Meet the artist: Simon Woolham

Simon Woolham, The Transmitter Room, biro on paper, 2016

Art Unpacked asked Truth and Fantasy artist Simon Woolham to share a little bit more about himself and his art. Simon pushes the boundaries of what we understand by the simple term ‘drawing,’ introducing us to performance, digital technologies and multi-layered artworks.

Could you describe your artistic intention and process?
Broadly speaking my processes evolve around expanded drawing and the concept of creating a physical, virtual and psychological artistic residency.
I have various strands to my expanded drawing practice, including the combination of: site-specific text, biro drawing through a variety of formats and collaborative drawing and performance as in PAST/PRESENT/FUTURE NEW MILLS. In this piece of work I built and performed a drawing with the help of a local archaeology and walking history group. The practice is focused primarily on transporting around and interpreting space, through the collaborative generating of narrative associated with growing up in Wythenshawe, but also simultaneously interprets a present incarnation and our deeper relationship with it.
I see drawing as walking, narrative lines, a performative act, drawing as a way of exploring both a mental and physical space and its narrative meaning, by walking through layers of one’s mind.

Why is drawing important to you?
The biro pen is used for its indelible qualities, a commitment to the process of remembering, to the narrative being portrayed, a commitment to the marks, it is a portal to the past, a memory stick of ink, my Dr Who sonic-screwdriver.
The fragile and unpredictable relationship between the drawing methods and narrative plane, episodes recollected through my own and other people’s experiences, are emphasised through the direct correlation between the hand,
the drawing material and the paper surface.

The exploration of the drawing process enhances the intimacy connected to one’s history. The biro’s doodling and domestic at-hand qualities, is another layer of meaning, allowing the performance of the narrative to guide the drawing method. The drawing qualities, how hard and how soft, how fast and how slow, how free and how controlled I am with the mark making, are a representation of the layers of narrative of spaces it depicts. The act of drawing from narrative highlights textures of history through the biro pen, a reference to drawing in the margins at school, when my own mind should have been elsewhere.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?
The everyday and the caverns of mine and other people’s minds, from encouraging layers of history.

With so many digital tools around to assist with making images, what is the importance to you of the ‘hand-made’?
The hand-made process is extremely important as it is how I initially connect with the process of encouraging my own history. However, I do utilise digital tools through animation processes as a way of expanding the ideas of the initial biro drawing process but there is always the hand-made quality that informs this. For example, ‘School’, a hand-drawn interactive CD-ROM originally commissioned by The Lowry as part of my solo exhibition there in 2004, has evolved both in terms of how it is presented in gallery and non-gallery settings, and also technologically.

I have continued to develop this work as technologies have advanced in order to increase accessibility and interaction. I transformed ‘School’ in collaboration with a design graduate from MMU, to function as both a physical and digital artwork. The downloadable App was made accessible via QR codes, so that visitors could upload, engage, and own an artwork via their phones. The QR codes were printed and dispersed around the galleries as part of a group show at the Bluecoat in Liverpool, which of course used to be a school, emphasising both human and spatial histories.

If you were curating an exhibition, which artists would you choose to include alongside your own work?
At PAPER, an artist-led gallery in Manchester, I’m the galleries main programme curator so have curated a number of shows with artists I would choose. An example is ‘UNSTABLE GROUND’ in 2014 where I worked directly and closely with the practice of the artists George Shaw, Laura Oldfield Ford, Stephen Walter, Annabel Dover, Reece Jones, Lisa Wilkens and David Miles. As a curatorial framework and starting point for this exhibition I met with all the artists at the house where they grew up via Google Maps and Skype and recorded the often three to four hour experiences using Debut, a screen capturing programme, as a way of exploring and laying-bare autobiographical and artistic details.

Another example of choosing artists to work alongside was my curated exhibition ‘for space’. Again, at PAPER the exhibition brought together a group of artists who consider the exploration and excavation of space through various approaches to drawing. For each individual artist, drawing is processed through encountering, researching, and engaging with architecture and objects in the physical and virtual realms. Their works address the textural, sensory, and durational nature of psychological space, as well as the historical recording of plotted space. The exhibition also reflected on the social geographer, Doreen Massey’s seminal publication For Space (2005), in relation to changing our perceptions of space and the importance of space as ‘the dimension of things being, existing at the same time: of simultaneity.’ (Massey, 2005)

Tom Baskeyfield’s piece Ifan and Owen referenced Kate Robert’s novel Feet in Chains (1936). Ifan has worked the quarry since he was a boy, a life closely connected to and affected by stone. These new works consider the relationship between the slate quarries of North West Wales and the remains of the industrial landscape in Manchester.

Anna Barriball’s work Night Window has been created by placing paper on textured glass and covered in black ink and then bathing the paper in a solution of water and ink. This process, which she sees as akin to developing photographs with chemicals, leaves behind a strangely photographic trace of the original patterned glass.

Jack Brown chose a number of houses from his hometown in Stockport to draw. Once a drawing of someone’s house is finished it is delivered to them anonymously.

Layla Curtis’ drawings are part of a larger on-going series of Index Drawings whereby the artist disregards all of the graphic information contained within a map, using only roads to delineate form. Named after the indexes from which they are taken, these stripped-back maps are still surprisingly navigable, with the bare patches on the page that are formed by the absence of street names in parks, woodland, rivers, providing as many clues to their whereabouts as the street names themselves.

Gerry Davies’ drawings for the exhibition were the result of trips to caves, passages, and chambers in North Yorkshire. His interests lie in how the human body experiences these environments and how drawing might account for and communicate the many types of sensory knowledge we might gather.

Hondartza Fraga’s presented a life-size drawing of a section of Mars. Though we are accustomed to the vastness of the Martian desert landscapes, Hondartza was fascinated by these microscopic images, which made Mars somehow seem manageable and more real. These small spherules on the Martian surface are near Fram Crater, visited by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover in 2004 and photographed by the microscopic imager on Opportunity’s robotic arm.

Jenny Steele’s screen print is a restoration of the demolished copper engraved doors of the 1930s Midland Hotel, Morecambe. Jenny Steele has explored correspondence designs and drawings of the hotel by the architect, Oliver Hill in the RIBA archive, London, and she is currently creating a body of work that revives aspects of the features, which have been destroyed or lost during the buildings life.