CCW Professor and Rootstein Hopkins Chair of Drawing Stephen Farthing is exhibiting prints and paintings at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2015. He is working to explain why Native American culture is infinitely more resilient today than it was at the end of the nineteenth century. This is part of Farthing’s research into Native American drawing.
‘I have been following a track that I hope will enable me to better understand how and why eighteenth and nineteenth century colonialists encouraged the indigenous people they encountered to illuminate their oral histories by drawing. I started in Australia and New Zealand with Maori and Aboriginal drawing, then this last year I shifted my inquiry to the Smithsonian Archives in Washington DC, where my focus has been the Native American collections. At the centre of my interest are the Native American narrative drawings known as “Ledger Drawings”. These were mostly made during the mid to late nineteenth century by Plains Indians during their detention in US army forts.
As an artist researcher, my work simultaneously heads off in two directions – on one side there is the written, on the other the drawn and painted. On this occasion my writing explores the conventions of Ledger Drawings, while my drawings and paintings manipulate images that are concerned with the conventions of warfare, the subject matter of most Ledger Drawings. Each of my drawings starts with “the brave” and end with “the sneaky”. Together they become a narrative that takes us from the bald eagle to the drone. The writing, which has quite different ambitions, explores the effects of a European education and the introduction of paper and pencil on Plains Indian drawing. I envisage the drawn side of my research growing into a much bigger project that will in the end be painted and have little to do with its starting point. The writing however, has stayed true to its starting point and will soon be done.
This summer, as a way of testing some early results, I have turned four images – Step Away From Your Shadow and Drone on the Range, Wounded Knee and Dance – into hand finished digital prints that I’m showing at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. I find showing at the Summer Exhibition useful. Even if not a critical word is exchanged, it enables me to see what I have done beyond the context of my own studio and in the company of my peers.
Ticking away in the background, beyond the writing and drawing, I have a third direction which is a result of my Chairmanship of the Royal Academy Exhibitions Committee. Two years ago I was asked by my committee to explore the possibility of mounting a large scale exhibition of Native American Visual Culture. Since then I have been involved in a journey and lengthy consultation process that has taken me to museums, archives, Native American reservations and meetings with scholars. The aim? To begin to understand and shape an exhibition that will represent Native American visual culture in London as a resilient contributor to twenty-first century global culture.’
Farthing has been a Royal Academician since 1998.
Top Image: 818 – STEP AWAY FROM YOUR SHADOW #2, hand-finished digital print, Stephen Farthing