Assignment 6: One Mouth Kissing

One Mouth Kissing
Monoprint using Schminke water-based ink on Arches watercolour paper. 40X59cm.

Overview and Assessment

‘One Mouth Kissing’ is a study of hope confronting fear and loneliness. A determined tongue surges out from the depths with hope past sharp teeth and moistened lips, confronting the dark world of ghostly memories and dark figures gossiping in the shadows.

The title is a pun on the Zen ‘one hand clapping’ and is inspired by Maggi Hambling’s Towards Laughter and Walls of Water series and Camille Claudel’s poignant sculpture  L’Âge Mûr.  The narrative builds on my own earlier work in  Assignment 2 The Human Condition, Project 4.2 Self Portrait , Assignment 4 Life in Red, White and Black . Technically it builds on my monoprint experiments in Assignment 1 Willows and texture experiments in Project 2.2 Random Abstract Prints and further exploration of monoprint chiaroscuro techniques below.

I find this a powerful image. I like the simplicity of the composition and variety and contrasts in markmaking and texture. Perspective ambiguities between what is in and what is out – will the tongue turn back on itself – were an accidental product of different densities of ink that were quite difficult to control, but add I think to the overall dynamism and sense of movement.

Development of the concept

In this course I enjoyed the opportunity to explore a range of themes: landscapes, portraits and abstracts. I particularly enjoyed exploring possibilities of ‘not so still lifes’ of mushrooms, abstract portraits. In this final piece I wanted to do something abstract but which would have a lot of emotional power and impact.

The print is inspired particularly by the work of Maggi Hambling studied in my parallel project Life Unleashed: Movement in the Art of Maggi Hambling. In addition to my interest in her ability to communicate movement I am also inspired by the depth and intensity of her thinking around issues of ‘life, death and everything’ including gender and sexuality. The way she incorporates her gender and homosexuality as an integral ‘human’ rather than special feature of her art. Thus enabling her to communicate very deep responses across a range of genres: portraits, landscapes and abstracts.

In her work Towards Laughter Hambling describes the laugh as: “The border-line between what is tragic and what is comic interests me…They are a pathetic human way of trying to come to terms with the fact of our own death, the fact of other peoples’ deaths, the fact of the horror we see on the news everyday, the terrible things that happen. Some moments you cry, other moments you laugh” (Conversation with Judith Collins Hambling 1993 p13)

She tries to ‘get inside the laugh’ and paint its essence: “A laugh obviously has to do with the mouth, which is to do with moisture. I suppose some people laugh drily but a laugh is not something that I can connect with dryness. It is moist and wet. Obviously what is important is a real belly laugh. A laugh begins inside you, deeply inside you. Some people laugh with their mouth but not their eyes. A total laugh engages your whole body and is to do with what is going on inside the head, the heart, every part of you”(Conversation with Judith Collins Hambling 1993 p14)

Although initially I considered focusing on life studies building on drawings I had originally done for Assignments 2 and 3 (see below). But as I worked further on my parallel project looking at other aspects of her approach and themes I decided to do something that was more conceptually based, and  draw on my earlier more personal work particularly in Assignment 2 The Human Condition, Project 4.2 Self Portrait , Assignment 4 Life in Red, White and Black .

My choice of theme as ‘a Kiss’ was also inspired by:

  • British Museum exhibition summer 2018 on Rodin’s The Kiss and reading about the background to the context work for this on the Gates of Hell modelled on Dante.
  • Dore’s powerful black and white wood engravings of Dante’s Inferno with their sweeping lines and chiaroscuro effects.
  • subsequent reading about Camille Claudel and her descent into madness following her relationship breakup from Rodin. Particularly her sculpture ‘L’Age Mur’. On first impression, L’Âge Mûr appears to tell the story of the love triangle, with the crushed Camille imploring on her knees. A further sense of the work comes to the foreground with a second reading: the allegory of time, with man torn away from youth and being reluctantly led away by implacable destiny. See Camille Claudel in 5 Famous Sculptures

So I started to think of this project as a very large monoprint, trying to portray the feeling of a kiss as an abstract visual image.

Development of the image

Initially I had intended this as a more conventional ‘Kiss’ with two mouths and lips. But attempts to try and rope my partner into this exploration – a mutual kiss – were not successful (hopefully in future!?!). So – following from Claudel’s poignant sculpture of separation – I decided to focus on ‘one mouth kissing’ – a pun on the Zen concept of ‘one hand clapping’. An image of loneliness and searching – following partly from the images of ‘Longing’ and ‘the Edge of Nightmare’ in Project 5.2.

My first step was to close my eyes and think what a kiss felt like from the inside – how do I feel, what am I doing and how do these feelings relate to how I picture this in my head and why:

  • the most obvious part is the lips – but in this case they are not in contact with anything. No real sensation.
  • the mouth inside like an empty cavern
  • then the tongue – searching in emptiness from blackness of the mouth to the light. is it inside with the main focus on the lips? or is it outside searching for the lips and mouth of another? what is soft, what is hard. the tip of the tongue moving. Issues of perspective.
  • the uvula and roof of the mouth against the tongue
  • the teeth – sharp barrier to be avoided between the mouth and the lips,. Means either the lips need to fold in over the teeth to protect the tongue, or the tongue has to peer out through the centre of the mouth hole, waving forlornly in the emptiness.
  • the breath coming in and out – hot and cold

Keeping these images in mind, and often closing my eyes, I did two A2 charcoal drawings. These had different starting points to explore different  visual dynamics considering:

  • What is the main focus? Tongue, teeth, mouth, void?
  • Where do I want strong white/black contrast, what should white against black or vice versa to draw the eye into what? or is it all depressed shades of grey?
  •  What is defined, what is not? What is hard edged, what is soft edged?

Technical exploration

The image could have translated into a range of print-making media that I have used in this course, drawing on Hambling’s focus on movement and techniques she uses in drawing and painting. As I discuss at length in the parallel project, her work is characterised by the energy of her mark-making and experimentation with different mark-making tools (hands, sponge brushes, resists) in her oil and watercolour painting. When she started the Towards Laughter series she worked in watercolour, working with the drips and using masking fluid and a sponge brush and other implements. Her oil paintings are often developed over a number of months. She continues to use different types of brushes and particularly her hands and fingers, taking off paint, putting paint back on. The titles and themes evolve as she paints.

Hambling herself uses only etching and aquatint and monoprint. I first considered a larger piece that would draw on her painting style and my work on portraits in Project 4.1 Portrait of a Friend.

I also considered adapting the image for:

  • linocut – inspired by her composition and line in Rosie the Rhino
  • collagraph using a range of materials and textures, embossing and combining with collage and using her drawing and smearing techniques as well as abstracted shapes to create the movement
  • drypoint and carborundum using different implements and markmaking inspired by her drawings
  • stone lithography that can captured tones and markmaking

I have explored screen-print, etching and photo lithography but would have needed a lot more experience with these.

But in the end I decided to base the work on Hambling’s powerful black and white monoprints. Hambling herself uses thick oil-based ink and a range of markmaking tools: fingers, rags and solvent, sticks and brushes. But because of some  breathing issues that had worsened over the summer I wanted to use more healthy options, using  water-based inks I had used in the texture experiments in Project 2.2 Random Abstract Prints.

In order to  further explore mark-making and chiaroscuro effects I started experimenting with subtractive mark-making based on some gesture drawings I had done earlier in the course.

Since Project 2.2 I had been collecting black oil-based ink images where the randomness was produced by an earlier printing process, and prints made as part of the cleaning-up of ink on the plate. These had produced some very interesting effects – some of them suggest faces,  figures and landscapes.

Using Schminke water-based black ink I used a range of implements: fingers, fingers with latext gloves, cardboard of different strengths, brushes, sticks and rubber-tipped scrapers. Varying also the types and dampness of paper, and with wet ink and reactivated ink from a dry plate.

I also made some further monochrome experiments from a large A2 life drawing to compare Akua water-based inks and Schminke. Although the Akua ink enabled me to get more control over tone and much finer lines, I decided that for this project where I was aiming more at movement and contrast that I preferred the Schminke ink and my some of the effects from my earlier experiments above.

Development of the final Print

In developing the final print I started by experimenting with mark-making on very large plates based on my charcoal drawings. I used some old plates where I had left the ink to dry and re-activated this with wiping out with dry and damp cloth, fingers and added texture with salt and water spray that I selectively left to drip. I did four versions and found the texture effects quite interesting. But the prints were not as dark as I wanted.

My first attempt at the final print was a disaster. Although the plate itself was interesting, the Arches paper was much too damp and I Had not dried the ink enough so everything ran all over the print, all over the paper outside the print frame and all over my press. But not all the ink was removed from the plate and the textured landscape of ink, salt and whitespace I thought would be quite interesting as the basis for providing interest in the dark areas of the print.

I used these in the final print

One Mouth Kissing
Monoprint using Schminke water-based ink on Arches watercolour paper. 40X59cm.

I am pleased with the effect of this image. I have managed to get a feeling of movement and variety and contrasts in markmaking and texture.  Part of this is due to that fact that I worked into and reactivated a dry impasto plate. I spent quite a long time waiting for the ink to dribble and dry – avoiding my earlier disaster. I made sure that the paper was damp enough to reactivate the ink, but not too wet so that it blurred and ran. The markmaking itself required several attempts and re-inking to retain marks. Perspective ambiguities between what is in and what is out – is the tongue turning back on itself – were an accidental product of different densities of ink that were quite difficult to control, but add I think to the overall dynamism and sense of movement.

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