See written statementA5_written_statement_homelessness
We have all done it. Glance away, cross the road, look at our phones or at most muster a mumbled “sorry” into our chests when asked to “spare some change”. Most of us are nice people so why do we do it; why do we not always spare some change? This is what I wanted to explore in my final assignment. Moreover I wanted to do that by causing the viewer to experience that feeling and thereby contemplate it for themselves.
To do that I needed to first answer a more fundamental question – if and when is it appropriate to use a vulnerable person, in this case someone who is homeless, in my art?
The idea for this topic grew from Part 4: The figure and the head (Westmore 2018a). Throughout my studies I’ve been drawn to work that develops a narrative rather than just aesthetic appeal. There is no more powerful narrative than the human condition and so I was looking to develop an idea that conveyed a deeper insight into someone’s story. I met John (not his real name) and his dog Bella enjoying the warm morning sunshine after a cold night sleeping rough on the streets of Brighton. They became the subject of one of my final pieces for assignment 4. My tutor suggested I reflect on the ethics and morality of involving vulnerable people in my art.
I found this an important and interesting philosophical question which I explored in my learning log (Westmore 2018b). I looked at the works of two artists:
Maxwell Rushton’s Left Out (Rushton 2018) who paced a cast of human form in a bin bag in public spaces and watched how people interacted with it. (Ruston 2018).
Kristian von Hornsleth’s The Hornsleth Homeless Tracker buys homeless people from the streets of London and sells them as art works to private collectors (van Hornsleth 2018)
So I had my narrative, a homeless person being ignored by passers-by. I had my concept – to encourage he viewer to empathise with both the homeless person and the passers-by. I now needed to think about composition.
I was drawn to the work of photography Viorel Popescu and his authentic view of London. One particular image was particularly interesting
It had a lot of what I was looking for – the sense of passers by avoiding the man and rushing past on their day.
I was also drawn to the work of graphic artist Eric Drooker. I thought the sense of tension he achieves with high contrast work would amplify the story. In particular this notant image.
I wanted to use this perspective in two ways – firstly it looks up and so in my work this would put the viewer at the eye level of the homeless man – secondly it looks up and out to a world beyond the current reality. The world the homeless man would see rushing by, the world the lucky ones inhabit, the world he might want to be part of. At the same time he stays below – where there is shelter and a form of sanctuary.
I developed these ideas further through planning my composition. I amplified the effects by placing the homeless man at the 1/3 point creating lots of space to the right for the passers-by to avoid him by. I also increased the contrast between the bright outside world and the dark tube station. As well accentuating the difference between outside and inside it allowed me to create depth with the use linear and atmospheric perspective. Both of which I used to draw the viewers eye to the homeless man. I also liked the way the handrail created a space within which the man sits – it reminded me of Lucian Freud’s cages he put around some of his portraits.
The chiaroscuro-like contrast framed and drew the viewer’s eye towards the main subject but I also wanted him to blend into the background as well – as an analogy to a homeless person blending into the city. I did this by choosing a strong ground to work on and use this for the mid-tone of the man. This was following a piece I saw at the National Gallery’s Monochrome exhibition (Packer & Sliwka, 2017) of a temporary alter piece white on blue cloth, and my self portrait for assignment 4 (Westmore 2018a). Using such a strong ground drew me to use soft pastels and charcoal.
I was building on my work for Assignment 4 (Westmore 2018a) and so much I used this as a starting point.
I also played with some ideas for composition. I had wanted to introduce an element from van dykes Arnolfini, the curved mirror in the background (Westmore 2018c). It reminded me of the curved mirrors you get in subways and I liked the idea of it being the view to another world. In the end it didn’t fit the overall picture (I thought it would have been too cluttered) so I just gave a nod to it reflecting the tube station sign.
I wanted to get a range of marks and lines and so I used a charcoal pencil sharpened with a knife. I worked well although I’m a little heavy handed so broke a lot of pencils!
Overall I was very pleased. I achieved the feeling I was looking for – namely that the man was sitting still in a space and the passers by were ruching past avoiding him.
I think I got a good sense of movement with the passers by. The lady closest to him lools like she just turned and the man half way up the steps loosk almost contorted, Edvard Munch like almost) he is trying to get away so fast. I also liked the atmospheric perspective with the final man at the top of the steps fading into the daylight.
I was pleased with this part of the drawing – I captured his expression well and the folds of his clothes. I liked the use of the ground as his mid-tone although unless the light is strong enough he does disappear a little too much.
The composition worked well with the dark areas creating an almost spotlight effect over the man. I would have liked to have gone even darker around the edges but that just wasn’t possible with the charcoal I had. Perhaps if I had used ink.
Tiles and steps
Overall it worked ok but I could have been a bit more precise with the tiles and steps – the tiles for example didn’t quite follow the same linear perspective in places. I liked the injection of colour the tube sign provided but it was a little off shape wise – for such a dominant feature I needed to have taken more care.
Packer, L. and Sliwka, J. (2017). Monochrome. London: National Gallery.
Rushton, M. (2018). Left Out | Maxwell Rushton. [online] Maxwellrushton.com. Available at: http://maxwellrushton.com/projects/left-out/ [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].
von Hornsleth, K. (2018). Hornsleth Homeless Tracker Project. [online] Hornsleth Homeless Tracker. Available at: https://www.hornslethhomelesstracker.com/ [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].
Westmore, M. (2018a). D1 Assignememt 4: The figure and the head. [online] Matt Westmore (@westmore_art). Available at: https://westmoreart.com/2017/12/10/d1-assignememt-4-the-figure-and-the-head/ [Accessed 12 Feb. 2018].
Westmore, M. (2018b). D1 A5: Research: Ethics and morality of art involving vulnerable people. [online] Matt Westmore (@westmore_art). Available at: https://westmoreart.com/2018/02/08/d1-a5-research-ethics-and-morality-of-art-involving-vulnerable-people/ [Accessed 12 Feb. 2018].
Westmore, M. (2018c). Gallery visit: Reflections, Van Eyck and the pre-Raphaelites, National Gallery, London, UK. [online] Matt Westmore (@westmore_art). Available at: https://westmoreart.com/2017/12/09/gallery-visit-reflections-van-eyck-and-the-pre-raphaelites-national-gallery-london-uk/ [Accessed 12 Feb. 2018].