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Dick Want: Cloud-walker

Meet Dick Want – artist,  sculptor, engineer and craftsman. I’ve known Dick’s work for a good few years now and have been lucky enough to exhibit alongside him at two group exhibitions in Kent. Here he is talking about his art. Enjoy.

Cloud-walker

When, as a mature student, Dick Want studied for his Masters in Fine Art, at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) Canterbury in Kent , his dissertation was titled The Nefelibata Diaries. Nefelibata, he explains, is a Portuguese word meaning ‘cloud-walker’.

Dick Want: Spiritual self-portrait No. 11
Dick Want: Spiritual self-portrait No. 11

According to the dictionary, a cloud-walker is a person who lives in the clouds of their own imagination or dreams – someone who doesn’t abide by the rules. And, in many ways, that description fits Dick very well.

Dick has lived with poor mental health since he was a child, although his condition wasn’t diagnosed until he was 42.  He explains that his mental state dictates the art he creates and the way he works.

Dick Want: Rod for my Back 1
Dick Want: Rod for my Back 1

‘I produce art exactly as my heart tells me to, to express my moods at the time – I’m never in the same place two days running,’ he says. ‘I’m on this roller-coaster in my mind, and when I’m trying to control it, I channel it into making things.  When I start on a canvas, there is an intensity to it.  I’m literally locked in my house and I do nothing else for two or three weeks, which means the rest of my life goes to shit!’

Dick grew up in Romney Marsh, which straddles the Kent and East Sussex borders. As a child, he spent many days on the Marsh, birdwatching with his parents. And he still loves it there.

‘It’s one hundred square miles of flat land surrounded by the Downs and the coast and it sticks out into the English Channel, which gives it its own little microclimate,’ Dick explains. ‘Because it is so sparsely populated, the ground light is fantastic and because the land mass has nothing on it, you get a big sky, which is always a good thing as a painter.’

Dick Want: Militay Road, Appledore
Dick Want: Militay Road, Appledore

Dick grew up in an artisan household. His father was a joiner, who later went into teaching and then became a Methodist minister. His mother, Mary Want, was well-known locally as a watercolourist. https://www.posterlounge.co.uk/artists/mary-want/

Dick inherited his dad’s technical ability. By the time he was 10 he was working with wood and taking bicycles to bits and rebuilding them.  He also inherited his mother’s talent and passion to make art.  Dick remembers her as ‘a free spirit trapped in a theological world’.

‘She was like the quintessential vicar’s wife, but mad as a box of frogs for her painting at the same time,’ Dick recalls. ‘I can remember coming home from school and there’s mum sitting in the flowerbed outside the kitchen painting the flowers. And I walk through the kitchen and the frying pan’s on the cooker blazing away.’

‘Mum somehow juggled domestic life with an intense urge to make art,’ he continues.’ And I grew up seeing this intense urge and understood it somehow.’

Fat Freddie's Cat 85
Fat Freddie’s Cat 85

The combination of Dick’s undiagnosed mental health issues and being contantly ‘at loggerheads’ with his father about his strict religious upbringing came to  a head in his early teens.

‘I went pop when I was about 14 and I didn’t land again until 2001,’ he says. ‘The 70’s, 80’s and 90’s were taken up with doing just exactly what I pleased. It was an extremely rebellious period in my life. I didn’t have a clue what was going on. Instead, I’d self-medicate.  If I was climbing the walls, I’d just get drunk. It wasn’t until I crashed completely that I found out what the problem was.’

Motorcycles and tattoos
 When he left school, Dick started work as an apprentice engineer.  In 1982, he got a job as a precision engineer making components for Speedway and Grasstrack motorcycles at Godden Engineering.  It was a dream job for Dick who, by that time, was building his own motorcycles.  He still rides Fat Freddie’s Cat, which he built in 1985 and he now also owns a Harley Davidson Dyna Glide.

Dick Want: Kate
Dick Want: Kate

‘My bike building really took off while I was at Godden’s and I built some really special motorcycles,’ Dick says. ‘It was purely self-indulgent – they were bikes for me to ride – but they were also an artform. I was mixing aesthetics and engineering, making something that was pleasing to the eye and also engineeringly functional. It was a form of self-expression at the time.’

After building bikes during the day, Dick spent his evenings working on his  surrealistic paintings.

An interest in pen drawing eventually led to a new career as a tattoo artist. Between 1984 and 2001, Dick had two successful tattoo studios in the Medway Towns. He made his own tattoo machines, drew his own design books and, for nearly twenty years, worked freehand, drawing directly onto customers’ skin from mental images.

‘At  that time, tattooing was a complete sub-culture, a kind of anti-fashion,’ Dick explains. ‘I got into tattooing as way of saying yah boo to the system. I liked the mixture of technical drawing with engineering. I am intensely organised and I liked the discipline of what you were working with. You couldn’t make mistakes. ‘

But as tattoos became more fashionable, Dick became disillusioned.

‘When people started coming in asking for copies of David Beckham’s tattoos, I thought it’s my time to get out,’ Dick says. ‘It had all become about media and fashion and that’s not really what I got into the business for. Also, it was very intense. People put a lot of trust in me and, in 2001, after 20 years of tattooing I had quite a big mental breakdown.’

Dick had been seeing a psychiatrist for several years but it was not until this point that he received a diagnosis and it came as a relief.

‘Actually having someone say, “I’ll tell you what your problem is” was really refreshing because I didn’t think anybody would believe what was going on in my head at the time,’ Dick reflects. ‘Giving it a name means you’re not such an oddball. Someone actually recognises the trauma you’re going through.’

Dick Want: Reclining Nude
Dick Want: Reclining Nude

The academic years
As part of his rehabilitation following his breakdown, mental health services enrolled Dick on an Art Foundation Course at UCA Canterbury. One of the tutors there had a profound influence on the direction of Dick’s art.

‘He was really into his art history and he took us right back, touching on all the major art movements and showed us a different world,’ Dick remembers.

In response to this new knowledge, Dick started painting his way through art history.

‘I fell in love with Georges Braque’s cubist phase,’ he says. ‘His artwork was so sensitive and I wanted to paint like that. I loved the fractured images. Breaking up images with geometric shapes is all the stuff that is going on in my head all the time. I have to vent it somehow and it comes out on my canvas.

Dick Want: The Empty Chair
Dick Want: The Empty Chair

‘I looked at Suprematism – Malevitch’s Black Square and that era of Eastern Bloc art. Then I met Kandinsky who introduced me to using my colour palette to express myself and that brought out some geometric abstract paintings.’

But Dick’s first encounter with the university system was bruising. The surrealistic pictures that he had been painting over the previous 15 years were shunned as ‘too established’.

‘I think I did the surrealist thing too well,’ Dick reflects. ‘There was nothing they could pull apart. They couldn’t use their normal destroy-somebody’s-dream-and-then-build-them-up-to-something-else technique, which is what I felt the university system was about.’

Dick Want: Automatic drawing
Dick Want: Automatic drawing

Undeterred, for his final dissertation, Dick  focused on the work of  French surrealist  André Masson. The thesis, called ‘I am thy Labyrinth‘: An analysis of Self as a Surrealist Subject (2011) explored the labyrithine qualities of the human mind. Dick’s subsequent artistic practice has been profoundly influenced by what he learnt.

‘All my artistic practice is autobiographical,’ Dick says. ‘You can’t do anything without ‘the self’ interpreting it. The surrealist self is really your absolute innermost emotions that are totally unguided or uninfluenced by anything else around you. It’s a very hard place to achieve.’

To help him to achieve this, like surrealists before him, Dick started to experiment with automatic drawing while listening to music.

‘You focus absolutely,’ he says. ‘So when I was drawing, I wasn’t thinking about my hands, I was thinking about the sound. It’s like drawing with your eyes shut. You are feeling the movement and the action. The outcome is not necessarily a drawing that makes sense to the eye, but there is invariably a rhythm that comes out on paper.’

Influenced by John Cage’s experimental composition 4′33″ , a ‘silent’ piece consisting only of the environmental sounds the audience hears while it is performed, Dick built a sound-sensitive drawing desk that could ‘record the sound a drawing makes’.  The desk used microphones to amplify the sound made as the pen moved over the paper, so that it could be recorded.

Through the work for his dissertation, Dick sought to draw parallels between the ephemeral nature of sound and the ephemeral nature of time. He sought to capture the time passing while a drawing was completed through recording the sound of the drawing process itself.

‘The ephemeral nature of sound means that, unless it is recorded, it vanishes with the passing of time and the only record of its passing are the things that came into existence during the seconds that have passed,’ he wrote in an ‘artist’s statement while at university. ‘With my sound drawings there are two possible automatic aspects. The first  is the drawing that should be made entirely without conscious thought, the second is the sound produced whilst making the drawing. The drawing becomes evidence of the ephemeral sound and, if recorded, the sound becomes a record of the time that has passed.’

Dick Want: Royal Military Canal, Hamstreet
Dick Want: Royal Military Canal, Hamstreet

After his first degree, Dick went on to complete a Masters degree in Fine Art, again at UCA.

‘I never thought of myself as academic but I hadn’t finished with the system,’ Dick explains. ‘When I finished my first degree, I felt so beaten up by the system that I wanted some time where I could enjoy studying art to the level that I’d discovered I was capable. I hadn’t got quite as far as I thought I could.’

But before he could get started, once again Dick’s work came in for some harsh criticism from his tutors.

‘I got slated again!’ he exclaims. ‘They said you’ve got to develop something that is your own. And I thought I can’t make it any more my own, so I went off and painted landscapes of Romney Marsh. I studied the Royal Military Canal. I started at Hythe and painted my way along it.’

During that two year period, as advised by his teachers, Dick developed his own personal painting process and style.

‘I went from the total abstract that I’d been painting in oils at the end of my degree to quite formal landscapes in acrylic,’ Dick explains. ‘I ended up out in the countryside with metre-and-a-half by metre canvasses, painting wild. It was great fun. I worked with a brush in one hand and an atomiser in the other, running the paint off the canvas.’

His Masters dissertation The Nefelibata Diaries, was about  capturing the point where reality meets abstract, meets surreality.

Once again, he linked the concepts of painting and time, contrasting the speed necessary to capture a good landscape in ever changing conditions with the time taken to complete a painting as indicated by the rate at which the paint alters as it moves down the canvas.

In 2014, Dick posted a series of images of The Fairfield Project, which illustrate the process he used to achieve that effect.

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Dick Want: Brompton Cocktail
Dick Want: Brompton Cocktail

Now free from the constraints of his undergraduate programme, Dick’s Masters project helped to reconnect him with his creative roots as an artist and a craftsman.

In contrast to a busy curriculum where the emphasis was on thinking and working quickly, painting the Royal Military Canal offered a complete change of mental pace.

Dick spent hours out on the Marsh on his motorcycle researching and recording images to inform his paintings.  A feature of his mental health condition is an inability to relax the intensity with which he scrutinises everything. For this project, Dick used it to his advantage and channelled it into his art.

‘I can’t paint an object without studying the detail,’  he explains. ‘The images I collect don’t get used in my paintings but they give my mind the information I need to be able to paint what I’m thinking. On the Masters course, I was left to my own devices to study my own worth, and it  was quite therapeutic. It taught me that it’s OK to spend time thinking about what you are producing. And it’s OK to be a craftsman and to really know your own skills and tools.’

Dick Want: Ode to the female form
Dick Want: Ode to the female form

A man of many talents
Now with his MA under his belt Dick is back in his home studio, using his skills and tools, painting, sculpting and carving wood. He describes himself as ‘a workaholic’.

‘I like working with my hands, and making stuff is really where I’m best,’ he says. ‘Engineering was great because it taught me things like welding, electrics, mechanical design, all of which you can apply to wood, building, sculpture, whatever you fancy working with. At the moment  I’m carving wood constantly.  I’m making some hop finials which are proving to be a much bigger job than I anticipated and take up every minute of spare time.’

Recently, Dick has also built a  mosaiced, six foot  cement  and brick sculpture in his garden, experimenting with the material until he achieved a consistency that he could work with a trowel like plaster, but which set like Portland Stone as he  built up the layers.

Dick Want: No Escape
Dick Want: No Escape

And he has returned to surrealistic art, painting intensively, once again using oils.

‘I’m enjoying the proximity with history, working with oils, and the traditional way of painting,’ he says.

Because of his mental health, Dick is reluctant to speculate about where his art might take him in the future.

‘I have to take each day as it comes because you can’t guarantee a run of anything in my world,’ he explains. ‘Because of my mental health, everything else I’ve done in life to do with families, relationships and dealing with the public in general has been a disaster. Making art and riding my motorbike everyday are the only things that really keep me going.  My art is almost like my umbrella and so long as that front door is locked, I can manage with making art. That’s where I am.’

Dick Want: Covid 19 Apothocre
Dick Want: Covid 19 Apothocre

 

 

If you would like to see more of Dick’s art you can follow him here:
Facebook: Richard Want Artist https://www.facebook.com/Artwant/
Instagram: dick_want_artist https://www.instagram.com/dick_want_artist/?hl=en
Blog: http://artwant.blogspot.com/

If you are interested in automatic drawing you might also like to revisit this blog from December 2019 https://duncangrantartist.com/2019/12/29/luna-zsigo-capturing-emotional-landscapes/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Luna Zsigo: Capturing emotional landscapes

Visit my gallery

Those of you that know me or who have been following me here or on social media, know that my day job (or more often my night job) is in construction on the roads. This involves a lot of time sitting in my van waiting for things to happen, and during that time, I doodle. I also doodle when I’m watching TV or listening to music. My Small Towns , for example start from a horizon line and I build out from that. In other ink drawings I’ll start with a ‘object’, say a mushroom or a shell, and expand the picture from there, never really knowing how the picture will turn out until it is finished.

Chatham-based artist Luna Zsigo describes doodling as a kind of ‘automatic drawing’. This is an approach to art that she, and many other artists before her have used as a starting point or creative stimulus for their art.

The key principle of automatic art is that the artist starts work with no preconceived idea of what the finished product will look like. Rather, the final artwork is inspired by dreams or emerges from the subconscious. The surrealists famously borrowed Sigmund Freud’s automatic drawing and writing techniques, which he used as psychoanalytic tools, to stimulate their art. They believed that creativity from deep within the subconscious was more powerful and authentic than that arising from conscious thought. They were also interested in dreams as expressions of unconscious feelings and desires.

Andre Masson automatic drawing
MoMA Andre Masson: Automatic drawing

MoMa (New York)  cites the work of French artist of Andre Masson (1896-1987) as examples of this approach to art.

[Masson] began automatic drawings with no preconceived subject or composition in mind. Like a medium channelling a spirit, he let his pen travel rapidly across the paper without conscious control. He soon found hints of images—fragmented bodies and objects—emerging from the abstract, lacelike web of pen marks. At times Masson elaborated on these with conscious changes or additions, but he left the traces of the rapidly drawn ink mostly intact.

Various forms of automatic art were also developed by other artists, e.g. Max Ernst  (surrealist collage, frottagegrattage) and Joan Miro. Later automatism played some part in the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and others. Today it continues to inspire artists and over the past year has been a major influence for the artwork of Luna Zsigo.

After many years travelling and raising her family, Luna trained, as a mature student, in Art and Design at University for the Creative Arts in Rochester (whose alumni include Zandra Rhodes, Tracy Emin and Karen Millen). After graduating, Luna worked for eight years supporting students with disabilities to complete their creative studies. She now works as a freelance artist and has been re-employed by the university’s outreach department as a creative workshop tutor.

After leaving Art School, Luna’s early work focused on traditional portraiture, layering oil paint and glazes. ‘I’d always seen myself as a portrait painter and after college I went back to my comfort zone,’ she remembers. ‘I felt that I needed to prove to myself that I could still paint.’

While studying at University, Luna was inspired the glass work of Daniela Schoenbaechler. https://danielaschoenbaechler.com/work  She began painting quick acrylic portraits on acetate, fixing them to windows and photographing them against the dark skies. ‘Through this experimentation I found, interesting things beginning to happen in the negative space, where there was no paint,’ she explains. ‘Things would emerge, images I wasn’t expecting. It was as if I was looking beyond the physical self and into the emotional being, between the two worlds – it fascinated me then, and still does today.’

Luna Zsigo self-expression
Luna Zsigo: Self-expression through art

For a while after her studies, Luna continued painting portraits using traditional methods, but she felt constrained. She found she was painting the kind of art that people might want to display on their walls, rather than using her art to express herself. However, through discussions with a fellow artist, that changed. Luna realised that she could work differently, putting all of herself into her art. ‘These conversations gave me permission to express myself fully through making a mark – just putting my pencil on the paper and letting it move and having no idea where it was going to go or what it was doing,’ she explains. ‘My partner, showed me a video about automatic drawing, featuring a comic book artist called Moebius. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Giraud Moebius used it as a discipline in his work. I hadn’t heard of automatic drawing until then, but I realised that that was what I was doing.’

Years previously, Luna had been fascinated by an artist and mystic called Hilma af Klint https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilma_af_Klint whose bold, colourful abstract paintings (1906-1915, but not exhibited until 1985, 50 years after her death) were generated through a process of automatic painting as part of her spiritual practice, and represented direct communication with the ‘divine’.

The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings, and with great force. I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict; nevertheless I worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brush stroke – Hilma af Klint

Luna Zsigo: Primal Scream
Luna Zsigo: Primal Scream

‘Klint’s work stayed with me and I was really inspired by it,’ Luna recalls. ‘Throughout my life, I think I’ve learned to bury my difficult emotions – anger, hatred, jealousy, anxiety – but today if I am experiencing a difficult emotion and I don’t know what to do with it, I will just let the pencil move and as it moves I will just, very intuitively, go to the paints or the medium that I want to use and then all of a sudden, in front of me, I see things in the piece, the work starts to communicate with me, to tell a story.’

‘I believe that we all come from creation, therefore we must be creative and it is only the intellectual mind that gets in the way of that,’ she continues. ‘So if I allow the drawing just to form, with no expectation of what I’m going to draw, it’s a real freedom and I’m able to understand my own journey and express myself.’

Recently, Luna has tried to let go of everything she was taught about artistic technique to move completely into this new way of painting. ‘I wasn’t sure how it would be received by the public,’ she says. ‘But I was delighted to sell 20 paintings at a recent exhibition, so it seems that people connect to the work and it has some value.’

Luna Zsigo: Grandad portrait automatic drawing
Luna Zsigo: Grandad

Luna’s automatic drawings have different starting points. She still paints portraits but rather than focusing on a subject in front of her, or a photograph, she works from a remembered image, memories of the person, and the emotions associated with those memories. She draws a continuous line, with her eyes shut, to ‘bring the person through’. She also sometimes paints to music, allowing her hand to respond to the sounds she hears to form the final piece.

Luna Zsigo: Collaboration with Terry Lane 'The closer we are to death'
Luna Zsigo; Collaboration with Terry Lane

Luna recently collaborated with musician Terry Lane on his soundscape The closer we are to dying. ‘Some of Terry’s soundscapes were to do with war and through my automatic drawings I found myself going to a very dark places, not only visually but inside myself,’ Luna remembers. ‘I wondered what would happen if I repeated the same process with other types of music.’

Luna Zsigo: Painting to classical music
Luna Zsigo: Painting to classical music

Inspired by the synesthesia artists, Wassily Kandinsky https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/wassily-kandinsky-1382, Roy De Maistre https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/roy-de-maistre-1556, and Melissa McCracken https://mymodernmet.com/melissa-mccracken-synethesia-paintings/ who paints the ‘shape’ of music, Luna has produced pieces inspired by local musicians. ‘I went to see the City of Rochester Symphony Orchestra and I produced 4 or 5 drawings from that,’ she recalls. ‘They became paintings, and I couldn’t believe the imagery I got from that music.’

Luna Zsigo selfscape emotional journey
Luna Zsigo: Selfscape

 

Where automatic art tells a story of an emotional journey, Luna has coined the name ‘selfscape’. ‘It is a selfscape because it is a painting of my emotional landscape,’ she explains. ‘There was an initial thought behind the image on the left. When you are really frightened of doing something, there is a door. But then you push through that door and five other doors open. I feel that has been my journey, pushing through anxiety and self-doubt. As I do that, I move from dark to light, from anxiety to bliss and freedom. I push one door open and new doors appear, new opportunities arise, and so it goes on.’

Looking at the final painting, I said to Luna, ‘The journey from dark to light is powerful – but where are the doors?’
‘It was supposed to be doors but it ended up looking like a bridge!’ Luna laughs. ‘It doesn’t matter though, because it is a journey of self-discovery and you can name the artwork afterwards.’

Luna Zsigo: Explore and draw
Explore and draw

In 2017, Luna founded Explore and Draw https://www.lunazsigo.com/explore-and-draw/ an art group that  welcomes artists of all abilities to come together to create art. By collaborating with local businesses and heritage sites, Luna has facilitated workshops in stunning and interesting locations around Kent. Regular venues include Rochester Cathedral https://www.rochestercathedral.org/, Fort Luton https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Luton The Copper Rivet Distillery https://www.copperrivetdistillery.com/ The Cheese Room https://www.thecheeseroomrochester.co.uk/ As part of a Meet the artist events, where the group collaborates with and learns from other artists across artistic disciplines and boundaries, I led a workshop earlier this year on LV21, on the Thames, in Gravesend. https://duncangrantartist.com/2019/03/20/drawing-inspiration-from-the-thames/.

Luna Zsigo: Guilt 3
Luna Zsigo: Guilt 3

Explore and Draw has well over one hundred participants and Luna is taking the group with her on a journey of self-discovery to explore their creativity through experimentation with materials and processes, such as automatic drawing. ‘I will continue to use still life at some events as it is a fantastic tool to show people  technique, such as mapping and measuring, colour theory and composition,’ she explains. ‘It is also a mindful activity. It helps people to relax, to learn to draw what is in front of them, to have fun and make friends. But I’m also interested in giving people the freedom to explore and to begin to put the whole of themselves into their art.’

I am always really conscious of the power of these emotions though, because working in this way has been such a painful process for me,’ she reflects. ‘So I’m always careful  to make these days fun and to create a safe space. And people are enjoying the process and find it fascinating.’

They group started their foray into the unconscious by painting with materials where they had less control than they would normally have with traditional brushwork. ‘We used Brusho crystal watercolour paints which explode on the paper like fireworks and you can find images in those marks,’ Luna explains. They then went on to paint with music, as Luna had done – she hired a string quartet to play while the group drew. Next year she is planning an automatic drawing workshop around vibration and sound, featuring a gong.’

Luna Zsigo: Thoughts
Thoughts

‘Life isn’t easy,’ Luna concludes. ‘Everyone has light and darkness in them and we all go through trauma at some point in our lives, so these paintings talk to people on lots of different levels. I can look at a painting and appreciate the artist’s technical ability but if I see a picture that stirs my emotion, that’s the picture I will remember. That’s the picture I want to buy.’

If you would like to hear from Luna herself, she is giving a public talk entitled Selfscapes for the Rochester and West Kent Art Society at Sun Pier House in Medway on 15th January 2020 from 7-9.30pm.

Tickets are also now available for the next Explore and draw – Lunar event at Rochester Cathedral in February 2020. The workshop will explore the ‘Museum of the Moon’ installation https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/rochester/rochester-cathedral/explore/2020-02-19/10:30/t-jpzxgd And there are lots of other exciting events planned for 2020. More details will be announced on Luna’s website and Facebook page soon:
https://www.lunazsigo.com
https://www.facebook.com/exploreanddrawmedway/

You can also follow Luna on Instagram: artist.luna