Sophie Raikes. 2012
Jenny West uses perspective drawing as a means of construction, conjuring three dimensional space on the surface of the paper and suspending forms within it. Originally, she learnt the rules of perspective as a practical tool - a means of describing the sculptural objects she was making in reality - but found that her virtual creations took on a life of their own.
Space is West’s primary element: her objects are delicate, skeletal structures, freed from the constraints of matter and mass, which hover above a white ground. During production, she operates within the entire space of the studio or gallery, working either directly on the wall, which is painted and sanded to a smooth finish; or on thick sheets of watercolour paper, wetted and stretched or covered with fine layers of gesso (a mixture of white paint, chalk and plaster) and fixed to the wall with white tape. West moves up and across the room, mapping out vanishing and measuring points located temporarily with pins and cotton thread, which extend well beyond the edges of the paper or the immediate environment of the object to the surrounding surfaces. Her objects start with a scaffold of construction lines marked out in 6H pencil which support slightly darker, softer outlines and edges. Once the basic structure is in place, she repeats and rotates forms or overlays one over another, using different vanishing points. Her work is in a perpetual state of ‘becoming‘, never finished, with the possibility of being extended, overlaid or erased. She moves back and forth between these activities, laying down new lines and covering others with washes of white gouache paint tinted with watercolour so that they blend into the ground, or rubbing them out with fine emery paper to clarify the forms as they develop.
West’s drawings float in time as well as in space. In their complex construction they recall studies by artists of the Italian Renaissance, including Paolo Ucello and Leonardo Da Vinci, for whom the geometrical method of linear perspective was a new artistic tool, used to analyse and organise the physical world. West extends this connection, working with blue, ochre and terracotta paint colours in chalky tones which might have been softened and worn over time. These are derived from frescos by Piero Della Francesca - one of the first artists to apply the rules of perspective to painting - whose work she first encountered with delight as an art student on summer visits to Italy at a crucial time in her artistic development. Equally, the Renaissance represents a pivotal moment in art history, at the apex of the Medieval and Modern worlds. At this time, art, science and magic intermingled freely; and polymath artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci applied a critical eye not just to drawing, painting and sculpture but to architecture, mechanics, natural science and astronomy, finding correlations between all these elements.
Such an holistic vision is embedded in West’s drawing practice, in which art and life are intimately connected. Her forms often derive from culinary equipment including funnels, sieves and moulds, which link to her love of cooking and are a reflection of her domestic life. They are also related to a personal history - people she knows and places she has visited. However, they appear as regular, geometrical forms, which can be read equally as ambitious architectural models or planetary systems, slipping easily from a domestic and personal to a monumental and universal scale.
West considers cookery as akin to drawing: a mixture of science and alchemy, system and intuition. It is bound by rules and limitations, starting with a list of ingredients, which must be carefully measured and prepared, a range of implements with which to channel different elements, and basic instructions as to how they should be combined. Once these principles have been mastered, the ingredients can be endlessly varied and remixed to create increasingly subtle and complex blends of flavour. Its products are transient pleasures, perfect in the moment, but disappearing quickly to be made all over again.
For West, both cooking and art are physical manifestations of a state of mind. Alongside her drawing practice she maintains a series of notebooks in which she sifts and organises significant elements and observations from her everyday life. She gathers together extracts from her diaries, transcriptions of other people’s poems and writings on art, images, magazine articles, exhibition pamphlets and sketches, creating connections and juxtapositions between seemingly disparate parts. These are interspersed with recipes, both for the preparation of food and for art materials and processes, and with other lists of words and phrases, generated by the artist and associated with a particular subject. The same elements reappear in different notebooks, reordered and combined with new insertions, suggesting an evolving network of associated ideas.
For West, the studio or gallery becomes a contemplative environment, a place for mental as well as physical projection. Over the course of days and weeks, she weaves intricate networks of lines across the space allowing forms to develop. They emerge and recede into the ether like passing thoughts and dreams.