With the opening of Artists at Work in our Drawings Gallery we thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to shed some light on the artists among our colleagues at The Courtauld. Here we have Alexandra Blum, Gallery Tutor in our Public Programmes team discussing her practices.
Alexandra drawing close to the Thames Barrier, 2018. Photo credit: Charles Chambers
Could you tell us about your practice – what media you work in, what subject matter you focus on, what inspires you?
Drawing is central to my practice, and to my research into spatial perception and the visualization of the passage of time. I’m especially interested in urban space, particularly areas undergoing change, where time itself seems to become visible in the fabric of the city.
I love the binary nature of drawing, the way a drawing can be constructed around the presence and absence of the drawing material, so that the negative space becomes very tangible. A form defined purely by surrounding marks, rather than being drawn in its own right, seems to evoke not only its current location and presence, but also suggests an imprint of where an object existed in the past, or might exist in the future.
I’m also fascinated by the way negative space emphasizes the emergent quality of a drawing. Sometimes it feels as if completed drawings are still under construction, so that each mark becomes a trace of the observation process which was on-going as I tried to understand the space surrounding me as I drew.
Tell us about your working environment(s).
After having a studio in Dalston, east London, for 10 years, I’ve recently moved my studio close to the Thames Barrier in Woolwich, south east London. It’s within an industrial estate and, amongst the light industry at work there today, there are also several beautiful, but decaying, Siemens Brothers factories, dating from the 1860s when they produced telegraph cables.
A little further up river is Angerstein Wharf, where large amounts of aggregate are still unloaded from barges onto huge conveyor belts protruding into the river. As the surroundings are so industrial, being in my studio feels a bit like working within a factory of artists, which is a galvanising and inspiring atmosphere to work within.
It’s also important to me to have a studio surrounded by other artists. The layout of my studio is semi-open plan, which enables chance encounters with other artist’s work, and the conversations we have about each other’s practice are invaluable.
Alexandra Blum’s studio interior, Woolwich
Do you work anywhere other than, or in addition to, a studio – and if so, where?
At the moment, I’m spending a lot of my time working from direct observation outside on the banks of the Thames, and I love having a studio very close to the environment I’m working from, so that I can go backwards and forwards between the two.
It’s an extraordinary area to draw within. Looking back towards the city from the Thames Barrier, the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and beyond feel precariously poised on the horizon, apparently oblivious to the power of the tides and continual efforts of the industry at work down river. Everything down there is in flux and I’d like each drawing I am currently making out on location to be a multi-layered trace of the many moments in time which unfold around me, revealing the constant interactions between the massive manmade and natural forces in the area.
How does your working environment affect your art (if at all)?
I’m always on the lookout for new spaces to explore through drawing, and, because I often work outside from direct observation, my working spaces can change dramatically from one project to another.
A previous working environment which also had a huge impact on my work was the vast Dalston Square construction site in Hackney, east London, where I was artist in residence. I spent three years drawing Dalston as it was torn apart and rebuilt, drawing from the street, within the construction site and within one of the completed flats, a home on the 17th floor. Drawing within the building site was a very exhilarating experience, literally climbing amongst the tower blocks as they were being built, like having my own mountainside in Hackney!
So, my working environment is essential to my practice: the space I’m surrounded by literally becomes the focus of my drawings.
Alexandra Blum ‘6.4.11 – 17th floor, the Collins’ flat, Dalston Square, London’, charcoal on paper, 59 x 84 cm
Are there any particular tools or objects you feel particularly passionate about and/or are central to your work?
Paper, a graphite stick and a knife to keep sharpening it with.
How do you deal with creative block?
Wandering through the city on foot is one of my favourite ways to discover areas I’d like to draw. When I get stuck with a piece of work, I usually go for a walk until I discover something which surprises me. Then I’ll start a new drawing, coming back to the drawing I couldn’t find the answer to later.
Alexandra Blum, Thames with birds (dreaming of Roelandt Savery), graphite on paper, 21 x 29.7 cm, 2017
Alexandra Blum, Retreat, graphite on paper, 21 x 29.7 cm, 2017
Alexandra Blum, Shelter, graphite on paper, 21 x 29.7 cm, 2017
Alexandra Blum, Industrial Inundation, 21 x 29.7 cm, 2017
Discover more of Alexandra’s work:
Artists at Work
The Drawings Gallery
Until 15 July 2018