Research point: Tight/rigorous ~ Michael Landy
Make notes on an artist who works in a tight, rigorous way.
For this research point (both tight/rigorous and sketchy/expressive), I decided to look at a couple of the artists my tutor recommended I explore. Michael Landy was a complete unknown to me and, on the face of it, not one I would have stopped to spend much time on, before. However, whilst looking to see if any of the recommended artists might fit the criteria for ‘tight and rigorous’, I found that several of Landy’s pieces did just that.
Born in London, in 1963, Landy is a sculptor, installation artist and draughtsman. For the purposes of this post, I’m focusing on the latter aspect of his career.
In an early series of drawings, pre-dating the Semi-Detached installation at the Tate (a full-size replica of his parents’ home), Landy created many portraits and studies of his father, John Landy, who had been left severely disabled and confined to his house after a mining accident in the late ’70’s. Ever since, drawing has remained a crucial part of Landy’s work (Thomas Dane Gallery, 2004).
In Sweep To Victory, we see Landy’s ‘stylised rendering of discarded wrappers’, with ‘virtually every inch of the paper… covered in careful drawing’ (Manchester, 2000). Comic-book art isn’t a style towards which I gravitate naturally but, looking beyond that, I saw that this is a meticulously drawn piece of work. In common with much of Landy’s work, it focuses in a very precise way on seemingly mundane details of everyday life, drawing parallels between his chosen subjects and those members of society who have been put on the scrapheap for various reasons.
- Similarly in We Leave The Scum With No Place To Hide. This was one of around thirty ink drawings made during and after the creation of his installation Scrapheap Services, in 1996. Due to restricted studio space, Landy drew many of his sketches on empty packaging and scrap paper. These evolved into ‘large-scale, carefully executed drawings in black ink’, in which the artist filled almost every bit of space (Manchester, 2002).
The series on which I based my decision to select Landy for this post was Nourishment, 2002. A set of twelve etchings of weeds, or ‘street flowers’. ‘ “I saw them as optimistic. I liked the way they don’t want to be looked after, that they prefer to live in little cracks in the street.” ‘ (Gleadell, 2002). The title was inspired by the fact that these flowers thrive on so little nourishment. This a is a sensitive and delicately drawn series of images, drawn as life-sized studies. Landy collected these plants, preserving them as best he could, before taking them back to his studio, where he made studies of their structures, including detailed drawings of roots, leaves and flowers, including imperfections. ‘Nourishment shares with Landy’s earlier work an attentive focus and a concern with showing the marginalised and overlooked’ (Taylor, 2003).
‘The weeds are recognised as individual characters’ (British Council, 2011). Each specimen is subjected to rigorous scrutiny. ‘Compositionally, they are beautiful in their simplicity… weeds [seen] as positive things: survivors: immigrants who put down their roots and thrive’ (Dickerson, 2012).
‘They seem to encourage two types of viewing; from a distance of a few feet, appreciating the overall shape of the grey masses against the paper, and taking in the structure of the weed, from flowers to root; and from a few inches, marvelling at the extraordinary level of detail’ (Stallabrass, 2002). This serves as a salient reminder that, when working on a finely detailed picture, it is necessary to consider the different ways in which it may be viewed. It is easy to become so bound up in the minutiae of an image that one forgets to step back and see it as others are likely to do – from a distance.
Landy’s portraits are equally finely rendered, in pencil on paper. In painstaking detail, he captures ‘every wrinkle and blemish in stark, intricate graphite drawings of brutal honesty’ (Thomas Dane Gallery, 2008). Again, this serves as a reminder to observe things truthfully, no matter how one then goes on to depict a subject.
‘Michael Landy’s … graphic production is the foundation of his practice. His drawings function in many different ways: as semi-autobiographical pieces, preparatory or concluding sketches for his large-scale projects… as well as autonomous bodies of work’ (Thomas Dane Gallery, 2013). As with the advice to stand back from one’s drawing, in order to gain a broader view, this prompts me to consider the different ways in which one can approach drawing, generally – with varying expectations and requirements. I know this is a lesson I need to learn, as I have an annoying tendency to set out on every drawing I make with a feeling that it has to be ‘finished’, ‘right’ and ‘fit for public consumption’. I know this isn’t true, and that such ideas are more of a distraction than anything, and yet the notion persists. I think much of that is borne out of drawing in the knowledge that each picture is going to be scrutinised by a tutor and/or assessor. I need to focus more on the work, and less on worrying about whether or not it’s ‘good enough’!
British Council (2011) Nourishment [Online], Available at http://collection.britishcouncil.org/collection/portfolio/7/149 (Accessed 2 June 2013).
Dickerson, P. (2012) Edgelands: Prints by George Shaw and Michael Landy [Online], Available at www.thisistomorrow.info/viewArticle.aspx?artId=1386 (Accessed 2 June 2013).
Gleadell, C. (2002) Contemporary Market: Michael Landy [Online], Available at www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/3586179/Contemporary-market-Michael-Landy.html (Accessed 2 June 2013).
Manchester, E. (2000) ‘Sweep to Victory’, Michael Landy [Online], Available at www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/landy-sweep-to-victory-t07212/text-summary (Accessed 2 June 2013).
Manchester, E. (2002) ‘We Leave the Scum with No Place to Hide’, Michael Landy [Online], Available at www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/landy-we-leave-the-scum-with-no-place-to-hide-l02440/text-summary (Accessed 2 June 2013).
Stallabrass, J. (2002) Michael Landy, ‘Nourishment’ [Online], Available at www.courtauld.ac.uk/people/stallabrass_julian/reviews/evening-standard/Landy-Nourishment.pdf (Accessed 2 June 2012).
Taylor, R. (2003) ‘Creeping Buttercup’, Michael Landy [Online], Available at www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/landy-creeping-buttercup-p78730/text-summary (Accessed 2 June 2013).
Thomas Dane Gallery (2004) Michael Landy: Welcome to my world [Online], Available at www.thomasdane.com/artists/43-Michael-Landy/exhibitions/ (Accessed 2 June 2013).
Thomas Dane Gallery (2008) Michael Landy [Online], Available at www.thomasdane.com/artists/43-Michael-Landy/exhibitions/ (Accessed 2 June 2013).
Thomas Dane Gallery (2013) 20 Years of Pressing Hard: Michael Landy [Online], Available at www.thomasdane.com/artists/43-Michael-Landy/exhibitions/ (Accessed 2 June 2013).