliar surroundings. It is important to understand that this is a new drawing, a fresh investigation as it were; I have never been here before. Thereafter, the grid is also a means of locating any point on the surface relative to all others. In an important sense, each grid is a one-off; if anything can be said to be repeated it is the method of production, the process, which is as exacting the second, third or hundredth time around as it is the first. From the maker’s point of view, the grid is unforgiving of rush, carelessness, or lack of attention. The construction of a grid demands complete concentration and spontaneity.

BG    So rather than a mere technical necessity, the act of drawing the grid out each time is an active and vital part of your process, and central to the formation of each work. I like the fact that for you the grid is not just a visual ‘motif’, but is the actual generator for the drawing. It has a real function. I notice then that the final drawing is often extracted from the initial grid and transposed onto a fresh sheet of paper as an isolated form. Why do you choose to present the ‘final’ work in this way? I think there is an analogy to be made here with a mathematical equation. It’s not the answer to a problem that is necessarily the primary concern, so much as how one worked it out. Do you not think that the ‘working drawing’ as it were, has as much value as the form that crystallises out of the process?


WS    In one sense the grid is a facilitating device; it permits the exact location of any point on a surface and every possible alignment. Each and every line runs between two points. Every line is the continuous trace of a point moving in one direction between two locations, specified by two sets of coordinates, where certain horizontal and vertical axes intersect on the underlying grid. This infrastructure is usually not directly visible: sometimes it forms an explicit part of the image and sometimes it doesn’t. I often produce dozens of working drawings and tracings - all equally interesting in their way - in the course of making a single ‘finished’ work. There is almost never a definitive ‘working drawing’ for any one piece. At the ‘preparatory’ stages pen and ink do not feature, and the drawings are made with a very hard pencil, up to 9H. As ‘images’ they would be scarcely readable to anyone but me, and even I need to draw the salient lines in ink to see them clearly. Working drawings are working drawings, they are not made for exhibition. On the other hand I am not secretive about them, I’m happy to show them to anyone who might be interested, and occasionally they are exhibited along with the finished article. The so-called ‘finished’ works comprise the clearest exposition of my ‘findings’, as it were.

BG    I think the physical limitation placed on you by the tool (the ruler) is an interesting point to pick up on. You wouldn't make large-scale work (wall drawings for example) because the means by which the work is arrived at is contingent upon, and constrained by, your bodily reach. That reminds me of something you said relating to how everything you need, in order to make the work, is always present. Paper, ruler, pen. It’s a wonderfully refined approach. Has this mindset come about by necessity, or is it a more intentional way of arriving at a purer, more essential methodology?


WS    The ‘approach’ is perhaps less refined than it sounds. It goes back to very early days when I was trying to work out not just what kind of painter I was, or wanted to be, but whether I was any kind of artist at all, and not least, what this might entail as a way of life. Of course there are no stock answers to such questions and no alternative but to enlighten oneself. Once that process of critical appraisal is properly under way, one realises there is no end to it. In my case, drawing/painting, say, is not merely something I do, it is an inextricable part of who I am. Initially, one of the first questions posed was something of the kind: “let us begin by supposing you are, at least potentially, an artist working two- rather than three-dimensionally, what would be the most basic tools you would need?” Answer: aside from a surface of some kind, something with which to scribe it (the straightedge became necessary some while later). There was (and is) something so satisfying about the down-to-earth practicality and simplicity of this basic implement. And it has to be said, I like(d) the fact that it’s a requirement of writers too. For me there was also a more personal pleasure in the idea that colour is not lacking in the works of writers, simply on account of the fact that they are written in black and white. This barest necessity, it seemed to me, also ensured that I would almost always be able to work, no matter how broke I might be, and that seemed - it seems now - a crucial consideration if one has any choice in the matter.