A week into my Masters Programme at Glasgow School of Art, a group of us were offered the opportunity to be part of the Pig Rock Bothy residency at Modern One, Edinburgh.
The idea of this translucent structure being used to spotlight the process of art-making tickled my imagination. The bothy is a work in progress itself until it moves to its permanent home in Assynt, and it proudly displays the craftsmanship of its own construction.
I was attracted to the in-between-ness of the location too. It’s an inside/outside space, both within and out-with the formal sphere of the gallery. So I came up with a proposal and two weeks later I started my residency.
One of my interests is in art as a means of connection: between artist and subject; maker and materials; the work and its audience. I wanted to explore some of these relationships in an informal way that might suit the bothy’s unique location, status and accessibility.
I had done a project previously which involved drawing a different friend or acquaintance every day for a month. There’s a still, contemplative state that occasionally occurs when one is ‘looking’ or being ‘seen’ through the concentrated, subjective exchange of a portrait sitting that can trigger some quite profound reflection for both parties. I was intrigued to know whether this experience could be easily transposed to an interaction between strangers.
I set up a comfortable corner of the Bothy and invited visitors to come and be drawn whilst chatting about our different experiences of galleries, contemporary art, and what it feels like to sit for a portrait.
It’s a huge challenge to try and draw someone whilst simultaneously talking and listening to them properly. In portraiture there are a lot of expectations and anxieties that can come into play – on both sides – around likeness, beauty, age or gender as well as the artist’s desire for a ‘good’ drawing (however she is defining ‘good’ on that particular day) as well as the obvious time constraints imposed by such an impromptu situation.
At times I prioritised line over likeness, or drawing over conversation, and at other times the interaction took over completely and the drawing became just an activity to talk through. But on perhaps two or three wonderful occasions both sitter and I relaxed into the encounter and the drawing and interaction came together, resulting in a sketch that, in my eyes at least, became the likeness not of a person but of an experience.