Building on your research

Returning to the digital world, I chose to work on the found text that makes up part of Facebook’s Privacy Policy, specifically the section dealing with the types of information collected by Facebook from its users.

Highlighting the word “INFORMATION” brings out the sheer volume of information that is collected by the site with the express permission of its members. One wonders how many people would have signed up to this in the early days of Facebook?  The information collected serves to build a picture of an individual so I thought it would be interesting to construct a portrait of a member using the extracted multiple instances of the word “INFORMATION”.


After playing around with several options, the most effective was of the original text overlaid with the red “INFORMATION” words to form the outline of a young girl which gave a slightly sinister edge.

For the larger piece, I brought the portrait more to the foreground and outlined with the “INFORMATION” words as before. The portrait looked more like an illustration which removed the notion of a “real” person and weakened the impact. I found this to be less successful than my initial study as the more subtle suggestion of the portrait emerging from the collected information had more impact than the more obvious one.


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Artists using a diversity of media

Fiona Banner’s early work features “wordscapes” from film dialogue and song lyrics where she describes plots in her own words. While her work incorporates, drawing, sculpture and installation, the use of text underpins all of her work. The fact that she translates stories into her own words makes her work very personal and reveals much about the artist based on her interpretation of the narrative.

Roni Horn is an American artist whose influences span Icelandic and US cultures. Her artwork   combines photographic imagery with poetry and sculpture. Her sculpture, Thicket No 1, is made from a slab of aluminium alloy with embedded plastic text added around two of the edges which read “TO SEE A LANDSCAPE AS IT IS” and “WHEN I’M NOT THERE”. The aluminium is reminiscent of ice with its large, flat, reflective surface which takes on the tones of grey of the ambient lighting in its constantly changing environment.

Another emerging artist influenced by isolation and the landscape of Iceland is Ane Lopez  whose “Unknown Title” text installation of a transparent curtain with words etched in block capitals across the surface beautifully illustrates the icescapes and absence of colour and of Iceland with the text only legible as shadows on the wall behind the transparent plastic curtain. With this gap between the etched and projected text the sense of disassociation is magnified.

On Kawara was a Japanese conceptual artist whose date paintings featured a single date, each painted in a slightly different format depending sometimes influenced by the part of the world he was in at the time. Each piece was painted on the date featured in the painting, highlighting the passing of time as the piece viewed on the date specified can be seen as “now” while the following day its meaning changes into a time in the past.

In contrast to On Kawara, Peter Horobin  compiled 10 years of daily data in his “Daily Activity Time Archive” detailing the minutiae of day to day living. These A4 “forms” were completed each day to document environmental information – place, temperature, bar pressure, as well as personal information – food consumed, pulse, blood pressure. A very personal sense of a life being lived is conveyed when faced with a wall of this information unlike On Kawara’s Date Paintings which would typically be viewed after the date in question has been passed and allows to viewer to make their own associations with the date.

Joseph Kosuth entwines words throughout his art to introduce definition to his work. The meaning of art is defined by the viewer and by adding a dictionary definition the viewer is forced to consider the work in the way defined by the words. In his piece “One and Three Chairs” the artist throws up many questions. Was the starting point the chair itself, the photograph of the chair or the dictionary definition of a chair? The chair is a mundane, unremarkable wooden folding chair which in itself is not art, but furniture. So what raises it to the level of art? It is in the conceptual, curation of photograph, text and object, prompting the viewer to reassess their own experience of the object and how they define the world around them in terms of visual cues and linguistics. This piece makes me think of Magritte’s “This is not a pipe”  which also questions our view of reality.



Banner, Fiona:

Horn, Roni:

Kawara, On (1933 – 2014):

Horobin, Peter (980 – 1989):

Kosuth, Joseph (b. 1945):

Magritte, Rene (1898 – 1967)


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Using found words and images

The first issue here is to determine a starting point. Does one begin with an issue or story to tell? A word or phrase which resonates or an image whose impact can be heightened or ambiguity of meaning added?

Barbara Kruger ( )  seems to begin with an issue ie the image of women in society and combines image and text to make her point. My sample pieces combined several approaches.

For the Donald Trump piece, I started with the image and thought to combine this with comic-book text in the style of Roy Lichtenstein ( ). I searched some Marvel “Superhero” images and phrases and selected some that were humorous and juxtaposed these with the more sinister phrase.

The Caravaggio piece was initiated with the image and the humorous caption added. I liked the contrast of the old, renaissance figure with the modern “reality TV-show” slogan.

“Off the beaten track” began with the text from a travel advert. I wanted to find an image of an urban scene to contrast with the suggestion of wilderness and wide open spaces. During my search I came across the image of the shanty town build around the railway track which gave added meaning to my appropriated text.

Much of my work is influenced by the shadow of ageing and dementia which has touched me personally, so I also wanted to explore this through text and image.  Music is an important element in my life and I am often moved by song lyrics. I found the image of the older woman and really liked the loneliness that this conveyed through her expression, surroundings and wintry colours. I accentuated this feeling using computer effects and I added lyrics from Simple Minds “Don’t you forget about me” printed using a font mimicking an old typewriter to match the aged feel to this. This was a successful sketchbook piece with a poignant pairing of image and text which were in harmony with each other unlike some of the other pieces where the disjunct between image and text changes the meaning of each and creates a new narrative.

Of all the pieces, I found the old woman piece to be the most emotionally charged and I used this as the starting point for my larger work. This time, instead of using digital manipulation, I used a limited palette and painted the muted, faded effects and used the lyrics from Don McLean’s “Empty Chairs” which always has a huge emotional tug for me and is particularly apt when thinking about loss.


Kruger, Barbara:

Lichtenstein, Roy:

Marvel Comics:

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Artists using found text

Barbara Kruger’s work is instantly recognisable with her strong, uncomplicated images overlaid with found text from newspapers or magazines which change the implicit meaning of the appropriated image.  Often questioning “accepted” social norms, her sharp, inciteful combining of strong image with a word or phrase appropriated from a newspaper or magazine, brings the viewer up short and compels him to question and challenge these norms. In the artwork “Who do you think you are?” her trademark black and white image with the red and white text overlay, sees an unidentified individual (male) sifting through numbered files containing photographs suggesting that the subject is consciously selecting “who they are”. So, who are we? A montage of carefully selected characteristics which we show to the world? Do we really know who we are? Is the image we portray a true reflection of who we are?   Whatever the answers, Kruger’s artwork is a very powerful means of asking the questions.

Jenny Holzer is a text-based, conceptual artists whose work can be seen in public places on LED signs to large scale projections on buildings within major cities.  Her projections are akin to poetry, or snippets of poems, usually with an unexpected twist or unclear meaning as in “What happens quietly: Someone’s dropping from exhaustion. What happens loudly: Someone’s bread is ripped away…” . Often, as in this instance the last couple of lines are unclear as they fade or are distorted by the building onto which they are projected.

As a political activist, Holzer uses her art to fire accusations at authority and to highlight social injustice. One of her earlier pieces of LED work used the, then, new technology to deliver her messages to an unsuspecting public through an information LED screen.

Using the element of surprise – no one expects to see writing projected onto a building – the viewer is shaken out of complacency and takes notice of the message being delivered.

Guerrilla Girls are a group of gender and race equality women artists who campaign and highlight inequality in the artworld through posters, placards and exhibitions. Their sometimes statistical statements are often combined with images of women wearing a gorilla mask to conceal her identity and to focus the attention on her body instead of the woman as a complete person. One of their best known works is the poster, directed at the Met Museum asking “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum?”

Brian McDonald is a West Coast based American artist who distils some of the constant barrage of information that he is exposed to on a daily basis into text-based art. Often cartoonish in nature, and appropriating the image of Corky the Cat in some pieces, McDonald shows the absurdity of the rampant consumerism and relentless quest for money and riches.

Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) was a German artist, prominent in the Dada movement but his influence can also be found in many other genres including Constructivism, Neo Expressionism and Pop Art. Using found object or “trash” like used bus tickets, timetables and other discards from modern living he breathed new life into them, forming beautiful collages. While not exclusively text pieces, the inclusion of fragments from everyday life give his work a connection to time and place and a also a sense of time passing by incorporating items which have previously served their useful purpose and have then been discarded while their owners move on to the next thing as in “Opened by Customs”



Kruger, Barbara (b. 1945)

Holzer, Jenny ;

Guerrilla Girls:

McDonald, Brian:

Schwitters, Kurt (1887 – 1948) :

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Word Painting

One of the areas that inform my work is the digital world and as an extension of that is the notion of “Truth”. My tutor posed the questions in my last feedback “Do we need a truth?” and “Is one truth an old fashioned concept now?” In my view, truth is an increasingly elusive beast. Its importance has diminished and has been replaced by perceived truth. Who now believes politicians? I have heard (is this a truth?) that the US candidates, Trump and Clinton, paid Facebook around $250 million in the run up to the election to push targeted messages to potential voters who had been identified as for or against the particular candidate. People receiving these messages assimilated them as truth which has become part of their belief system. Whether or not these messages are in fact “true” has become largely irrelevant as “belief” is much more powerful as religious leaders across the ages will testify. The Art community is also pondering the role of “truth” in the digital age with Colin Perry asking whether Twitter destroyed truth or created a greater appetite for it, in Art Monthly July-August 2017.

In this digital age we are bombarded with messages on an unprecedented scale from adverts on our public transport systems to online peer-driven encyclopedias and forums to news stories delivered through a phone, tablet or TV. Many of these sources are unchecked and it is almost impossible to discern truth from lies.

With the advent of printing, news, gossip and propaganda could be easily disseminated to the masses. My first piece was a simple lino cut with TRUTH and LIES.  Then I put together a grid of famous people past and present who were known for strong opinions, truths and/or lies and overlaid with the printed words.


With the inked bray I applied some ink to plain lining paper and also to a sketchbook page. The softer paper gave a nicer texture mark. With the addition of the word “Truth” these were nice little, graffiti-like studies.


The “Vision” study red/green/black background was influenced by Gerhard Richter’s work and my idea was to apply a similar layer of transparent paint over a collection of appropriate news clippings, tweets and portraits and then cover everything leaving the word TRUTH.

I tried several techniques to replicate the coloured background and applying a layer of gloss medium between the newsprint which was too absorbent and then applying the ink on the bray. The ink didn’t apply well over the acrylic paint so the final version has black acrylic paint layered on top using a soft roller.

The word TRUTH is formed of the gaps in the top layer of “newsprint ink” hinting that truth is ephemeral and not solid or certain.


Perry, Colin: Art Monthly Magazine July-August 2017/ No 408

Richter, Gerhard:

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Collage letter painting

Letters, yes; collage, not so much.  Letters as symbols, letters with contextual meaning letters as part of an overall composition or narrative are all things that I will start to incorporate within my work, although my preference is for entire words to be included as the impact in terms of meaning I find generally to be more powerful. Letters such as X and a red A have well known strong symbolic meanings. Individual printed letters have their own appeal as design elements and I collated a variety of printed text showcasing different fonts.

I put together some “letter” pieces in my sketchbook but kept drifting towards putting them together to form words.

My most successful piece was with the all-over printed text and the Facebook “F”. This was created using overprinting of lines of text to completely cover the page in an abstract manner. The addition of the blue Facebook logo adds narrative and speaks of the digital communication between its members and the complex coding and algorithms behind the program.


Horobin, Peter:

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GSA Degree Show 2017

The 2017 Glasgow School of Art Degree Show was a superb collection of contemporary artwork with a good mixture of installations and painting/drawing.

Here are some of the highlights for me:

Shine Robert Christensen:  His beautiful installations of flora displayed in a variety of ways – silver leaf skeletons, boxes of leaves, twigs, moss –  have a nostalgic feel to them, like an old-fashioned laboratory. There is also an Eastern twist to the arrangements bringing to mind the delicate art of Japan. In particular the tabletop layout of the boxes is well considered, leaving space in between the groups, like the “Ma”, negative space, important in Japanese art.

Lara Edgar: – Tables of fatal accidents in mines and related information documenting common diseases suffered by the miners. Overprinted and fading towards the bottom of the page. Presented clipped to a cork pin board. Other related installations of miners’ workwear which act as a poignant reminder of real people no longer there symbolised by empty coat and boots.

Alina Baimamadova: These extended silhouettes are reminiscent of the work of Karen Walker ( with black silhouettes on the walls depicting stylised female forms.  The forms, while suggesting the female form also draws on Chinese calligraphic marks.

Rachel Hobkirk: These deceptively simple 3D canvases employ the shadows from the underlying geometrical shapes forming an integral part of the composition which are minimalist and delicate.

Hoi Ling Helena Fong: https//  Her anatomical melees of alcohol paint and Chinese ink are reminiscent of Egon Shiel’s work. They are full of movement and seem to morph between anatomical and abstract. One figurative piece was painted across many vertical strips with the viewer impelled to move around the installation to find the optimum view.

Emma J H Louise: . Using found images and text, the artist explores ideas of feminism in the context of today’s digital culture where pornography and sexualised images of girls of all ages are readily accessible to everyone online. The majority of young people, male and female, have been presented with unrealistic images of women and sexuality based on male fantasy. Her clever combinations of cartoon/children’s images with seductive pictures and “Stepford Wives” type images produce a sinister undertone to the finished pieces.

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Artists using graphic type or the printed word in their work

The use of graphic text or the printed word within an artwork can completely alter the meaning of a piece or be the subject matter in itself. Text can also place a piece in time – Copperplate writing, 1800’s; text as logos eg Pathe News, early/mid 1900s; computer generated text, contemporary.

It can raise ambiguity and questions in the mind of the viewer if the subject and the text are at odds with each other.

Ed Ruscha (b. 1937): Normally categorised as a Pop Artist, Ruscha sits on the edge of that genre with his ironic, observational distillation of West Coast America represented as words or phrases floating in space or sitting on top of a static image. With the text, Ruscha is able to imbue his work with humour and ambiguity that couldn’t be achieved using image alone.

Jasper Johns (b. 1930): Johns moved away from painting traditional subjects or abstract work and instead chose to imbue everyday, recognisable symbols with added meaning by constructing the pieces eg “Flag” from other collected material, in this case fragments of torn newspaper dipped in encaustic and applied to the surface allowing the text to show through. John chose to challenge the viewers’ pre-conceived ideas associated with the familiar, often very powerful, symbols.

Tracey Emin (b. 1963): In much of her work, Emin uses text to both accentuate the meaning of her work and shock the viewer out of complacency, forcing one to reassess our perceptions of the words in question and to examine the context in which they are used. ,

Louise Hopkins: Uses printed pages and blocks out many of the words leaving the rest exposed eg “Of and Of”  She makes paintings and drawings directly onto surfaces that already contain information; world maps, patterned furnishing fabric, comics, catalogue pages, magazine pages, photographs, folded or crumpled paper and sheet music. The viewer first sees the intricate mark-making and flow of the design and then notices the words in the gaps and attempts to find meaning in the interplay between the design and the words.

Peter Horobin: As well as his room installation of data sheets documenting his life day to day over the space of a year, there were the “Acrobat” pieces which comprised articles, including a red suit which had the word “Acrobat” written all over them. The result served to separate the letters of the word and occasionally recombine them depending on the way the viewer reads them – vertically, horizontally or randomly much like the Acrobat himself whose life was difficult to pin down or define.

Lara Edgar’s contribution to the GSA Degree Show was a poignant reflection of the conditions suffered by miners in the 1900s. Her installation combined printed Accident Statistics and a list of common diseases as well as workwear – coats and boots  – hinting at the absence of their owners.



Ruscha, Ed: (b. 1937):  ;

Hopkins, Louise:

Horobin, Peter:

Johns, Jasper:

Emin, Tracey:

Edgar, Lara:

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Calligraphy – larger work

Drawing once again on the calligraphic marks from Chinese symbols and the similarity in line between that and the mobiles of Alexander Calder, especially “Small White Discs”, I constructed a mobile of my own from wire and covered the wire with dark blue tissue to give more substance to the “legs”. The continually altering calligraphic marks made when the mobile was in motion gave rise to many interesting compositions. I took a freeze-frame from the video on which to base the larger work.

Another artist influencing the outcome was Canadian Anne-Laure Djaballah whose line-based abstracts reflect her interest in the spaces we inhabit and consist of layers of shapes and tones with linear marks taking a dominant position on the top layer. Her thin informal lines, while looking like a minor part of her compositions, serve to link areas and set up an important dialogue between different areas in the painting.

The first of the colour sketches was a bit too Mondrian-like so I adjusted the colours for the pastel sketch and the final, replacing the vermillion with burnt sienna, which I use regularly with ultramarine blue, to give a more complementary palette.


This was a successful outcome with a pleasing abstract composition based on the 3D mobile and incorporating texture with a ground of tissue paper and finished with acrylic gloss medium. The long scroll-like shape nicely referenced Chinese scrolls.


Tobey, Mark (1890 – 1976):

Abstract Expressionists:

Kline, Franz (1910 – 1962):

Pollock, Jackson (1912 – 1956):

Calder, Alexander (1898 – 1976)

Djaballah, Anne-Laure:


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Developing calligraphic mark making

I started with the more obvious written word which was repeated and layered to produce a focus-free, all-over pattern.  This didn’t really work for me. The lighter blue layer on the top gets lost and dominated by the darker blue base layer. There is potential here perhaps using colours more closely aligned in tone or with the upper layers more opaque like Mark Tobey’s “White Writing” work.

After a visit to see the Abstract Expressionists Exhibition at the RA in November, I have a particular liking for the work of Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock for it’s free, gestural qualities. Kline’s work, in particular, put me in mind of Chinese calligraphic marks combined with large metal structures, in particular Glasgow’s Finnieston Crane.

For the Pollok inspired piece, I liked working on the black ground and the layering worked well with the white marks standing out well.

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