Visual analysis of Camilla Low, Spring Rain.

One of the issues I found interesting in my final work was how to engage with the idea of sculpture that occupies a space and how to think about the space that the work exits in as part of the sculpture itself. Not all sculpture of course is necessarily concerned with this but in terms of my interest in the association between sculpture and installation I felt I would like to explore this through analysis of work that I found inspiring and that I could postulate an argument around. In seeking to develop my own sculptural awareness of form balance, harmony and the movement of the eye through a piece of work I decided to examine in more detail a sculpture that personally influenced me.

This process also links back to the writings of Susan Sontag and her discussion about the development of criticism so that it engages art on its visual terms rather than engaging the art object as a kind of sub text in which the physical work disappears and instead there exists an over intellectualised interpretation. I personally feel that the real merit in this approach is actually to make the young artist aware that underneath the finished object there exists the engagement the viewer is ultimately asked to have. At this point in my development I feel it is much like the rhythm of poetry that seeks to inhabit the consciousness of the reader through the flows of language.

To take a famous T.S.Eliot poem, 'The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock' and its opening lines.

'Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky, Like a patient etherized upon a table; Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,The muttering retreats, Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels.' Eliot almost constructs a novel in these 6 lines but more importantly for the visual artist is how he projects the images existing in his consciousness into the mind of the reader so that he evokes a parallel associative emotional connection of mood. The poetic visual artist does not have the immediacy of language but is equally disposed to conveying the intricacies of their own emotional response to a subject so that the viewer may feel a similar resonance.

Not all art seeks to do this but in the context of the sculpture I am exploring I think there is very much an association between the concerns of poetry and the concerns of the visual artist.

In the case of Camilla Low's 'Spring Rain' I have sought to provide an analysis of the visual balance and harmony of the work whilst also trying to weave in my own emotional interpretation, seeking to avoid the creation of a sub text such that an argument develops to support a theory. I am using this method to aid in my own understanding of a particular piece of work that I find beautiful, valuable and inspiring and that influences my current way of thinking.

I have overlaid the second image with a series of lines and numbers which are perhaps evident enough of how this work functions as a visual experience for the eye. I speak in terms of the inherent geometric balance and the play between lines and shapes to form the overall geometry of the piece. I am not trying to say this is a prescriptive method one applies de rigeur to all sculptural installation I am merely using it as my point of reference to improve and develop my own visual sense.

Line 1: I have used the green arrows to highlight the existence of a boundary and frame for the piece to occupy. I feel the position of the piece to interact with the corner of the room so the work is contained by two walls invites the viewer to look into the open space. It contains the eye quite deliberately with the blue hanging structure on the far left of the image acting as the invisible 3rd wall. It stops the eye far more subtlety than a third wall which would suffocate the piece. A third wall on the left would add to a heaviness that the piece could not hold and still transmit the same emotional balance. The blue structure contains the eye within the piece without impeding its travel but instead encouraging it to return and undertake a gentle journey around the piece again. The blue softens the eye's journey so it is not fatigued as it hits this structure. The hue seems perfectly chosen as a colour of rest, not too light so the eye wanders beyond it and not to heavy so the eye abruptly halts ultimately making the journey back across the sculpture a weary one. It acts as in Eliot's poem as the equivalent of the 'evening spreading out against the sky'. It is a languid spreading, a gradual coming that affords time to flow rather than suggesting an abruptness that something larger and more solid would. It functions as the line in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, ' Whan that aprill with his shoures soote' to use the original middle age Anglo French dialect. It is the gentle graceful balance as well as the indication of rain as vertical event. It isn't a spring shower but more full rain but Camilla Low has created a context such that it is soothing.

Line 2: This is the centre of the image where the curve acts to counter balance a lot of the very formal surrounding geometry. It is the only definite curve within the piece but there is a beautifully subtle echo, contained within the yellow square against the wall. Here we see scratches, that I have highlighted the flow of via the smaller purple arrows, on the yellow square whose curved lines echo the much larger red (earth tone) central curvature. Is this a foregrounding of one landscape whilst showing the feint distant lines of another, illustrating a depth to the rolling harmony of hills? I am not sure what this represents and indeed I am not sure it matters other than that one can 'feel' perhaps something akin to a harmony of something. This is visual poetry so I personally think one does best by absorbing the poetry emerging out of the visual forms themselves rather than necessarily absorbing the experience as a checklist of what x or y might represent. Having spent time with Camilla Low's sculptures I have never felt compelled to 'work' them out but rather I have enjoyed the experience of their balance and presence and my own emotional response to that. The top solid bar that holds the falling curve prevents the curve from over softening the piece as its central position and strong tones would if this firm holding straight line didn't push the eye over toward the point of the walls joining and thus the eye can travel left or right around the formal geometry of the piece again. This top bar holding the curve also resonates with the horizontal tops of the two wooden frames and the yellow square such that it acts with a similar function, uniting these elements despite their apparent immediate first glance differences.

Lines 3 & 4; To continue a poetic discussion of the structure one might say these are the stronger rhythms inherent in the piece. A type of base note which underpins by several lower octaves the lighter notes of the elements discussed in lines 1 and 2. The square forms move like the poems metre, each edge moving visually to the next until the eye meets the long vertical blue line mentioned in 1 and the eye returns to the first frame edge and the cycle continues. The repetition is prevented from a visual feeling of staccato edge, gap, edge gap by the interesting inclusions of the two grey objects in the brown frames and the scratches in the yellow frame. This is somewhere for the eye to rest from a possible feeling of repetitive motion which the three square frames might elicit. The very clever use of shapes, the second fitting the first, within the frames connects one brown frame to the next via its content rather than its structural edges. The last grey shape points away from what it appears to have been detached from and suggests new connections beyond. The eye keeps flowing with the natural movement of the piece as the artist uses methods to help express her mood and guide the viewer around the work.

Line 5: This is really the emotional energy flow of the piece representing the way the eye travels back and forth through and around the work. All of the large elements create this flow and the smaller elements creatively and subtlety enhance and reinforce this movement. There are places for the eye to pause and then encouragement for the eye to move again and explore. Line 5 is the result of all of the other elements in the piece, explained above, fulfilling their function. If aspects of those other elements did not contain the correct ingredients then what is discussed about the flow of the eye via line 5 would not be as harmonious.

I think what is interesting is that when one does this type of analysis, in a sense like explanations of poetry, one is meeting the artist on the plane of conscious engagement when the work itself exists in the realm of subconscious feeling. It is useful for a student like myself to analyse what they feel might be the visual methods used by the artist to complement the emotional content of her work and thus learn techniques that will foster balance and harmony and structure that intelligently reinforces messages in their own work. It isn't necessarily useful for the viewer however to view art in this way as this type of visual analysis would kill the emotional experience much like unravelling poetry kills that initial emotional response. The mystery is why you first fell in love with something as a pure feeling. Emotions are never enhanced by breaking them down into explanation. I am sure Camilla Low wants us to experience 'Spring Rain' as a visual emotive poem not a lesson in geometry. If the later were so she would be a maths teacher and not an artist.

A student of the rich and diverse world of written poetry could bring a lot of understanding across to the visual space. Contemporary poetry and contemporary art have much in common in their organisation of material so as not to stay silent on what cannot be said, to paraphrase Wittgenstein. Both art forms certainly use methodology and techniques to aid and reinforce their emotional message and these are very important for the student of these subjects to grasp as they develop their own practice.

 

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