One of the things that I find most intriguing about folk art is that integrity of the endeavour and presence of personality is more important that the academic correctness (e.g scale, proportion, accurate likeness). It is this attribute that I think is commonly also found in much of contemporary illustration. As an illustrator I'm continually drawing new, seemingly impossible things and it is a constant process of working out how to do it, how to make things fit. One of the main reasons for conducting my research trip to the American Museum in Britain was to look at their folk art collections in relation to what I feel is a similarity with illustration.
Indeed I did find this similarity- as someone who trained in a fine art discipline and then developed and changed their practice to illustration and design I'm always looking for what makes illustration good, what makes it meaningful, pleasing, successful. Part of this would seem to be persistence, continuity, intuition, personality- working out mistakes and sometimes including them to communicate your message.
'There is curiously personal drawing and perspective. There is distortion. But these pictures have more than that. Many of them were made by men who were artists by nature, if not by training, and everything they had to say in art is interesting' (1)
These mistakes, uneven lines and patched up segments were present in the collection of objects at the American Museum- quilts created by communities to relay a political affiliation, whale bone etched with intricate sea voyages, perfectly simple quaker furniture and brightly illustrated certificates of birth were amongst the offerings on display. The objects did help me to think about illustration but they also offered something else- insights into day to day routines, snippets of real life, and a system of symbols and emblems.
An unexpected delight at the museum was the Renaissance map collection- the maps were fascinating and beautifully illustrated- with the goal of creating a 'legitimate likeness' of the New World. Unlike the folk art perhaps, the maps aimed for accuracy and they were very impressive in this respect. However, the maps were also ethnocentric, with biased proportional landmass and references to mythical beasts.
My trip to the museum was an opportunity to explore the sorts of objects that inspire my practice, to conduct first-hand on-site research in a unique museum and also a chance to re-invigorate my practice in ways that I didn't anticipate. It was a chance to down tools and take a break from working on briefs and commissions and to let my mind wander and play.
The 'Legitimate Likenesses' exhibition is a snapshot of my exploration- I have experimented with scale, surface, and symbolism. It is part of a process, a starting point.
(1) Holger Cahil, 1930 (from 'Folk Art from the American Museum', Laura Beresford- Scala Publishers Ltd)
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