Ahlbeck 1932, charcoal and white pigment, 152 x 121 cm, 2006
The work was on display in The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery in 2020 as part of ‘Lessons In the Studio: Studio in the Seminar’, an anniversary exhibition marking 70 years of The School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds. This drawing was made during my time as AHRC Fellow in the Creative and Performing Arts at the University of Leeds, the whole project was called ‘Painting and Postmemory: Re/visioning, Re/visiting, Re/placing’. This drawing is one of an extended series called Resort. The choice of locations for this series of work was, in a way, not mine but my German Jewish grandmothers’ as using my grandmother’s interwar holiday snaps as stimuli I made fieldwork visits to the same places. Through the catalyst of investigating an intimate family history, of visiting the resorts where my family once holidayed, I found that there is inevitably a link to a wider cultural context and to external events. This was part of the first series Resort which. was developed after visiting the seaside town of Ahlbeck, North Germany. I employed the motif of the Strandkorb which featured prominently both in the 1930s photographs and on the present-day beach. This drawing derives directly from one of the photographs taken in 1932, there is something touching about the way my mother and grandmother are sitting together, my grandfather’s shoes and the space where he must have been sitting. By 1933, the very next year they would not have been allowed to travel to Ahlbeck. These enormous deckchairs appear eccentric, if not outlandish, to those of us with a British sensibility, whilst to for Germans they are a familiar, even clichéd, symbol of holiday. They might also be seen as a way of bringing a private world into the public realm: in one way they complicate notions of inside and outside by inviting a consideration of the domestic in the wilderness. the risk of an intimate space within the basket contiguous with the open expanse beyond. These structures fluctuate between offering a sense of being places of protection and in their very deficiency becoming almost mawkish ciphers of. vulnerability. Huddled together in groups, they take on an almost anthropomorphic quality, providing me with a resonant motif for my work. They could be thought of as objects of ridicule: a combination of kitsch, camp and nostalgia, comfortable chairs from which to experience the ‘sublime’. There is a distancing process in place here; it is not really
possible for the eye to ‘enter’ this sort of drawn space. The illusion of space is there,has been created but has been subverted as this drawing is heavily worked. Apart from the borders these surfaces are as richly worked as any painting: layers are built up using charcoal, graphite powder and heavily pigmented white pastel. Some of the processes I employed are immediately available to the viewer: for example, the quality of the rough paper in combination with the gritty texture from the pigments allows for
previous layers to be visible, often the lines seem to lie on the surface, also contradicting any semblance of perspectival or illusional space.