Light and Dark
Of the collection of drawings made from photographs and postcards, many have, as hoped, achieved a potent presence of their own. There is an impressive image made from a photograph of paramedics attending victims of a train crash, which has the quality of a Renaissance Lamentation of Christ, with its rendering of care and attention and tragedy; an astonishing and authoritative charcoal drawing from photographs in a biography of the philosopher Simone Weil, in which the handling of the medium and the meaning somehow serve to gather in the light and dark, the passion and the still centre in Weil’s own writing and life; a study from a picture of a group of children with a bonfire on some open land, which manages not to be illustrational, but through its presence convey a vivid and secretive world, and an atmosphere of desolation. Charcoal is the single most often used medium for all the drawings, and through it DG has been able to make extraordinary images of sometimes fierce power and beauty. This very partial listing gives but a hint of the reach and intensity of this aspect of DG’s endeavour, but is meant to suggest that drawing became a significant element in the overall body of his work.
From the mid-80s, and at a time when he had been looking more closely and admiringly at the relief sculpture in the British Museum, DG began to see that relief work could be a discipline which, for him, might provide a bridge between free-standing sculpture and drawing, bringing with it its own particular language and conditions. The first major relief, “7 Days on the Ayres”, and those which followed enabled an exploration of the new possibilities of relief. While many have a narrative or pictorial quality, one or two, for example, ”The Bundle”, achieve a more ambiguous and subtle physicality. Later in the decade, during 1986-87, this experience of relief carving was invaluable when working on the commissioned panels surrounding the new Manx Museum Extension in Douglas.
At the same time, DG was also making woodcuts. This too went on throughout the period and until the last decade, more intensively so when he was without a large workshop, during the years in Lancaster in the 1990s, when larger sculptures could not readily be carved. There have been periods when a particular image, such as Titian’s “Bacchus and Ariadne”, have become a preoccupation which has then been developed in drawings, monotypes, woodcuts and reliefs. Some of the woodcuts, as with some of the reliefs, were closely allied to series of drawings. There are “Crossing Open Ground” woodcuts, as there is a “Falkland Cow” relief. One series of drawings led to a large, powerful woodcut - “One Story About How It Is”. This image, printed starkly in black ink on white paper, and arrived at through removal of much of the surface of the wood block, so as to leave only the outlines of the figures and hints of a space, is a composition comprising three ‘scenes’ – a figure standing at the back of the ground, his right foot on the surface in front of him, elbow resting on knee, banner held steadfastly in the other hand, recalling Pierro della Francesca’s “The Resurrection”; in front of this figure three others – a man, a woman, a child – depicted in simplified outline, broken, helpless, the crouching man pierced in several places by the horizontal and vertical lines which define the space, evoking the horror of Picasso’s “Guernica”; and in the right hand third of this large surface, a white figure against a black opening, seeming to be leaping either from a dark place onto a ladder – running away, perhaps – or, sometimes, appearing to be entering into the midst of the horror being witnessed. The irony is that it is hard to tell a story about what is happening here – while there is a visual coherence to the whole, the picture indicates incoherence, terror, sorrow, and it is not clear whether even the steadfast attention of the still figure at the back can touch the disintegration around him.