Laura Footes

The Drawing Year 2013
BA Arts Plastiques Histoire de l'art, Paris-Sorbonne University

I always wanted to study drawing and painting at university but it was not encouraged. I come from an ordinary working-class family and art is a notoriously precarious business. So I studied modern languages instead, and by the time I’d realised just how much I needed to make art, I couldn’t afford the tuition fees and I assumed no art school would consider me without a fine art foundation/undergraduate education or any exhibition experience. By chance, Stuart Pearson Wright (an alumnus of The Drawing Year) told me about the programme and their inclusive, meritocratic attitude towards artists of all backgrounds and experiences, and so I decided to take my chance and apply!

Of course The Drawing Year was completely different from my modern languages degree in many ways, although quite similar in another: on The Drawing Year I was taught how to both technically and analytically deconstruct and re-engage with the ‘grammar’ of drawing. I started with the Life Drawing: Human Anatomy course as I wanted to learn to see clearly, and translate accurately what I saw. This is a rite of passage that I believe all visual artists must go through, regardless of the purpose or direction of their practice. 

Accurate translation is important initially, and this is how I learned French too: we would translate the poetry in order to penetrate the subtle metaphors embedded in the language, then and only afterwards could we go on to 'bastardise' the language and make our own idioms. This is what The Drawing Year was like for me, after the ‘grammar of anatomy’, Glenn Sujo introduced me to the poetry of movement, the power of suggestion and the tension between abstraction and representation, the weight and vitality of mark-making. Then in my studio I would take these lessons into my own practice and start building my own compositions and looking out towards the contemporary art world.

Selly Oak

The Drawing Year was the single most formative period of my life to date. Prior to joining the School I had worked and studied in cities all over Europe, tried my hand at many jobs, navigated my developing worldview and personality through different languages and cultures and made many mistakes in-between. There was always something deeply unresolved, until I realised that it was my relationship with art and my suppressed desire to expand this knowledge and skill not only for a greater technical understanding of drawing (and art in general), but to discover my true self through the authenticity and immediacy of uninhibited mark-making and self-expression. The Drawing Year enabled me to confront and harness this inner conflict and drawing has since become my language of choice – the purest vehicle with which I can engage in a sincere non-verbal dialogue with others, myself and my surroundings. As Picasso said, “Art is the lie that enables us to realise the truth.” 

There were several moments on the year when I had breakthroughs with my drawing. Ann Dowker and Mark Cazalet unveiled the compositional mysteries of several of the great works of art in The National Gallery, which made me consider space in a whole new light. It also made me see just how much the old masters are still leaving bread crumbs for us to pick up and develop – with their stylisations, innovative optical trickery and use of outlandish figure and scenery scales amongst many things. I also began making improvised monotypes in the etching studios with Maggie Jennings and Thomas Gosebruch, which was a novel way to explore a more abstract, ambiguous style that relies on spontaneous intuition and memory, more than control and obsessive detail. Timothy Hyman introduced me to new perspectives (rooted in Sienese Art) and Kitaj – whose work gave me permission to do anything I wanted. Finally, Catherine Goodman encouraged me to use diluted acrylics, watercolours and egg tempera as a means of bridging the gap from my drawing into paint and this is an exciting on-going experiment.

It was hard knowing I only had one year to soak up all this information, wishing The Drawing Year was four years long and wishing I could have started The Drawing Year at an earlier age. I needed more time because The Drawing Year was such a Pandora’s Box of revelations! It really did make me confront my short-comings both on a technical level, but also as a person. In order to get better, I had to deconstruct and analyse the drawing, but in the process I inevitably had to deconstruct myself, since the drawing comes not only from observation but from the soul: lack of confidence, nervous broken lines and lack of commitment to form and a lot of ‘blagging’ are echoes of my own personal insecurities, indecision, lack of knowledge… But as I gained knowledge and techniques I became more confident in myself and my intentions, and I improved as an artist. It’s all entwined.

Syrian War Casualties

Since graduation I have been involved in a number of projects: I was a Flowers Gallery Artist of the Day in 2013, selected for the Lynn Painter-Stainers’ Exhibition 2014 and shortlisted for Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2014. The School has enabled me to gain exposure and new contacts amongst its distinguished network of alumni and patrons, for example: I have been commissioned by one of the school’s distinguished trustees to work behind the scenes with English National Ballet to create a body of work which will be exhibited at the English National Ballet Gala-auction at the Dorchester hotel in March 2015. I am currently on a Scholarship at the Art Students League of New York.

I still draw every single day! Most of my drawings are little more than note-taking, like scribbles on napkins of ideas for compositions, or a memory of an incident, something I saw fleetingly, or a direct observation of a tree branch or another miscellaneous element to add to a larger whole. Every day I draw, sometimes idly, sometimes diligently, and every couple of weeks or so this passive observation and ‘visual digestion’ will boil down to a serious and sustained large-scale endeavour. It’s so exciting – and it’s only the beginning!