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England’s Dark Dreaming (Part II)

By Paul Watson on .

detail from the first drawing in the series

I'm increasingly convinced that the country is temporally fractured, and we should be expecting a visit from Sapphire & Steel any time now. Everything seems to operate on skewed oneiric logic. Everyone is reduced to ill-disguised cyphers, woodenly acting roles and reciting lines.

The series of drawings I’m currently working on draws on these feelings. I’ve tentatively called the series either England in Darkness or England’s Dark Dreaming - I keep alternating between the two because even the title is in a particularly chaotic state of flux.

They will be a series of oneiric/political/mythic drawings depicting England as it is/might be/will be/could be/shouldn't be: current commentary, past dreams, political (de-)activism, calls to the past, cries to the future, ancient myths, future legends. Darkness, shadows, politics, gestural marks, folklore and myth, weird mystery, the mysterious weird, scrawled in charcoal with an occasional flash of silver or gold leaf.

I’d love to explain more clearly what the drawings are/will be about, but I need to draw them first rather than constrain them with words before they’ve had the freedom to evolve into what they will become.

So instead I’ll take some time to mention some of the artistic references, influences, and starting points for these drawings. William Blake is certainly one - not so much in terms of artistic style, but more in his approach to his work and the space he was working in.

Käthe Kollwitz and William Kentridge always offer high goals in terms of their use of charcoal, their ability to infuse monochrome with monumentality - unachievably high goals for me to aspire to, but they inspire nonetheless. I’ve also been looking at Picasso’s Rose Period paintings and his prints, although as with Blake, it’s not the artistic style that is the influence.

I recently discovered Odilon Redon’s drawings and prints. I’d always been aware of his symbolist paintings, but I’d never seen his graphic works before. There’s a 2104 book about these works by Redon published by Sun Vision Press with the wonderful title of I am the First Consciousness of Chaos: The Black Album and it has been something of a revelation for me.

Reading back through those names, it sounds absurdly vainglorious. I’m not seeking to place myself amongst them (chance would be a fine thing), but rather to learn just a little bit from them. It’s just me in my small studio—a spare room in a terraced house in Brighton which also serves as a study and a home for lost books—with a piece of charcoal, an easel, and occasionally a life model holding a pose.

The first two drawings in the series can be found here (1) and here (2).