I wanted to experiment with something a bit more messy and natural, and using soil seemed an appropriate medium in terms of mapping the landscape. I have come across a few contemporary art cartographers who use earthy pigments in the creation of their maps; Chris Drury and Sally Darlison. I emailed them, sending them a questionnaire to answer for research for my essay, and was delighted to receive replies very promptly.
Chris is an environmental artist who works in a variety of media, from small paper based- works to large site specific installations. I came across him in an excellent book by Katherine Harmon; The Map as Art, which has been my bible of late for the work that I have been doing and researching.
Tumulus and Dew-pond (2012)
His maps Tumulus and Dew-pond (2012), are beautiful, intriguing geometric patterns which have been woven from existing maps of locations that he wished to “marry” together as he felt they had something in common. They were pushed into concave and convex bowls to give them a 3-dimensional quality. I was interested by the fact that Chris stains his maps with soils, and natural materials found at sites, which have even included sheep droppings! To me, these maps have the sophistication and beauty of an oriental surface pattern, and at a first glance I could picture these on the robes of a Chinese emperor. I love the fact that he thinks three–dimensionally, acknowledging the raised Tumulus and the hollow of the Dew pond, yet the latter is almost an optical illusion, which could be either concave or convex, as a floating bubble.
Sally Darlison’s maps are quite different; they are bright, scorching records of her journey to the north of Australia. She mixes a variety of media, using fabric and thread dyed with the soil on the journey in the making of many of these pieces.
In Alice Colours (above) you can almost feel the burning heat of this dry Australian landscape. Her compositions are bold and attractive, the choice of colour palette apt for the areas she is illustrating.
Wanting to have a go at using pigments myself, I gathered a few jars of soils from different locations, and also some ashes from the open fire.
I had looked online to try to find out how to make natural pigments, and firstly I noticed that many artists had used PVA as a binder. I began to mix soil into the PVA, which I have to say was horrible…texturally it was almost impossible to stir, worse than overcooked porridge!
I began by loosely copying a map which I had made into an artists book – inspired by a walk up Inchewan Path. I was actually quite impressed with the difference in colours, even though I hadn’t prepared the pigment “properly” by using a pessel and mortar.
Mud map Experiment 1
From different angles, I could see the raised texture of the soils, which the PVA had encouraged. These looked like views of an imaginary landscape or a path that was beckoning to be followed.
This one (above) looks like an aerial view of barren, rugged mountains
After more internet research, I came across the website of Sabine Brosche, who mentions other binders, such as Gum arabic, egg and linseed oil. Having some linseed oil in the studio, I decided to give this a go. It felt much more natural to use, and allowed the pigments to flow more smoothly. I played around by painting a series of overlapping abstract landscape details to create this Soilscape piece, which was just an experiment really..
This was just an experiment, but I like the way the linseed oil made the flow of soil painting easier. One more piece I mad was a combination of soil painting and drawing, inspired by the poetry sculpture I had made a while ago… I painted it from different angles using the soil pigments and also Quink ink, as I wanted to create a darker contrast. I then drew some details of the sculpture in pencil, over the looser painted lines. I wanted to create a small tight ball at the top which was unravelling as it tumbled down to Earth.
These pieces are all just experiments; playing with a medium which is too often overlooked, which we walk upon each day, and never give a second thought until it annoys us by dirtying our floors or clothes.
It is something I will try more in future, but with more patience. I think I will invest in a pessel and mortar, and also have ago at other binders, as suggested by Sabine Brosche. In terms of mapping, I think it is probably the most apt and relevant medium that any artist could use, as it gives a real sense of the environment and the site in question.