Tag Archives: Stephen Farthing

Drawing the World

On Sunday 11th October from 1-4pm Rootstein Hopkins Chair of Drawing and CCW Professor Stephen Farthing will be working with 30 postgraduate students from across the University, a drone pilot and a film maker to film the performance of a drawing. The work is called Drawing the World and is part of The Big Draw festival, which will be held in Granary Square, King’s Cross.

In this video Farthing talks about how the work/performance will be made and then erased.

Drone on the Range or “Step Away From Your Shadow”

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

The Olympics Drawn: designing the exhibition

David Barnett is a digital scenographer and graphic designer, as well as an academic and technician at Chelsea College of Arts on the BA Graphic Design Communication team. Collaborating with curator Dr. Joanne O’Hara, Barnett designed the exhibition The Olympics Drawn for Wimbledon Space.

‘Jo and I met to look at the design aspects of The Olympics Drawn exhibition at the end of October 2013, having been introduced by Professor Stephen Farthing. Stephen, Donald Smith and I had collaborated on the 2009 Life Room exhibition at CHELSEA space together, which combined fitness and sport along with art and design in a live studio environment. Even then, Stephen and Donald had flirted with idea of using an exhibition as a vehicle for becoming involved in the upcoming London 2012 games. We wanted to examine the relationship with the arts and Olympic values and ideas. Having been a huge fan of the 2012 Olympic design elements in the first place, I was surprised to hear about the amount of important materials Jo had gained access to. I jumped at the chance of being involved.

Barnett 3

Touching up a print, photo by David Barnett

Perhaps the most difficult process in an exhibition of this kind was cutting down the amount of displayed work to make a coherent story within the space we had. When the artefacts were collected as a list of files, it was clear that there was too much to show in one exhibition. To help visualise our ideas, we made a digital model of the exhibition space and added the content virtually to see what would fit. Even so, we had to reduce the size of a few items to allow the work to breath in the space as it went up. Some items, like a giant winners podium, just didn’t fit the use of the space. However others, like the Mary Poppins costume, worked well and still held their iconic appeal. Context also mattered- some drawings had been used for internal presentations or working purposes in the making of the games and so became very difficult to reprint at a higher resolution for the exhibition. After doing some tests we realised that enlarging some almost until the images broke up visually was more important than keeping them sharp – I had to break a few design rules to do this, but the effect was worth it.

Olypmics Drawn sizes

The installed exhibition, photo by Nick Manser

I utilised graphic layouts on an inkjet printing substrate called Phototex, a sticky backed, low-tac, woven material. This allows the possibility to design multiple image layouts in large-scale graphic wallpaper and to be able to peel it of the wall and reposition or reprint if changes are needed. Using a material substrate rather than a scan reprinted on white paper gave back the feeling of the original printed drawings, making them more tactile and dimensional.

Some of the architectural plans and the James Bond/Queen storyboards, for example, we decided would work best in a projected or on-screen format. Here the original sizes mattered less (in the case of the small storyboards) or the detail could be preserved to a greater extent (in the case of the very big vector schematics). In this way we were able to show multiple selections of drawn plans on a large projection, looping slideshow. This allowed moving image based materials and stills to be shown on screens where they could be seen more clearly. Importantly, the net result of having so much digital content is that the bulk of the exhibition could be reproduced at the flick of a print switch if ever required in the future.

Barnett 2

Printed and getting ready to mount, photo by David Barnett


Conversely, the physical artefacts, like original drawings and sketchbooks, needed to be displayed amongst this various media and needed a special housing and lighting. Through Stephen’s association with the Royal Academy of Arts, we borrowed some display cases, which were previously created by Billings Jackson Design. These formed the spatial core of the exhibition. They gave us an element which had to have certain positioning due to traffic flow and electrical supply, helping us shape the overall plan of the exhibition.

The usual place to start thinking about an Olympics exhibition is the design ephemera and iconic visual language of sport- lane markings, Olympic rings and colours, etc. We decided early on to let those things go and to support the work, letting it dictate the scenography of the show and only use extra design where it was needed. I would have loved to use the hundred weather balloons with gold Olympic rings dangling below, as in the opening ceremony design, but it just wasn’t needed. Instead we enjoyed the simple drama of lighting, which Wimbledon Space affords so well, and kept a healthy mix of original artefacts, reproduced drawings and screen based work in an easily understood way.’

The Olympics Drawn is at Wimbledon Space, running until 14 November 2014.

Olypmics Drawn space

The Olympics Drawn, Private View, photo by Francisco Lerios

The Olympics Drawn: Study Afternoon

Shortly before the opening event for The Olympics Drawn at Wimbledon Space, there will be the opportunity to delve into some of the stories that have been unearthed while researching artefacts for the exhibition. This study afternoon for The Olympics Drawn brings together scholars of drawing, designers involved in the delivery of the games and researchers. The panel, consisting of curator Dr Joanne O’Hara, Kevin Owens, Professor Stephen Farthing and Tania Kovats, will discuss how drawing informed the planning and orchestration of the London 2012 Olympics. It will be chaired by Angela Brew, CCW PhD candidate, on 9 October, 3-4:30pm, in the Theatre at Wimbledon College of Arts.

Owens, the former design principal for LOCOG (the Local Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games), was crucial in the planning and delivery of all aspects of the built environment. He was heavily involved in decision-making processes throughout the organisation of the Games and, as an architect, drawing formed a key part of his work. Owens was responsible for commissioning and reviewing each of the permanent and temporary designs and it was his job to oversee thousands of drawings made by a range of designers from different specialties. A number of his own drawings can be seen in the exhibition, and this study afternoon will provide the opportunity to hear first-hand from one of Games’ executives.

Farthing, Rootstein Hopkins UAL Chair of Drawing, who conceived of the idea The Olympics Drawn, has been instrumental in steering the project to completion. Since the commencement of this project, Farthing’s vision has been inspirational, and some of the issues surrounding the wider themes of the project – including the communicative and expressive power of drawing, and its evolution over time – will be discussed. For example – what would this project have looked like had it begun alongside the first Olympic Games? What will it continue to look like in the future? He may also explore the issues which link the project with the charting of taste, national identity and the development of drawing processes.

Kovats, Course Director for MA Drawing at Wimbledon College of Arts, will be able to help the panel understand the project within the wider realm of the world of drawing and join the dots on all of the panel’s thought processes. Her work focuses on drawing and mapping landscapes as well as describing or using geological processes in the making of both sculpture and drawings. Much of Kovats’s research has focused on geology, to further understand how landscapes are formed, exclusive of humanity’s effects upon them.

O’Hara is looking forward to the panel discussion and exhibition, as the culmination of her 2 year post-doctoral research fellowship. ‘As the researcher on the ground, I will be able to share some of my stories about the practicalities of the project and how we brought it all together. We will hopefully tease out some of the interesting stories, while considering such issues as where the drawings fit into the wider processes of design and production, and also the main issue I faced which was searching archives and portfolios and tracking mystery caches of drawings!

We also hope to hear on the day from some of the contributors to the exhibition who will be able to go into more detail about their own work, potentially spanning numerous disciplines and providing an amazing insight into some of the inner workings of the drawings shown in the exhibition.’

Image credit: Charlie Cobb, concept drawing of the Olympic Opening Ceremony (2011)

Substrate: a continuing symposium, 2014-15

Since January 2014  a cross-disciplinary group of researchers from CCW, led by Stephen Farthing, Dan Sturgis and Chris Wainwright, have invited a number of external guest speakers to help them to reflect on the role of the substrate in the construction and presentation of the artifact.

To date they have considered the substrate as a surface or background that exists, not simply as a physical support but an integral part of our understanding of the image. Each of the three Subtrates Symposia has the same theme of exploring the substrate, each set of speakers bring something new to the symposia.

The group started with, more or less, the shared assumption that the substrate of the projected image was the surface the image was landed on. It could be a silver screen, a brick wall or the palm of the hand. In the case of photography, writing, drawing and printmaking it was usually, but not always, paper – the tattoo for example is presented in living skin. Although canvas, wood, metal and the wall have been the substrates most commonly used by painters – we know thin oil paint happily floats on a substrate of water. So it is to explore not only the past but where images might land in the future.

Occasional meetings will continue through 2014, and by early 2015 Farthing, Sturgis and Wainwright hope to publish their findings. Any enquiries about the project can be directed to Stephen Farthing.

Mike Taylor Senior Partner Hopkins Architects

The Olympics Drawn

In November 2012, Dr Joanne O’Hara was selected to be the Rootstein-Hopkins Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, exploring the role of drawing in the planning of London’s 2012 Olympics, working alongside Professor Stephen Farthing. O’Hara describes the work she is doing and the forthcoming exhibition which will present these research findings.

‘The project The Olympics Drawn began in earnest in November 2012, only a few months after the close of both the London Olympic and Paralympic Games. The aim of the project is to chart the role of drawing (of all types) in the preparation, planning and implementation of London 2012.

‘My appointment was made to work with Professor Stephen Farthing on the project for its two year duration: eighteen months in and the initial scoping phase has been done. In this research context we realised pretty early on that a full survey of drawings made for London 2012 would be beyond the scope of the project. We have always aimed to create an interesting, illuminating, and engaging sample or cross-section of drawings from across the board, spanning a multi-disciplinary group of artists, designers and everyone else in between who drew to contribute to the Olympics. By covering a range of topics which are familiar to our audience and to which they will instantly relate, and other more obscure but essential aspects of the production, we hope to bring the scale of London 2012 and the importance and variety of drawing together.

‘The sourcing of these materials has been much harder than we originally expected. Rather than using a central repository, or archive, much of our research has been conducted through individuals themselves and our findings as a result have been dependent on what drawings they held onto. In many cases, frustratingly, we listened to what they had just gotten rid of! It has been fascinating to hear about all levels of the design and production process, from the intern working during the summer of their university holidays, to the design principal through whose office every development of the design of the built environment passed.

‘After a fascinating scoping exercise, talking to people from all sorts of areas of expertise, we are now looking forward to displaying the fruits of our research at Wimbledon Space, 10 October-14 November 2014. We hope to showcase a range of these drawings in the exhibition to bring together a multitude of drawing types, from different disciplines and with varied purposes, produced for the London 2012 Olympics.

‘As we now are bringing together all of the practical elements of the show in time for opening in October, we look forward to welcoming you to the exhibition!’

The Drawn Word

Professor Stephen Farthing, Rootstein Hopkins Chair of Drawing, has co-edited the book The Drawn Word with Dr Janet McKenzie.  The book is the product of a research project funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council networking grant that explored the relationship between writing drawing and literacy. As such it is collaborative publication between Studio International, the University of the Arts London (UAL) and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University (RMIT).

It is the first of a proposed series in which Studio International will link with educational institutions to publish academic papers and research outcomes. The Drawn Word presents the papers from the third conference Drawing Out (2013) organised between UAL and RMIT in Melbourne. This publication focuses on explaining the relationship between writing and drawing; the ideas raised at the symposium are expanded and clarified, with the inclusion of artists’ and academics’ contributions from sources as diverse as Oxford professor emeritus Martin Kemp – who has written on the Leicester Codex by Leonardo da Vinci and Professor Asa Briggs (a leading British historian and a key code-breaker at Bletchley Park during the second world war) – who discusses, “Drawing as Code”.

The essays are organised into five key sections: Definition; Transmission; Application; Representation; and “All Writing is Drawing”, an exhibition remit for artists in Australia and the UK.

For more information, visit Studio International’s website.