Musings and Manifestos

I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

The works Manifesto (I and II) were created in June and July of 2018 for the FNB Joburg Art Fair, where they were exhibited with Village Unhu. They were re-shown at Gallery Delta in the exhibition State of Mind (November 2019). At the end of what has been one of the most difficult years of our post-independent history (there are a few to choose from…), I thought it was appropriate to write a post about these two pieces and think about the interim time between their origin and the present. I spend a lot of time discussing and analysing the work of other artists with my pupils, and a lot of time writing statements about my own work, and although the processes are similar, the language and phrasing is different. Looking from inside is not the same as from the outside; it is different finding meaning from that viewpoint. I imagined discussing the work with my pupils, and thinking of it as another artist’s. I thought they would surely be able to find some meaning. After all, they have been well taught.

I would remind them of course, that meaning is not contained within an artwork like some coded message – that indeed, the spectator brings meaning to the work, it is a collision of their own thoughts, their own ideas, their own context, and the artwork.

I would begin by discussing the title, Manifesto. They would respond, noting that the word typically refers to a document expressing ideals and aims. The form of these works, I would observe, unstretched canvas and scroll-like, echoes this idea, something that can be rolled, transported and is documental in nature. I would ask my pupils to note the date that they were created and place them in the context of that time, understanding that is essential to thinking about any piece of work. I would ask them to suggest how they might find a manifesto at that point in time, to what might it refer, and in which case, how might these works be read? They are clever, my pupils, and would surely posit numerous ideas and starting points which could be discussed – many, I think would correspond with my own observations.

“Manifesto I”, 2018. Oil, Paper, Soil and Wire on Canvas. 140 x 100cm. (Photograph, David Brazier).

There is both a warmth and a darkness about the works, someone would note, and they are both characterised by a regular grid like structure. Another may add that within Manifesto I, the horizontal structure is created with barbed wire, mostly painted red. I may add to that, pointing out that Shaw employs and refers often to wire and fences. We would pause there for a while and discuss the attributes of those elements – boundaries, divisions, markings. Many are simple, practical structures that mark agreed boundaries. Others may suggest containment, violence and entrapment – we would discuss the nature of wire and the symbolic references that it might contain.  We might ask why these layers of fence, of barbed wire fence, form the structure of this work.

I always find it rewarding that when you stop them – the pupils – at a work in a gallery, and begin a discussion, they get deeply involved and begin to look and think carefully, and many are not only highly intelligent, but insightful too. But it takes the actual stopping of them to make them look. Like all of us, they are flooded with imagery every moment of their lives, and seldom stop to think about these images and others that may hold considerably more than they think. One would definitely notice the fact that the wire is painted red. Not necessarily significant, but I would judge their mood – if they were focused, I would suggest that it is possible that the work could be read in conjunction with Red Fence (2017). They wouldn’t necessarily know that work, but with technology it could be brought to the lesson instantly. What is unusual about Red Fence, I would point outis the manner in which it is dated; day, month, year – in contrast to every other Shaw work which is dated simply by year. They would latch on to that date – many of them have photographs (previously unimagined images which proliferate their timelines). “It is a mark”, they might conclude, “a mark of an ending – and a beginning”. Connecting these aspects, it’s possible that they may conclude that the red wire of the work Manifesto I could be significant, in that it refers to a specific point, or past ideologies, or histories of successes or failures and the derailing of ideologies.

They would observe that the structures of Manifesto I are less uniformed than the other work – the vertical lines of soil allow for more movement along these axis, and how there seemed to be seepage of paint under and inside the soil ridges. I would hope to extend their thinking about this and would ask them to talk about the way in which the work had been created, look at the materials, – think how it was created and about the significance of these. One might describe the surface as being created partially with elements of tissue – stretched extremely tightly, skin-like – very visibly fragile. In comparison to the second work, this has more life, there is a rawness and in parts where the skin-like surface has been ripped, there are visual references to a rawness, red, almost blood-like interior – quite obvious I might interject, but possibly so –  in parts they might add, there has been an ebb, wounds unhealed, scars unformed – histories of violence. These would be good observations, connecting the visual and visceral elements of the work to the framework they may have originally suggested. I would compliment them – I hope they would feel my investment in reading the work. I find they get really “in to it” when they realise that they are not simply making stuff up, but are finding meanings and value in this world of visual art.

“Manifesto II”, 2018. Oil, Paper, Soil and Wire on Canvas. 140 x 100cm. (Photograph, David Brazier).

We would move on perhaps – time is always short. The second work, Manifesto II has a more defined grid-like structure, rough squarish shapes bounded by mud. “Shaw has often referred to his use of mud – in many instances it goes beyond visual and symbolic references and becomes simply what it is; a part of the land” – they would have picked this out of our earlier discussion about materials and meaning – they would have had a chance to glance through some of the links when we brought the other work into the lesson. It might be possible to read this piece as a type of calendar, each square referring to a metaphorical event, or time? That would be an interesting interpretation, I would think – I might add that in this regard, the work becomes a record over a period of time – not necessarily the land, but perhaps the structures imposed upon it? – blackened, burnt, fragmented, decayed – remnants of the past contained in a work outlining the future. I might ask them to verbalise a sense of the work – “The light is old, reddened, tired, containing the ashes and embers of something that once was. The surface has less of the life of the first work, it has been rendered brittle, dried, flaking. As it peels, it reveals layer and layer of the same. As much as it is an empty vision of the future, it is the record of a broken past. It is not a work that breathes life, it is a work that records a history of decay and death, and a work that predicts more of the same”, they may suggest.

There is never enough time at the galleries, or in the lessons. If a discussion began like that, it would be a good starting point. It is obvious that that there is not a single possible interpretation, but that their ideas are sound, and that they can be investigated much deeper – there is so much more to this reading. And I would go on; I would re-emphasise that an artwork is not a dead thing, it lives and evolves with us and our time. It is not enough to see it as a static thing. What now of our time? What of the period between these works origin and the present? What water has flowed under the bridge? How should we mark those that have died? How are we to understand the silence, and where have our jesters gone? Where is the music? What should we make of the literal and metaphorical darkness that descends on our land, hour after hour, day after day? How now, do we see this manifesto?

“But Sir,…”, one might say: “We noticed there was both a darkness and a warmth, what should we make of that?” “And look at the soil – the literal element, the land worked into the piece – some of it is stained and burnt, some of it bloody but though small, there are parts untainted, unstained, that are rich, vibrant and contain life. There are remnants unbroken, there are seeds. Though it is an ocean of despair, there is hope.”

There is always hope.

Greg Shaw,

31 December 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rembrandt @ 350

350 years after Rembrandt’s death, the forces of light and dark that he seemed to wrestle with in so much of his work (both literally and metaphorically) seem to be overtly present in our current context. It was with this in mind that I approached the work I produced for the exhibition Rembrandt @ 350, at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, in conjunction with the Netherlands Embassy. Artists were invited to respond to specific work of the Dutch Master and submit for selection. Of the two works I created, one was selected for the exhibition (in my view, the stronger more challenging of the two was omitted). This is the second time I have worked in response to Rembrandt, and it was interesting to me that the work was considerably further removed from the originals in comparison, this time conceptually heavier, driven by the nature of our current context. The exhibition first appeared at National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare, and has now travelled to the National Gallery at Bulawayo where it hangs until 20th December. Below are the two works created and the texts that accompanied them.

Greg Shaw,

3rd December 2019

Wrestling with the Darkness

Wrestling with the Darkness, 2019. Oil, Tissue, Bitumen, Wood and Wire. 200 x 150cm

This work considers the small but intense painting, The Raising of the Cross. Rembrandt paints himself participating in one of the most prominent moments of Western texts, an event that simultaneously embodies the inter-related, extreme poles of evil and righteousness. He seems to be wrestling with these forces and it is written into every aspect of the work. He paints an alter-ego, staring out of the space at his actual self – the painter, staring out at the viewer. An acknowledgement of a shared presence, a shared participation, a shared culpability. You, as much as I, have within you the potential for immeasurable harm and immeasurable good. These are our actions, this is our world, this is our darkness, you, and I are part of this great evil, this great sacrifice – you, as much as I, are the reason for this necessity.

The Raising of the Cross, 1633.

Of Rembrandt’s paintings, this composition is perhaps the most striking for its discomfort and unease. It is startling in its tension and its ability to disturb: The weights are not balanced, the diagonals not resolved, the colours disquieting. The figure of Christ appears more human than deity; diminished, undignified. He stares to the void on the left: The past; histories of darkness. This moment is prior to the call to His Father, prior to the Centurion’s piercing, prior to the final tearing of the temple veil. This moment is the embodiment of chaos – the collision of light and dark. 

I have chosen to respond significantly larger than the original work, endeavouring to evoke a similar sense of unrest and distress, I hope to have achieved a sense of the immense struggle of Rembrandt. There is little reference to the figurative details of the composition, rather, a consideration of the structure in an attempt to retain the sense of chaos. The materials I employ are those I have been using in recent months. They speak to the matrix that surrounds us; that of control and fragility. This work aims to reflect the great forces at play in our own context. Those forces aiming to wrestle the chaos, the darkness, the despair, into some state of order.

The Redeemer Unseen

The Redeemer Unseen (Studio photograph), 2019. Tissue, Bitumen, Wire and Steel. 148 x 200cm

This work considers Rembrandt’s Christ on the Cross (1631), a small, very powerful work in which Christ hangs illuminated in the visual and metaphorical darkness. I am captivated by the manner in which Rembrandt strips every extraneous consideration apart from the figure of Christ who seems to have lost connection with the terrestrial context and by virtue of the carefully balanced composition is suspended timelessly, endlessly. His isolation seems absolute, His illumination other-worldly. Unlike The Raising of the Cross, this Christ is deified; transcendent. We do not look from below, as may be expected, but at eye-level with Christ. We are drawn to consider the righteousness of the sacrifice.  We are called to confront ourselves and consider, what is the nature of the redeemer. How does this figure confront/transcend the darkness that surrounds him.

Christ on the Cross, 1631

I have worked considerably larger than the Rembrandt painting with the intention to draw the spectator into the work – rather than contemplating the sacrifice from afar. The Christ figure is unseen, and a view of the structures underpinning the darkness is visible. The viewer is challenged to consider the nature of these structures and the nature of the darkness itself and how they may respond in their own context. I have employed the materials that have intrigued me in recent months – those that suggest violence, demarcation, protection, division and control, as well as those that evoke aspects of fragility and temporality. 

 

 

The Fireman’s Knife

A Tribute to My Father

I have a specialist knife that belonged to my father. It is a sort of flattened “S” shape, with a handle at one end and the blade on the inside curve of the other, like a sickle. It has no sharp point, just a rounded, curved, protected end. It is held by a broad, curved sheath with no clips, so that it can be quickly and easily used.

It is a Fireman’s knife, and its job is clear. You can imagine it being used to cut a person’s belt, for example, but without inflicting any other damage to any part. It is a sharp, indispensable tool, there when you need it the most, and it does no harm. In my mind, it is symbolic of my dad.

He was there when you needed him, he was sharp, quick witted, reliable, protective, and he did no harm. It seems to me that if you can go through your life doing no harm, that is a very good place to begin. He was kind, generous with what he had, considerate of people and always willing to give his time to assist wherever there was a need. He was without malice, patient, slow to anger and above all, a man who loved and strived for peace around him.

As you might have guessed, he was at one point in his life, a Fireman. Perhaps one of the most noble of professions, with the potential for the literal sacrifice of the self, for the sake of others. I think it was a principle that guided my father in relation to his family. He did not pursue his own interests at the cost of us, indeed, he went through his life with the good of his family motivating his actions, with mum at the pinnacle.

He was a man of gentle, albeit slightly off-kilter humour and unusual skills. He could blow pipe-smoke into ant holes and make it appear elsewhere in the garden. He could solve complex puzzles, both physical and cerebral and could balance a teacup and saucer onto the firm mound of his belly. In later years he became a skilful photographer and somehow, from a very non-alcoholic background, he learnt enough about whisky to run the “tastings”, convincingly, and with great mirth.

He was a master driver, demonstrating this through avoiding collisions on more than one occasion (a necessary skill for this part of the world). The pinnacle of this talent was perhaps the fleeing from a herd of very-angry elephants. The blinding display of expertise saw my father reverse a Zebra Van down a windy, tree-lined dirt road at considerable speed until, to the relief of the panicked family we had successfully fled from the wall of charging beasts. It remains an act of heroism that has imprinted my mind, forever.

As much as he loved his family, mum was the centre of his world. His loyalty to her was beyond description, we all knew that. He would have followed her to the end of the world, but it was to Scotland that they travelled where they rebuilt their life. As long as he was with mum, he had the world.

The man I found conducting whisky tastings at the lodge (with maximal enjoyment by myself, the patrons and seemingly my father) was not the same man I remembered leaving Zimbabwe. He had been renewed by Scotland and her people and I am forever grateful to that country and community for this. But I do not forget that it was this brutal and beautiful country Zimbabwe that forged the man that he was and know that these are two sides of the same coin. The qualities so  prominent in dad, honesty, integrity, peacefulness and intolerance of wrong, are those I will search for in myself, and hope to have inherited. 

I will be forever proud of you, and proud to be your son.

Gregory

 

Of Vagrants and Horses: Musings about the Departed

I’d rather have a goddam horse.  A horse is at least human, for God’s sake.  ~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

The Vagrants on a drawing (Coffee and Rusks) trip to Domboshava one January, long ago..

I needed to note the story of the horse. And the Vagrants.

It behoves me to commit it to pixels before the various elements of data are lost in the inevitable journey toward entropy, as some have done already.

The Vagrants were a wonderful group of young women and man who deserved a mention. They were kind, caring (except for not making Leah tea), generous and funny – all admirable qualities, it must be said, and they will always remain as such in my mind. This then, is a post remembering them and their idiosyncrasies, and a chance to elucidate the tail of the horse:

Here:

Tail of a Horse

Ultimately, it’s a shot into the wilderness of their existence to see how their future predictions are panning out according to their own schedule, created some time back, which I have furnished them with below for their convenience.

Possible Futures

It is the case that in all classes, certain trends and fashions come and go, and Vagrants were no exception. Not in order, and for varying periods of time, we had:

The Astronomical, Astrological and Lunar (Loony) Obsession (quite persistent):

Food (very persistent):

Flapjack-not-art making

Travel (as opportunities presented):

Batman and Hats (extremely persistent):

Health (occasional):

And Horses (all-consuming):

The idea of the (a particular, or any) horse arose and persisted. And persisted. And persisted some more. Retrospectively, I believe it started with Leah’s IG coursework, based on said beast (specifically), and my continual imploring her to bring the animal to school, to “draw from first-hand s(h)ources”. It became an endless trope, unpacked often, whenever, wherever. Images pounded our phones, littered the studio (still do) and were etched into almost every lesson. Equestrian activity, apparently, is ubiquitous. Once consciousness has been raised in this regard, it is possible to note said interest in galleries, adverts, music videos, public art, private art, memes and media. Literally everywhere.

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It seemed inevitable that we would one day incorporate the animal into the class, and we held on to that possibility indefinitely. Until this day:

List of Things Not to Say to a Horse-Lover and Owner:

  1. “I bought online, a keyring with a tiny live horse in it”.

Mentally, having reminded myself once again to think before unpacking bad-taste jokes, I moved on (in fact, I did what damage control I could, found some pertinent texts from The Prophet which I sent through to minimise the harm; forsooth, it was a terrible thing and I was feeling v. bad about it – the keyring and my joke). The horse-owner, Leah was herself lucky to remain in the group – we tried to delete her (not out of shame – that was later), I wrote her a poem, in time described as a “paucity attempt”. Christiaan did leave, I wrote him a poem too, which was received with greater enthusiasm.

Life moved on: Lisa and Natalie went to Bulawayo, pulled their tongues. Sophie created the first never-to-dry ink painting. Elsabe, Isobel and Betta went to Kariba, mixed it up with Lundun. Betta did better, went to London, found a horse. Leah covered her friend in flour. Ashleigh jumped in on the horse story with the Lundun crew (in collared shirt). Chloe tied up her boyfriend for an exam for a few days. Andrea went to Mauritius and took a picture of a snake:

Which leads me to the horse. There are some phrases which ring alarm bells; evoke a premonition of dark times ahead. “Sir, you’d better come see this…” is one, and it was with significant trepidation at the end of a very stressful year that I heard those words. There is, it seems, an inexhaustible list of possibilities one would rather not encounter on a school morning. What follows is a pictorial account of one of the most surprising and finest moments in any school, one on which my initials found themselves a real horses arse:

 

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I told you that they were a caring bunch. Indeed when I was discharged from the oncology ward forever, they were wonderfully happy on my behalf, tapped into their previous astrological obsession to create a groovy card that remains treasured in my collection.

 

We furnished Esther with a heart

Esther pretends to be the Tin Man

And then they departed, leaving me with  a magnificent chair, another wonderful card and a photograph of them (Long ago, it must be…).

Although they have now moved on, and artistic endeavour only touches a few of them, it is well worth showing you some of their exceptional work – the Final Outcomes of their A2 Coursework.

I trust, wherever they are, irrespective of whether they have checked off any of their possible futures, they’re galloping around, “neighing and shit”.

Observations

  1. When descending a hill such as Domboshava on a narrow trail and are yourself ahead of the pack, the act turning around and running back up the hill whilst screaming can create a general state of panic.

Studio One

Sunday will bring to a close about thirty-five hours of exams and give way to about an equal number of marking (for each of us) over the next two weeks. Challenging drawing topics for the Ones were met with some positive responses. The Threes were well prepared for their first long exam, but the verdict is still out for the Fours. The Whey and Barbarians Unleashed enjoyed Fifteen hour exams. Stress, tiredness and an absence of music characterised the occasion. Good work was evident.

Greg Shaw

4th July 2019

 

 

“There’s Room for You”, Or An Extraordinary Student Work (III)

“The absurd, with its rupture of rationality-of conventional ways of seeing the world-is in fact an accurate and a productive way of understanding the world.”

William Kentridge

There’s Room for You is the A2 Coursework submission of Isabella Ross, a pupil I have admired from across my studio for six years – I have never taught her, she has tracked a course through our department under the tutelage of my esteemed colleagues). One of her great strengths as an art pupil was the ability to make powerful, expressive marks in a variety of media. Because these were never pulled from the air, but generally referents to objects and physical anchors of her experience in her world, they have carried significant power into which she has invested her concepts and elements of her humanity with sincere conviction. This post is not really an analysis of her coursework, rather an overview of her extraordinary work, for it deserves to be acknowledged.

The following text is the starting point to her submission:

“There’s Room For You – Enlist Today” developed and encapsulates the main them and direction of my coursework. It was a poster produced by the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee with the aim of recruiting men to the British Military during World War One. This is an unusually decorative poster, most produced before were text based, and of limited colour… . I found the slogan disturbing, especially considering the massive loss of life in those years. I became interested in continuing this idea, questioning it in both a historic and current context. As I began to think about this, the fact that there really was in the end only room for men in the ground, I was shocked to realise how indifferent I had become to the [announcement?] of death tolls from disaster and human conflict, that those that had died were people with lives and feeling. The constant bombardment of these “numbers” seems have made the modern audience immune to its distasteful and catastrophic nature. A distance has been created that I wished to cross back over and reconnect, the break back through the anonymity of mass loss of life.” (IR, Coursework Supporting Work Page 4).

Page 4 – Detail of Supporting Work

As expressed previously, the interaction with our pupils crosses studio boundaries. Crits, assessments and exam marking are done with three teachers for a number of reasons. This process allows us good knowledge of all of the pupils in the department, especially at the senior level. I followed Isabella’s decision (under the guidance of Mary-Ann) to confine her outstandingly expressive, tactile qualities within traditional media to the sterility of the digital arena with, I must confess, a modicum of apprehension.

However, within her preparation work, she describes how she came to conceive of her Final Outcome as a “moving painting”. Whilst technically, this could be any video work or animated piece, it transpired that within her specific conception, she was able to retain her expressive strengths, indeed, the work is just as her conception; a moving painting / drawing which retains the vitality of her mark and various media. In fact, it is this characteristic which gives it its unusual and individual strength.

The images immediately below are details from her sketchbook, they reveal the depth of her research and careful analysis of ideas, as well as the hand of a pupil highly proficient and confident in visual exploration (each image can be expanded from the slide show for closer viewing).

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The manner in which she combines various themes, and ideas into a coherent work is commendable. The vast array of references, from arcade games to Kentridge and Lieros are absorbing and require a few readings of the work to digest. Her work touches on archetypical themes, such as sacrifice and humanity at the mercy of forces beyond its control. Authority figures take on both religious and quasi-religious forms which combine to suggest elements of control beyond the  protagonist, and by inference, the spectator. Her use of masks find elements of both individuality and universality, which she suggests “display concerns of anonymity and human collective, becoming the dissolution of people from the meaning of life”.

The depth of her research is clear within the supporting work presented immediately below. These are A1 sheets of work onto which the wide variety of imagery and research have been presented (each image can be expanded for closer analysis).

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The work is presented as an arcade game in which the player becomes just another number as he  journeys through the trauma and violence of a world beyond his control. He is fully at the mercy of numerous forces with little, indeed zero independent agency within his life, or the period encapsulated in this work. Isabella presents a wealth of thought provoking imagery, carefully combined into a highly unusual work, and a submission that I am proud to have associated with the department!

Studio One

The Ones continue with their trees, now investigating them within digital media – age appropriate catastrophes apply. The Threes progress with exam prep, extensive giggling and a failure for most to submit their work characterised the week. Pretty pleased with the Fours IGCSE prep this week – I think it behoves me to name them. Cake Wars subsided in The Whey this week – there was a temporary, non-forceful incarceration which resolved somewhat amicably. Barbarians Unleashed seem to have been a little sensitive – I don’t really think it’s me – must be the proximity of Exams on the horizon.

Greg Shaw,

9th June 2019

 

Homelessness, (dis)Connection and Loss. Or, An Extraordinary Student Work (II)

In places like universities, where everyone talks too rationally, it is necessary for a kind of enchanter to appear. 

Joseph Beuys

IWe

I had the pleasure of working with Luc at IGCSE Level (I wrote about his work previously). He is creative, sensitive and of gentle wit, overwhelmingly evident in the work below, and, as I have become accustomed to, a creator of tragicomic forms which reveal deep and penetrating  reflections, overlaid with a darkish tint. I lost him to Studio Three for his Advanced Level work through the actions of The Great Timetable Machine, where he worked with my colleague Mary-Ann. Our “crits”, exam and assessment marking are shared, and our Upper VI pupils are required to present their work to us half way through the year. When we met at that mid-point, his presentation which took the form of  hundreds of thoughts, sketches, digital explorations, drawings and paintings was startling. Out of that seeming chaos, a tremendous digital work emerged. It may also valid to say that because of that seeming chaos, and the overwhelming outpouring of creativity, this work has emerged.

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IWe (even the title is exceptional), a 240 second work plays out over three sections. It is, I suggest, a journey with isolation, homelessness, alienation, disconnection and loss at its core (happy thoughts indeed). The following are my own thoughts about the work, not necessarily those presented by Luc.

The work opens with a genesis, in which an embryonic form of both natural and unnatural nature, a pronounced spine along its length, pulsates in a deep space. In binary, object and void hang together whilst the spectator awaits the establishment of context, achieved through the assault of kaleidoscopic imagery in a harsh rendering of a possible world. Elements of humanoid matter collide with disturbed natural imagery and techno graphics in sync with random noises, gradually speeding up until the seeming chaos takes on a regular, patterned musical form. It is not comfortable, indeed, it heightens to an almost intolerable form until the viewer is abruptly relieved of their distress.

I found this section of the work harder to respond to, yet I admire its value. I find the visual elements disparate, unaesthetic – harsh, even and random. There seems to be little narrative and I find little in which to attach meaning, apart from the fact, of course, that meaning resides in each of the statements I just made. Which is clearly the point.

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The second section of the work is the core in which the primary meaning resides, and it is achieved through a subtle and mesmerising manner. Two beings similar in nature inhabit a vast, cosmically inspired space. Their textures are fleshy, palpable, tactile. Though they are faceless, their attitude is one of a tender, mutual apprehension. The drawing is so crafted that they seem to respond to each other in harmony and even desire. Lit by a strong central source, deep shadows accentuate sinewy necks which support their “heads” but which fails to cast shadows and adds to the tension within the sequence. The absence of cast shadows is curious, rendering the figures somewhat isolated from the backdrop, contained in the mutual dance. 

It is clear from the work that considerable thought has gone in to the nature of these beings. Luc’s description of the concept is extensive: “I tried to give [the sequence] a distinct look that felt both familiar and alien. I wanted to mimc the appearance of the systems in the body; something that feels alive although it serves a function…” Within the preparatory work, a clear effort is visible to render the figures human-like yet abstract. It is this deliberate search for “familiar yet alien” that makes the objects relatable, their substance, movement and demeanour seems our own make-up.

This is a story about, desire, the need for connection and ultimately, the understanding that this is not achievable. Through the zooming-in sequence, the spectator is drawn ever closer to the macro level of the beings as they reach out for contact with each other. They become aware that not only are these beings fleshy organic, relatable, but more significantly, that no-matter how close they become, no-matter the detail, depth and texture of the very tissue of these beings, a membrane remains. There is contact, but there will be no ultimate connection, no understanding. They are seemingly determined to remains separate, isolated in a desperate state of disconnection.

And there is one final blow; ultimately, there is a break-down at cellular level – it seems that this meeting point is indeed a possibility – there can be union. But is is abruptly shattered and in a sharp, short withdrawing, each figure is reduced to its relative isolation. Possibility is rendered as tragedy.

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The final  final section brings little relief; the work resolves in a manner that not only underlines the alienation of the individual, but also reveals significant trauma. It is then, not a work that leaves one full of overwhelming joy, rather one that posits a notion of human existence as one of lonely, deep suffering – an idea suggested for millennia. Through the colour and nature of the image, there is a reference to the genesis scene and the potential that was suggested at that point. Separation is quickly reintroduced through the reintroduction of the techno style imagery, this time with figurative elements. The hands that scratch at the now humanoid form have no means of interaction with the figure. The world is removed, alien separated both visually and metaphorically.

We are taken within the figure where recognisable forms, a spine, a blood cell seem to collide with interference from the outside, but somehow to not reconcile with the separation portrayed thus far. The soundtrack, carefully planned offers some relief and there is a tranquility about the ending, despite the traumatic journey that has taken place. Amidst this relative calm, I have thought hard about the expression on the now disembodied figure’s face. Resignation, peace, tolerance are all readable in this moment. 

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I find this work somewhat extraordinary. There are multiple influences and referents ranging from a wide variety of sources, which is perhaps what adds to the richness. It is at once retro and contemporary, and a credit to its maker.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it comes with a

SEIZURE WARNING

Studio One

Form Ones are working through Allied Arts topics, much time has been spent outside drawing trees with pencil, and next week we will be exploring iPad drawing. The Threes press on with exam prep but their week has been alarmingly bereft of homework. The Fours build their IG Coursework, music has been amicably shared between the table factions. Cake remains a contentious issue within The Whey, with things reaching a frightening peak this afternoon. I believe that the volumes of work required are beginning to sink in to Barbarians Unleashed, hopefully spurring them on to great things. 

Greg Shaw,

30th May 2019

 

 

 

 

Variations

“A true creator knows that you follow the thing to where it’s going, not to where you think it ought to go.”

— Adam Savagevia Tim Ferris Podcast
Photograph of Jessica’s Final Outcome to the Coursework, “Hive of Activity”

As our annual exhibition draws to a close, I have taken a moment to acknowledge the many pupils of our department and applaud the effort they have made at every level and their many achievements of varying magnitude. I also shout out to my colleagues, Lisa and Mary-Ann who travel this road with me, share the rewards, frustration and exhaustion but ultimately, the inspiration of this endeavour! The pride we have in our department is considerable.

The exhibition is mounted in the three studios, with Forms 1 & 2 (13  & 14 yrs) in the first, Form 2 & 3 (15&16yrs) in the second, and the Upper and Lower 6 (17 & 18yrs) in the third. Our spaces are beautiful, light and interesting, but are hard to describe through photographs. Hopefully, the following slides give some idea of each of the rooms.

Studio Three, below: Forms 1 & 2

Studio Two, below: Forms 3 & 4


Studio Three, below: Forms Lower and Upper VI

Below: Moments, all ages.

We were delighted that two of our pupils were the recipients of Cambridge Outstanding Learner Awards, with Michaela being awarded “Best AS pupil in Zimbabwe”, and Isla being awarded “Top in the World”, for her Advanced Level submission. These require their own posts, which hopefully will happen in time (they are queued – there are a number of previous winners who deserve acknowledgement!).

Michaela’s AS submission below: (top left, Coursework Final Outcome; top right and bottom, Controlled Test Final Outcome and Supporting Work detail)

Video of Isla’s Final Outcome Installation and details of supporting work with Personal Study below:

It is a privilege to work with our pupils and to see, once again, their accomplishments on display. 

Studio One

A good crop of Form Threes begin their explorations into coursework, whilst the Form Fours edge closer to their IGCSE submissions. The Whey eat cake, plan bake offs, crush each other to hear their “real” laughter and contemplate their AS Coursework. Barbarians Unleashed remain somewhat savage as the pressure of A Level begins to mount.

Observations

  1. The department currently has 352 pupils. Every effort was made to include at least one piece of every pupil on the exhibition.
  2. It is estimated that over 11,000 pieces of work (some small, some artist studies, others large paintings, sculptures and installations) were made in the past twelve months. Each of these has had some engagement with one of the three teachers, which is staggering.

Greg Shaw,

16 May, 2019. Harare.

Residue

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep rolling under the stars.”

Jack Kerouac, On the Road: Original Scroll

I have a piece of bread nailed to the studio wall. Dry, broken. About one quarter of a slice remains. It’s from the year 2013, and whilst in my mind I can locate its provenance, and know it was part of a joke, my recollection of the specifics are now vague. I point to it frequently, but guard it’s fragility in the knowledge that it holds a valuable place, as residue of the unfolding history of the studio and the many that have now passed through. 

This very brief post is a shout out to the many amazing characters that have inhabited Studio One, whether their own residue be part of the wall or whether they simply gazed past it, or indeed were unaware of its existence, I trust that wherever they are, they are enjoying life to the full, and that there exists in them also, the residue of this space.

Greg Shaw, 10th April, 2019

P.S. Esther says “hi”.

Of Writing Histories

“People are always shouting they want to create a better future. It’s not true. The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone. The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past.”

Milan Kundera

The spirited gathering of the final assembly.

As each year passes and another group of pupils depart, I am painfully aware that they potentially leave our national boundaries for good. I suppose a good portion of that pain comes from the fact that in a few short years it will be my own children in that position and I will be faced with the crisis on a far more personal level. To this end, we continue to participate and do what we do, not only because we believe that this is an extraordinary country that we want to be part of, but also that we can one day, through our efforts, contribute to stemming this endless tide of departees from our land.

As the Upper VI Line Tutor, I am honoured each year, to say a few words to them at their final assembly. For one who is vaguely interested (some have asked for a copy), here is what I said to the leavers of 2107.

Spotted some “Vagrants” at the lock ceremony…

Usual shirt story…

and again…

Upper VI 2017

I would like to make a shout out to Vagrants, and to DJ Pardon, who may well have inspired this speech, and to note that 2017 is slightly different, because the eldest two children of the Zimbabwean Shaws, my nieces Lisa and Shekinah graduate today, which is a special milestone for the family!

You would be familiar with the song World, by Five for Fighting. In keeping with its genre, it’s somewhat one dimensional and rather sentimental, but recently, as I wallowed around in literary quagmire trying to think of what might be vaguely interesting for you to hear, the chorus caught my attention:

What kind of world do you want?

Think anything

Let’s start at the start

Build a masterpiece

Be careful what you wish for

History starts now

It’s a great idea; a clean slate; a new story. That you would walk out from here, pick a path and start mapping a story of success, of endeavour and the realisation of your aspirations. That you would build a masterpiece. That your history would start now.

Unfortunately, not only is it simplistic, it’s not true. History does not, and cannot start now. To think that it does would be to do a great injustice to that which has come before. It would imply an arrogance, and the idea that we are islands, independent of the myriad of factors that contributed to this point in time.  And I know that you don’t think that, despite the many critics of your generation, for I have seen you often exhibit a compassion and understanding for the world around you.

So I thought to consider a few strands of your paths that you have shared, and as I do so, I beg pardon from the historians and history scholars amidst you for my crass butchering of your beautiful subject and hope that through my blundering words you can appreciate the sentiment, no matter how crudely written.

Rather than being islands, we are part of an endless and infinitely wide stream. Where one part moves so must the others, to accommodate and reciprocate the constant motion and growth. As you have flowed through this path, so have your families. For each of you, this is an individual and unique tale, a complex, multi-layered pastiche. There is no doubt, however, that within these individual, shared histories there are some common elements such as joy and reward, honour, dishonour, anger and frustration. There are stories of support and stories of abandonment, each with their lifelong ramifications. There are inevitably aspects of love, trust and pride. For many, there is a story of sacrifice, and for some, great sacrifice. But in each, without doubt, there is a story of hope and faith.

Hope, that the decision to invest in you so fully, will bear fruit and rewards for each of you and for your families. I am optimistic that it will be.

Faith, that the investment in this institution will provide for you the absolute best that is on offer. I am hopeful that it has done so.

Faith, that even in this harsh climate, this could be accomplished and that the decision to be part of this country at this time would be the right one, as the shared history of you and your family has been written.

Faith that during this complex story you will have become everything that you can possibly be. I am optimistic that in this regard, you have, will continue to exceed their hopes and expectations, and I would ask you right now, to stand, and through applause, acknowledge the shared history between you and your family, and everything that it encompasses and everything that it means for the future.

And what then of your history in this beautiful, yet brutal country. How well have you understood that your moments of life in this extraordinary place are a relatively short, built on extraordinary achievements and successes as well as deep fault-lines and scars, and that each of these has conditioned your experiences till this point? Have you really apprehended that the history you have made in this privileged sphere can only be seen in relation to the space beyond this boundary, and that the two spheres are not even remotely similar? How well have you understood that at this point in time, your starting point is not even vaguely equal to the majority of your compatriots? That in fact, the extent of the disparity is quite staggering, and that the hand that you have been dealt would be eagerly grasped by many?

And what of the institution in which you have created much of this history? This Hellenic Academy which too, was built on great faith in difficult times. Which was built on a unique vision and stands as a monument to courage and perseverance. We invest ourselves so fully in you, because not only are you a product of this vision, but because you are the reason for its very existence, and because we know that through our shared history, we are also building a shared future, in which extraordinary things will be achieved.

We are proud of you and what you have accomplished.

You are gentle, and peaceful and empathetic in nature. Your year as the head of the student body has reflected these attributes and they have been passed through the school, and I applaud you for that. You have fostered a sense of pride and a sense of respect. You have added to our vision and you have added to our Academy.

And who are you? Who are the people that have experienced this history? As I wrote this, I read through your names, recalling each of you and your individual contributions. Starting with Basil, it was clear before I had reached the end of “C” that I could not mention them all, because there was simply too much to say. By that point, I noted expert violinists, a pianist, media experts and a Microsoft guru with a notable ‘fro! Athletes, academics and a high-flying triathlete, a courageous leader of extraordinary substance.  It continued throughout the class: The inspiration who is Chico. A viola player whose investment in the people of the academy has impacted my own family. A singer of transcendent power. A world-class triathlete, a world-class equestrian, a world-class super model and an artist who paints creatures with with mind-blowing humanity.

Gregory was no different. I noted a double bassist overflowing with empathy and an artist with such passion her stories eclipsed the school. A host of academics, mathematicians, scientists, and a polyglot. Darling, the cricket machine, Vlad, Sponge, Peaches and a Greek man who has stunned us, with his humbling courage and resolve.

Within John, I found a rock-musician-academic, a ballerina and an extremely caring, organisational queen. Experts in the knowledge of fauna and flora, a wildlife photographer, artists and writers. An orator, a debater of imposing force and a trumpeter. The man who is Taine. The man who is Bradley. The force of the Ocean and the impulsive, dancing persona, woman of extraordinary humility, academic, artist, and leader extraordinaire.

With respect to Five for Fighting, you cannot start history now. But you will be able to read it from this point forward and you should be aware that the steps that you take and the stories that you write from now will not only condition your future, but condition the way we read the past.

I would urge you then, to pay respect to the faith that your parents have placed in you and to pay respect to this Academy, and it’s ideals, with which you have shared your history. And to consider that perhaps one day, part of your continued story may be written in this country where your many abilities may contribute to the exceptional stories that will continue to be written in this beloved land.

I have only to speak of one more history. That is the one that I have shared with you. I am forever humbled by your achievements, your strength and your love of life. I look forward to the day that you return and we can continue to build this world together. I am proud to be associated with you, and proud that within my own story, our paths have crossed.

Go well.

Aien Aristeyien

Always Excellence.”

 

That’s the Sound…(Part 1:Ft. Arteepeepee)

“Do a good art, even if it’s a bad art.”

Savannah Hertzberg

“Luc Dood”, L. Brazier, 2016

Historical List of Redundant Form Four Actions (2016)

  1. Wear down art teacher with persistent pleas for the Right to Drink Tea in the studio.
  2. Rename the class “Arteepeepee”.
  3. Sing the music of Queen incessantly, with absolute disregard for the subtle nuances of the great Freddie Mercury.
  4. Engage in a farcical, tea brewing, non-art-making scenario until said granted  right is withdrawn.
  5. Make a good Art

"Luc Dude", E. Robertson, 2016.
“Luc Dude”, E. Robertson, 2016.

A few weeks ago, we had the pleasure of attending the Cambridge Outstanding Learners Awards, in which I am very proud to say that the Hellenic art Department claimed the “Best in Zimbabwe” at IGCSE, AS and A2 Level, as well as receiving two High Achievement Awards for the May/June exam session last year. I thought I would post a few of the extraordinary works here, the two AS High Achievement submissions and the IGCSE Best in Zimbabwe.

Mana was one of the members of GShiz, and Melanie emanated from the Studio of “Mrs Mac”. They wrote during the May/June session (something we used to do..) and were part of a group of exceptional submissions. Indeed, since I am blowing our horn (that’s the sound…), I might point out that the lowest grade obtained for the group of 20 was a B, which is quite extraordinary. The AS comprises a coursework submission and an examination (15 hours over three days, which despite being a beast – ask Sarah – is always a creatively intense and rewarding experience). Both Mana and Melanie (Malanie/Melana) had characteristics in common: a high degree of creativity and an exceptional level of skill and a great sense of aesthetic. Here is a taste of some of the work of Malanie/Melana:

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Luc Brazier was awarded Best IGCSE Art and Design Student in Zimbabwe, an excellent result following a couple years of smouldering activity and some pretty startling renditions of Queen, not to mention being the driving force behind the Arteepeepee debacle. His submission was the first animation to be entered as a Final Outcome by the Academy (most likely by any Zimbabwean School?) to date.

Luc combined a wealth of technical knowledge and superb artistic and aesthetic judgement as he produced a work of startling weight and impact. It is not uncommon for our students to address “heavy” themes, many do as their lives collide with the raw and brutal facets of life. It is much less common that these works come over as uncontrived. For many, despite the impact of these, they are less artistically mature and some work becomes cliched, relying on predictable imagery or symbols and “shock” tactics. Luc’s in contrast, is a dark, hard hitting and edgy work. for those of us who know him, it came as no surprise that there are  heavy doses of sardonic comedy (not humour) entangled amidst the tragic narrative.

At each level it is demanded of the candidates that they support and investigate their ideas and demonstrate how these have been developed throughout the submission. I think in some regards we were privileged to be given access to Luc’s thoughts, since so much was highly personal, and which, in sketchbook form, clearly demonstrated the progression and decision making of the work.

Here is a taste of the exploration.

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Here is the final outcome:

Luc was also the first candidate from the Academy to answer an examination with pure photography. He tackled this with a similar degree of creativity and courage, and employing a level of investigation and expertise well beyond what would normally be expected from a student at this level. As before, his preparation was personal and deeply investigative. Here is some of the preparation and the Final Outcome:

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It should go without saying that there was a wealth of extraordinary work that emanated from Arteepeepee and I would do well to feature some more of it at some point. But for now, let me say as always, what a privilege it is to work with the many pupils who invest themselves as wholeheartedly in their work as they do; beyond the extraordinary amount of effort, it is above all, highly courageous.

Studio One

It seems hard to believe that we are almost the end of the art exams for Trinity term. The AS mock finished today, the remnants of Arteepeepee reconfigured as Pigs and Chickens had a taste of the 15 hour beast; they were weary, but for the most part, successful. Vagrants continued their journey through the A2 coursework,  App up the Vicious wrote their IG mock, the Form 3s (a cracking bunch) are done, so are the 2s and the Form 1s write on Tuesday. A total of 39 hours of exams.

Observations

  1. Aluminium melts at 800 degC. We know this from the IG students smelting it (through questionable means) for casting.
  2. Said molten aluminium explodes if poured into a damp mold.
  3. Percussive sounds of welders, grinding metal and the roar of the (modified) blow torch is heavy, after the 9th hour.