Richard Bright: Can we begin by you saying something about your background?
Angela Eames: I have been a drawer since the age of five. As a child, I considered drawing to be something that was carried out prior to the serious activity of art-making; painting and/or sculpture. Time and practice have changed this perception. Born of parents who were both multi-skilled when it came to the business of building an extension or even cutting a sofa in half and remaking it because it was too large, I grew up in a world of making and more intriguing for me, a world where I could make things differently. I would imagine what I wanted or needed, scour the shops to see if it was available and as was usually the case, being unable to find it, I would then make it myself.
My experience as a child of living in Bahrain and my introduction to Islamic tiling at that time may well have instilled in me the love of pattern and order. Aspects of mathematics, patterning and layering have been a source of fascination and visual sustenance throughout my years of practice, not through any love of the subject at school, rather stemming from the love of drawing and pattern-making. Through system and order the disparate and unsuspected may be revealed. Mistakes are immediately apparent. I am forced to pay attention to them, to consider them, perhaps to use them, but essentially I am forced to acknowledge my own human fallibility.
Art school education made me aware that I didn’t quite fit the defined areas of curriculum, feeling as I did, that I did not belong to the prescribed practices – painter, sculptor, printmaker, film maker, even fine artist. How could I attach myself to a Painting Department when I might arbitrarily dive into three-dimensionality and equally how could I confine myself to a Sculpture Department and suddenly succumb to two dimensions. Until 1974, whenever I was asked the question – “What do you do?” – I would reply that I was a maker. This just about got me by. Post 1974, when I joined the Experimental Department at the Slade School of Art, I began to feel that I was a drawer and began to say so. I had discovered that drawing for me was a means of exploring whilst for others I realised that it was a means for them to reflect upon the world around them. As an explorer I felt free to delve into system and mayhem equally – moreover I had found a place where I could fit. It was auspicious that this was the first art school which actually installed a computer, albeit one that filled an entire room!
RB: Over the past twenty years or so, anthologies, conferences, dedicated degree drawing courses, research papers, have proliferated. They all speak of the ‘expanded field’ of drawing, expanded not only in what can be counted in as drawing, but also in how we can think about drawing. Why do you think there has been such an upsurge in interest in drawing?
AE: As an artist and educator over the past twenty years or so I have been involved in many such anthologies and conferences and instigated the first dedicated UK Drawing BA at Camberwell College of Arts in 1998. For me the acknowledgement of drawing as an expanded field was entirely to be expected as a result of the direct link between the continuous and active practice of drawing and the relatively recent upsurge in digital development.
As an artist who has been using computers for twenty eight years, I remember, in the early days, being accused of selling out to the other side – computers being identified with that other side, the commercial/ graphic design sector. What nonsense! When working with stuff in the material world I have always been involved with trying to realise that which I do not know, see that which I have not seen. Nothing has changed in the intermittent years, I am still pursuing the same track but one could say that as in the case of other visual artists the technology has caught up.We now acknowledge the digital as commonplace but when I construct or assemble a wireframe within an application like 3D Studio Max (a program providing a sort of 3D graph paper environment), what exactly am I doing? I believe that I am drawing. I know that I am not painting, sculpting, printmaking, filming – perhaps I’m not even making – but I am drawing. Familiarity with the material world serves to inform my thinking and working procedures (quite often constraining them) but those decisions regarding what to do and what to do next are governed primarily by my physical and cognitive experience as a drawer. My projections or conjectures with regard to the intangible, stem from an awareness of the tangible and those of the invisible, from an awareness of the visible and vice versa. Drawing as visual thinking is a critical activity. Drawing accommodates the coupling of intuitive and accidental behaviour with a rational and strategic approach, both intrinsic to innovation. How else might we recognise potentials beyond our individual and necessarily limited experience? Drawing for me, might be summed up as “What if?”
In 1987, I was working on a series of drawings which involved multi-layers of stencilled graphite elliptical shapes on paper. Two drawings – Opus and Upstream are shown (Fig 3 and Fig 4), wherein a predetermined number of layers of visual information (construed as ellipses) were to be piled onto the paper. It was laborious and I might add an extremely painful process. These were large drawings carried out with graphite and rubber on paper. I felt like a machine, though I had no idea that I was moving naturally toward one. I had never had the urge to use a keyboard, with the exception of my venerable typewriter but I got the inkling that I could extend the work using a computer and I had heard about a Commodore Amiga machine at Camberwell College of Arts. As human computer, I could only go so far before I was literally lost in the layers but maybe the genuine article could take my strategies as far as I wanted and maybe further. Two years later, I gained access to the Amiga. It was difficult, without manuals or instruction but I did know where to put the plug and I did have an aim – to see if the computer could produce layered ellipses. Six weeks later I found that it could and as an added extra, in terms of breaking down my mark-making skills, it was a gift. Drawing and forming were integrated in computing space although the production of physical output – print, would present the next challenge.
RB: Where is drawing now?
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