The curatorial and editorial project for systems, non-objective and reductive artists working in the UK

Website: Chestnuts Design

Interview with Anna Mossman by Ben Gooding

May 2023

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.


Anna, I first encountered your work some years ago. At the time you were making extraordinary line drawings that were exposed photographically to make a negative image of the original drawing. I think these works pose a number of interesting questions. Let's begin by talking about the dynamic between the drawing and the negative. 

If the photographic negative constitutes the ‘final’ work, does that render the original drawing redundant, in the same way that a mould is discarded once a cast is set?


The term ’drawing’ suggests an element of contingency, drawing often being used as a preparation for something else, a way of forming thoughts, planning, communicating an idea. If, as in the case of these works, a drawing is produced solely to be photographed, it may be seen simply as an aid to another, finished form, or alternatively the opposite, as an ‘original’ purporting to be the main event, which is then put aside, displaced by an image that becomes the final form of the work.

Historically, in analogue photography, the negative is a means to an end, that end being a positive print. The negative itself can be seen as a representation or recording of a past event, while also pointing to a future moment (the print that will be made from it), alongside other future moments of presentation and viewing. Similarly, the line drawings can be seen as recording the time and activity that went into their making.

By presenting a negative print as the work itself, that which is seen as purely contingent process, an incomplete entity, is foregrounded, taking the viewer back to moments of darkness within the chamber of the camera body, allowing the unseen to be revealed, the (now) white lines on black being visually reminiscent of an X-ray or scan.

The idea of the mould and cast relates. In the drawings the generating event of their making (again, a slippery, durational situation to encompass) is now displaced by a recording that can be reproduced multiple times through printing, like any photograph, and akin to multiple casts from a mould. However, unusually, the choice of the presentation of the negative form as the final work heightens the absence of the missing drawing and situates the work in a more ambiguous position, somewhere along the way in an unfolding process. The photographer William Henry Fox Talbot coined the term the ‘pencil of nature’, the title of his 1844 book, in relation to the tracing of light in time onto light-sensitive material, in some ways a parallel to the drawing process. Once the drawings are photographed and presented as a negative rendition, a discursive space opens, encouraging engagement through imagination: what was the ‘original’ drawing like? Where is it now? What was or is there in front of us? A sense of investigation and uncertainty on the part of the viewer begins and a shift in value occurs, removing focus from the ‘thing’ of the drawing, to its imaged and inverted form. An incompleteness enters the room, displacing more familiar hierarchies.


Yes, I remember being struck by a tension between my perception of time spent, which was implicit in the nature of the drawing, and the instancy of the photographic exposure which, in material terms, constituted the thing I was experiencing in the gallery. The one thing seems to collapse into the other in this ‘unfolding process’ which I think charges the work with a certain frisson.

Conversely, the layering of process detaches these images somewhat from their origination, rendering them ambiguous, almost as if you are willing (or allowing) the true nature of their production to become lost, concealed or obscured by technical interventions. As you mention, they allude to some form of scientific imaging such as x-ray, radar or scanning. Visually, they resemble possible mappings (or recordings), of topography, depth, pressure, geological strata, ultrasound or some temporal phenomena; is it even necessary that one is aware that they are in fact drawings?

Is our understanding of them actually contingent on recognising this aspect of their production? You talk about “removing focus from the ‘thing’ of the drawing”, and I wonder if these objects stand alone as detached entities that do not need to be foregrounded or defined by the physical and material properties of the drawing process? Or if you see them as inextricably bound to the act of drawing and therefore should be understood within the specific context of this tradition? Perhaps they operate more effectively as elusive forms?


I agree that these works possess an immediate presence of their own, pulling the viewer into an elusive space, transforming the photographed subject radically through the negative inversion, becoming something new and separate. However, in some way they remain bound not just to a drawing, but to the mysteries of the photographic and a supposed representation of our existence in a three-dimensional world, encompassed by the passage of time. A viewer doesn’t need to engage with these aspects, and admittedly the drawing itself has been ‘cast aside’, but I suspect that any form of extended looking and consideration will inevitably precipitate some form of unravelling. When there is a shift between an initial, visual encounter to an understanding of, for example, the time taken to draw a line or a series of lines, the commitment to, or compression of time contained in the work becomes visible to the viewer, allowing them to see beyond something that is apparently ‘imaged’ all at once. Grasping this is in itself an experience, adding to an initial fascination, although it doesn’t ‘explain’ the work. There is no simple answer to the complex equations an artist enters into through the unique conjunction of materials, process and subject (all of which have varied technical and cultural histories coming into play), along with individual experience and preoccupations in a particular time and place. Your question directly foregrounds the complexity of our encounters with objects and images as part of a physical, perceptual and psychological engagement with the world. Is anything really just visual?

The photographic work I made leading up to these pieces used the camera for non-visual purposes, often as an extension of the body or in place of the senses. The results were photographic images, seductive in appearance in terms of vibrant colour or spatial depth. Seemingly ‘abstract’, they raised a question: how should they be read or engaged with? Again, there is an element of substitution, one experience exchanged for another, the visual object replacing the generative activity, questioning how we untangle our encounter with an image/object from a range of possible interpretation and meaning.

In your question you allude to my ‘willing (or allowing) the true nature of their production to become lost, concealed or obscured by technical interventions’. While there is a history in my work of the hidden, the secret and the obscured, the accompanying titles and information give the viewer clues, suggesting pathways towards a further understanding of the work. However, around 2010 I began to feel that the distance created in the layering of these interventions was starting to be too great, recognising that through the evolution of the work, I was discovering a related intensity in the actual, drawn surface and the presence of the drawn object itself. The transition from analogue to digital photography and the rapid erosion of a range of photographic materials and processes in the early 2000s had actually led to these works, but by now the landscape of the photographic image was so radically transformed that this series of work gradually gave way, and my focus shifted towards the generative object.


The photographic works are indeed enigmatic and I think the way in which they sit in tension between traditions (that of drawing, photographic and even performance) makes them deeply beguiling objects.

Let’s turn, for the moment, to the transition from this layering of technical interventions to the more direct nature of the generative drawings. In your epic works Diagonal Lines and Curved Lines, your starting point is a highly reductive geometric line, one a 45° diagonal line and the other the curve of a circle. From this, an extraordinary structure emerges as you repeat, by hand, each line, allowing imperfection and inconsistency to effect successive lines.

Spiral, 2009, C-type photograph, 750x500mm

Horizontal Lines, 2006, C-type photograph,152x122cm

Diagonal Lines, 2011-12, ink on paper, 313x151cm

Can you talk about the process of making them? How aware are you of what the lines are doing? Are you consciously informing the progress of a work by directing the lines in a particular way or do you simply allow each line to play out as it does? I can imagine you focusing so intensely on following a particular line that you cease to be aware of, or even in control of, the drawing as a whole, but rather the presence of a moment. Are there moments where you pause to consider how the work is developing and make active decisions about it? Or do you allow these extraordinary structures to emerge uninhibited by thought or intention? Or is there a push and pull between these states?


Diagonal Lines (2011-12) and Curved Lines (2012-15) began as you point out, with a simple geometric line or shape, in this case a small diagonal line set 1cm from the top left hand corner, or a small curved line in the same position. Initially I drew a rectangular area within the paper, the size of which is more or less prescribed by the dimensions of the studio. Rather than starting with a concept, I approach the work through an attitude to aspects of its production. For example, Diagonal Lines was made by trying to maintain a certain distance between the repeated or ‘copied’ line (i.e. the attempted copy of the line before) and its predecessor. I tried not to let the lines touch, but attempted to allow a degree of flow, so it’s always the result of the play between idea or attitude and the reality of the situation in space, the moving body, the hand, paper and wall, with all the variations that occur between those elements. During the making of the work I would simply look at what was unfolding every so often, checking that the quality of the drawing was continuing within the parameters I had decided on, and continue. Mostly I was immersed in the moment of touch, hand to pen, pen to paper.

Curved Lines, 2012-15, ink on paper, 305x151cm

When I made Curved Lines I began with a different attitude to the quality or ‘dynamics’ of the drawing, wanting the lines to be as closely packed together as possible, but still without touching. This quality came from a smaller piece that I had made previously, Spiral (2009), a negative image work which achieved an intense density within the drawing. I often take an aspect like this from a previous work that I want to explore further, to use as a starting point for something new. During the making of Curved Lines, a few weeks into production, I made a template of the most recently drawn line (no longer a simple curve, by now an undulating wave) and ‘dropped’ it as though it had swung downwards, similar to the movement of a pendulum. The drawing continued from there, leaving what I felt was a much needed space in the work, a relief from the intensity of the closely packed field of lines, the equivalent to a rest or moment of silence in music for example. Sometime later I put the drawing away unfinished, unsure how to proceed. A year or so passed, after which I revisited the work, continuing it differently, closing the gap and completing the lines across the paper to the other side. The result was a highly intense field of line which includes powerful counter-currents. The new development extends my previous drawing practice to embrace reversal and rethinking during production, leading to more recent work where beginnings and endings intertwine with greater complexity.

Curved Lines (detail)

The qualities or dynamics that I refer to partly emerge from my experience in contemporary dance. It could be said that the expanse of the paper equates to the space of the dance studio and the movement within that area relates to the movement of the dancer(s). Simple starting ideas or images are often used in dance improvisation. For example, if ten people move across a space under the instruction to follow a diagonal trajectory, they will all move in slightly different ways, interpreting the instruction through their own, unique body and their particular physicality, the group as a whole creating a dynamic flux across the space of the studio. Similarly, the lines that unfold across the surface to form the drawing as a whole have their particular vibration, somewhat beyond my control, each work acquiring its own unique energy. A student asked me recently if it was “worth it” to make work demanding such long periods of time and effort? I see this extended time as actually contained by or ‘folded’ into the piece and can never predict or imagine the twists, folds and convolutions that will constitute the final intensity of the work, my sense of surprise or revelation on completion being similar to that of any other viewer.


I think this tension between something ‘self-generating’ and something intentional is fascinating. One has a sense with each line that a constant tremor between these two states is playing out. And the point at which you are conscious (or unconscious) of the progress of a line becomes a mercurial thing. I love this idea of being “mostly immersed in the moment of touch”. Do you feel that there is something almost meditative about such work, where one loses a sense of the self and becomes more present in the moment?

Diagonal Lines, 2011-12 (detail)

One of the things that becomes apparent on actually seeing these works is the white of the paper that is left between the lines you draw. Indeed, these necessarily become linear forms as well, so you effectively have two linear operations which relate in very interesting ways. While there is consistency in the drawn lines (as the width of the pen nib does not vary), there is a vibrational inconsistency to the negative space between these lines.

This has unexpected optical effects; when one relaxes one’s gaze and ceases to focus on any specific area, the surface seems to pulse or vibrate. Strange waves of patterns or networks appear and disappear, and one even has the sensation of colour. The white of the paper seems to be as consequential as the actual drawn lines!

Line of Lines, 2017, (detail 1)


There certainly is a tension between the self-emergence of the work and the decisions I make within that. More broadly, there is an inbuilt tension across the whole body of work, a balance that constantly threatens to tip one way or another. I recognise that sometimes this ‘tipping’ can give the work its character, saving it from pure mechanics and allowing it to communicate something else to the viewer. I would say it’s probably the out-of-control areas that surprise me and perhaps draw others to the work too. Having said that, I am usually trying to avoid imbalances during the making, so they really do emerge on their own. I have to decide if they disturb the work too much, or if they help the piece go somewhere different. Usually these minor events are scattered in different ways throughout the piece, so it’s an ongoing inner dialogue to which I am intimately bonded during the time of making. I do think that often I am in a somewhat meditative state; it seems that’s necessary in order to actually make the work, although it’s not always going to translate into a successful piece. I also need to step back and extricate myself from the enclosure. I’m not an artist who equates the state I’m in with the success of the production; the work has a separate presence of its own.

I like that you experience tension and tremor within the drawings, and in relation to that I think aspects of ego-avoidance are involved. The space between the lines exists as a counter-current, a negative underlay that accompanies the drawn, intended lines. These uneven white spaces are the ghosts or absences that inevitably shadow the positive black lines. In some ways they equate inversely to the dark spaces in the negative photographic prints that we discussed in your first and second questions.  I am aware of these spaces while working, always trying to respect their presence, while attending to the drawn lines, doing several things concurrently, a simultaneous stretch for the brain and body. I expect that’s why I have silence in the studio for long periods, because there’s always the reverberating hum of interaction in flux.

The combined formation equals the finished work, by now well beyond my control. The optical effects, including the conjuring of colour you notice, situate it somewhere between the perception of the viewer and the paper itself, in a nebulous, fluctuating place, a visual equivalent to the wider ambiguities in status or categorization referred to earlier. That’s when I start to really look at what’s happened and think about the questions it raises for me, to be addressed in the next work, or more usually sometime later, when I look back and something bugs me with enough urgency!


Let’s turn to the Dunkelwald/Twilight Sky series of drawings. They share an interesting characteristic with the ‘Lines’ series, which is to do with how the proximity one has to the drawing changes one’s perception of the work.

From afar, the ‘Lines’ works seem to operate in pure tonal values, like some nebulous cloud; only on closer inspection does one discern the linear nature of the surface and how incredibly fine-grain and meticulous in execution it is. Similarly, there is a point at which, when viewing the Dunkelwald series, a realisation occurs when the true nature of the work manifests for the viewer. For me, this is an integral part of the experience.

They appear at first to be digitally produced, and I suppose in effect some ‘digital’ operations are bound into the methodology, but the highly analogue nature of the drawing lends them a more tactile quality. The texture, or ‘noise’, of the surface is, on close inspection, almost revelatory when one steps back to see the work in its entirety. This oscillation between the two states both fascinates and mesmerises.

Dunkelwaldlight, 2013-14, ink and coloured pencil on paper, 357x152cm


This series uses a hand-drawn ink grid as a starting point. Each square within the grid presents a small spatial arena in which I lay down some colour, alternating between horizontal and vertical strokes in successive squares. The changing of the colours (ordered sequences of 14-16 greens and browns) creates movement within the work, while other variables, such as slight alterations in density as a result of pressure changes, create fluctuations across the piece as a whole as the days and weeks move on. Although the ‘far view’ of the work reveals an experience of massed pattern, shifting every so often, due to unintended changes in the order of colours, on close inspection one can see, as you point out, that rather than being digital or perhaps mechanically produced, the work is hand drawn, an expanse of touch.  

To give some context, the Dunkelwald series consists of three works, the first vertical in format and quite densely coloured. The second, Dunkelwaldlight (2013-14) at 357x152cm is longer, horizontal in format and more lightly coloured or marked, including greater variation in density across the work as a whole. The third, Dunkelwaldsuperlite (2014), 360x152cm, aims for extreme paleness; the colour is barely there within the drawn grid, an exercise in lightness of touch, on the edge of visibility. The series gains its title from an amalgam of the names present on the sides of the coloured pencils used (in this case written in German), obliquely pointing towards traditions in landscape painting. 

Twilight Sky (2014-15) uses a colour range of purples, greens, browns and reds taken from the negative rendition of a colour portrait photograph. The original image by Horst P. Horst, first reproduced in Vogue October 1968, shows Hélène Rochas in her Paris office wearing a Courrèges dress, sitting casually among sculptures by Victor Vasarely and Francisco Sobrino. Subtle ranges of geometric pattern are present across the image in various places: the design of the dress, the wallpaper, the sculptures, as well as the digital ‘noise’ in the surface of the printed reproduction. I came across it in an article I was reading some years before, so the starting point was a reproduction in print, while the work I made takes it back to a hand-made, analogue form, in some ways mirroring the original analogue photograph. The title comes from the shifting shades produced by the colours and textures in the making of the work, an inversion of the colours in the actual image, evoking an imagined twilight over the Paris skyline. 

Dunkelwaldlight (detail)

The oscillation between the different readings experienced in viewing these works includes perceptual shifts, and extends to encompass imaginative spaces suggested through the titles, alongside the visual field. As with the drawings produced as negative prints (discussed at the beginning of this conversation) the works invite the viewer to inhabit an absent or imagined ‘other’ or ‘elsewhere’, pointed to, but not present, in the work before them. In that sense, an assumed field of abstraction also proposes a range of ‘figurative’, imagined content.  

A more recent body of work consists of large works on paper in ink and watercolour, grouped under the titles Shivers, Shifts and Overlays. These initially stemmed from Imagined Legacy, a series begun in 2015, following Dunkelwald and Twilight Sky. The Imagined Legacies works are smaller, coloured pencil is replaced by washes of watercolour, and the previous grid is rotated and stretched to form diamond-like structures familiar from more overtly decorative contexts. The Shivers, Shifts and Overlays develop these on a more extended scale, again presenting visual and perceptual oscillations, balancing apparently shifting fields of colour and space, with a sense of remembered printed patterns, geometric designs and trends, moving precariously between ‘pure’ abstraction and the social fabric of the everyday. 

Bridges at Camon (detail 1)


The Shifts and Overlays series is a remarkable body of work. It’s interesting to note that you mention “printed patterns”, as my own background as a printmaker immediately recognises the language of print present in this work. 

The way you have used offsetting and the repetition of motifs to build up a quality of surface, with each successive overlay adding to the density of colour within the area of superimposition, is very reminiscent of a printmaker’s approach to image manipulation, particularly in the silk-screen process. Have you ever worked with print or is it something you feel might be worth exploring as a means of expanding your practice?  


This question regarding my interest in printmaking taps into an aspect of the work relating to the perception of the viewer. The Imagined Legacies, Shivers, Shifts and Overlays seem to pose as prints on initial encounter, but reveal themselves over time, as you point out, to be hand-made. Certain things such as the spatial borders around the painted areas link to traditions of print protocol, pointing our understanding of what we’re looking at in that direction. But looking further into the work reveals the unfolding production by hand, counter to initial expectations. Taking the work into print would dramatically change this play, radically altering the range of reference and meaning. I would like to experiment with print, but this woud certainly require some rethinking of my practice. My engagement with the technologies I use is highly involved, often turning things on their head or misusing processes, aspects which bind inextricably into the power of the work through tangled narratives for the viewer to unlock. So a pattern that looks printed leads elsewhere, embedding depth in the practice. Actually these works cannot be achieved through printmaking because the subtlety that builds over time is partly to do with the constant remixing of small amounts of colour, always combining several colours in a mix, continually altering the density of the suspension of pigment in water, overlaying infinite variations. I suspect print will lead in a new direction. We’ll see.

Bridges at Camon detail 2


When I first saw these works, I was struck by their subtlety but equally staggered by the compositional complexity of them and the intricate ‘working-out’ that must occur when laying down these repeated patterns. For me there is something compelling in the meticulous rendering by hand of something that could have been expediently achieved by the mechanical precision of printing, and this really piqued my interest. 

Terracotta Yellow Shift (detail), watercolour and pencil on paper

Once again, from afar they very much appear to operate as prints, but on closer inspection there is the discernible tactility of the hand, the irregularity of surface, the way the opacity and hue of colour doesn’t repeat exactly as per the pattern, and that particular material quality of watercolour as opposed to the more uniform, flatter feel of ink. They really play with one's perceptions and one is drawn into a state of contemplating them far more keenly than on first inspection. 

I’m interested to know how you make decisions regarding colour? It looks as though the composition is essentially fixed, but the variation in the application of colour attests to the fact that they are hand-made. One might say that this disrupts the sense of their being mechanically produced. Is it a purely intuitive approach or do you have an underpinning system? It's almost as if you have two compositional devices playing out: the linear structure of the grid, but then within (or between) that, movements of chromatic hue that work in a similar way to colour perspective in landscape painting, whereby the fainter the colour, the more distant it seems. There is a similar sense here of recessive perspective playing out alongside the rigidity of the grid. 

Bridges at Camon, 2021, 140x198, watercolour and pencil on paper


Your observation of the relationship between structure and colour is pretty accurate, although the structure also develops during the making. The works are drawn out in layers, the colour added into each, one at a time, the next layer then decided upon and drawn out, followed by the colour again and so on. The various combinations of structure have roots in the Imagined Legacy series, where I played with a range of simple rotated grids which became more complex as the works evolved. My approach to colour is intuitive, often starting out with a colour ‘idea’, usually in reference to something seen, remembered or revisited from another piece. This frequently doesn’t hold for long; other intuitions quickly enter the field. Really, I respond to what’s in front of me once I start the work and it leads in unexpected directions, that being the discovery in the making. I find colour can become overwhelming and I often backtrack to a default blue/grey which I have worked with since starting the Imagined Legacy series. My link to this colour originally comes from encountering Scandinavian hand-painted decoration, particularly in historical sites in the south of Sweden. Colours behave differently, not only in relation to one another, but also in the way the actual pigments take to the paper. I find dilute blue/greys create space and calm within a field and can accommodate other pigments alongside or on top. Generally, I am aiming for balance in the work while still accepting a wide range of tone and colour and a variation in power over the surface.

Lime Shift, 2020, (detail_2)


Finally, can you talk about what are you currently working on? 


Over the past year I have been developing a new series of large works, Bathers. Horizontal in format, and over three metres long, these works play with subtle shifts and changes over the surface, related to movements in water as well as my interest in the complex interplay between structure and colour in Georges Seurat’s painting Bathers at Asnières in the National Gallery, London. Most recently I have made an associated video work, Some Light in the Shadows (Bathers 1) (2023), shown earlier this year alongside the first painting of this new series in ‘Transfer: Korean and British Abstract Painting and the Digital Document’ at the Korean Cultural Centre UK. Filmed on a hand-held iPhone, the camera searches over the surface of the work, Bathers (1) (2022), while revolving and turning as though flying through the air. The footage has been slowed down, resulting in a rhythmic pulse that connects the digital with aspects of film from the early 20th century. The colours and structures in the painting merge and blur in the video, coming in and out of focus as the camera tries to cope with proximity, speed of movement and lighting. In a sense the camera ‘draws’ in space, reflecting the movements made across the paper which produced the work in the first place, bringing us back to line, touch, trace, and vanishing moments recorded.

Bathers (1) 2022, 319x140cm, watercolour and pencil on paper