I’ve now finished the first 5 of my England’s Dark Dreaming series of drawings. I wish I could show you them at their full size—one metre high—rather than the relatively small digital photographs of them, because the physical scale of a piece of artwork affects your reaction to it.
Having defined the first characters in the five drawings in the series so far (and at least two more drawings that are still to come this year if all goes well), the drawings I plan to start in January will introduce some new figures that draw deeply on English folklore and myth: the Hedge Witch, the Cunning Man, the Lady of the Oak, the Green Man, the Winter Queen, the Horned Man, She-of-the-Grain, and the Dead King.
I probably won’t be able to draw all these archetypes because that would require finding eight different people to life-model for me in eight different life-drawing sessions. This would not only be difficult to arrange—because finding eight different people to life-model is not exactly easy—but also expensive because each of those eight life models would need paying for their work. So I’ll just see who offers to life model and then see which archetype seems most appropriate for them to depict (or which they want to depict).
Using these mythic archetypes as personifications and metaphors will hopefully allow me to make allusions and references that would otherwise be unwieldy to include. On the downside, I realise that using these recognisable folkloric/mythic archetypes may encourage an imagined viewer to concentrate only on the surface layer rather than anything deeper.
There’s a temptation in dark times to retreat into a fantasy of the past, and my use of folklore and myth may lead some people to conclude that this is what I’m doing, but this is not the aim of this series. England’s Dark Dreaming will concern itself—although neither wholly nor flagrantly—with contemporary politics: the rise of the far-right, their language always laden with anger, violence, threat, and talk of “traitors” and locking up people who speak out against them. It’s my reaction against a country where calmness, truth, and reason have been discarded in favour of the sophistry and shouting of the far-right.
As I mentioned earlier, the series will not be dominated by political comment. It is not intended as a series of blatant political cartoons or as simple sloganeering, but rather as something that I hope will weave several themes into a more complex whole. Similarly, while some of my mark-making so far has been vigorous and frenetic, there are also layers of slower, calmer work layered over it, as I try to find each a point of balance for each drawing somewhere between intensity and serenity that feels right for me.
I’ve also started looking at some of the more unusual visual compositions found more often in comics and graphic novels and also in film and television, where figures are depicted from above or below rather than at a shared or similar eye level. It's a device that, if used sparingly, can introduce drama or maintain visual interest, especially in a long series of figurative drawings. I've only used this compositional device once so far—the view from above in England’s Dark Dreaming № 3—but I suspect I'll use it more in future drawings in the series.
That the series is presented as a sequence of monochrome figurative drawings, sometimes with individuals recognisable from drawing to drawing, is another point of comparison with comics and graphic novels. I like the idea that people can construct their own narrative to fill the spaces between the drawings, even though they are not explicitly created as sequential frames in a strict linear narrative.
Note: The full series of the England’s Dark Dreaming drawings, along with some explanatory text, will be published in my forthcoming book of artwork England’s Dark Dreaming, available to pre-order from our online shop.