7 September - 13 October
Seeking the Unseen
Ibby Lanfear – Drawing & Painting on Gesso Oak Panels
Based in Devon Ibby Lanfear achieved a First Class Honours degree in History of Art & English at York University and a Post-graduate diploma in easel painting conservation at the Courtauld Institute. Ibby has worked as a researcher and as a painting conservator for the National Trust as well as private conservators before setting up her own drawing studio in 2007.
‘My work seeks to find beauty in the disregarded, overlooked and unexpected. The transcribing of these beings and states into the pictorial, through an intensity of observation, serves as an act of remembrance and recognition, memorialising the existence of lives, spaces and objects that would otherwise go unrecorded and unremarked. Some of the drawings are snapshots of spaces, seen, and yet unseen everyday; a gutter, steps, the weed that clings to the concrete in a forgotten corner. Some seek worth in lives that hover, ignored, sometimes denigrated, at the edges of our own; maimed pigeons, the nestling that didn’t live to see its first day. Other drawings focus on the obsolete; seventeenth century parchment, buried in an archive, its hidden presence a physical link with generations past; the love captured in the fleeting scrawl of a postcard, long misplaced. In our image and surface obsessed world, the drawings of the backs of paintings reflect on the notion of looking further, looking deeper, looking behind the superficial gloss to the reality of the subject; verso becomes recto.
The use of traditional techniques of panel preparation, layers of gesso on oak, lends a material validity to the forgotten and the fragile; the very permanence of the drawings forcing their confrontation and consideration. The gesso itself enables a comprehensive exploration of technique and depth, with lines both painted and incised – a literal and physical underscoring of the subjects depicted.’
An Interview with Ibby Lanfear
Who and/or what are your artistic influences?
Due to my training and background I am lucky enough to have been exposed to a huge number of works of art, and it is hard to distinguish what I take from them specifically. Certain paintings, drawings or artists move me: an unknown fourteenth century panel from a private altar piece, so intimate, so fragile, so lost in today’s consumerist world of bright lights and perfection, led me to the use of gesso; illusory paintings, particularly those produced by Dutch artists of the seventeenth century such as Edward Collier, or Cornelius Gijsbrechts, fascinate me, and have helped to inform works for this exhibition such as Oil on Canvas, verso; the harsh reality of the prints and drawings of Kathe Kollwitz help me to understand the powerful immediacy of drawing, the sentiment raw and unclouded by complex and murky layers of paint, the link between artist and viewer direct and uncluttered; the off kilter, balanced clarity and use of line seen in Japanese prints has broadened my understanding of composition.
Tell me a bit about your practise and the way in which you work.
Technique, and exploring the contemporary potential of traditional materials is of central importance to my work. My drawings are in ink and pigment on gesso, on oak panel. The gessoed panels are prepared in an entirely traditional way, originally based on Cennino Cennini’s Libro dell’ Arte written in fifteenth century Florence. Two layers of size (in this case gelatin) are applied to a prepared panel, and the gesso (a specific mixture of gelatin and chalk) is built up in a series of five to eight layers, each applied just before the previous one is dried to create a stable bed for the drawing. The gesso enables lines to be both painted and incised, and each drawing is built up in a series of layers, with ink and pigment applied, and scratched off, the colour bleeding into incised lines to create a complex visible texture.
How does your training in History of Art and Painting Conservation inform your work?
My training, particularly in painting conservation, enabled privileged contact with a huge range of paintings, from the fourteenth to the twentieth century. I see paintings as a physical link to the past. As a conservator, paintings are no longer primarily an image, sealed behind glass on a gallery wall. They are physical and intimate objects, products of busy or lonely studios, rich with the smells of oils, turpentine, wood. The finding of a tiny splash of paint, flicked from a careless brush, or the fingerprint of a sixteenth century artist impatient that the work is not quite dry, has an ability to take you back to the reality and immediacy of the work’s production. The verso is equally as important as the recto, and indeed you can spend many weeks only looking at the back of a painting rather than the front! I think it is this notion of image as object that comes entirely from my background in conservation that most informs my work. In my drawings I try to preserve this sense of intimacy by not framing the panels, the image is unashamedly object. A painting is a collection of materials, from all over the world, that come together on a small rectangle of wood or canvas. I am fascinated by different artists’ techniques, and the passing down of these techniques through the ages. There is something inherently satisfying in having an understanding of how a painting was put together, and the many, many layers that lie beneath the visible surface. Conservation has encouraged me always to look for the unseen, the hidden, to seek to understand a material reality.
As a researcher, my area of ‘expertise’ is in seventeenth century British painting. I like to think that the spirit of scientific and artistic enquiry that flowered in the latter half of this century in London also helps to inspire my work – again, an encouragement to look beyond the obvious, to see more than superficially meets the eye.
Why do you do what you do now? What drives you to produce your work?
I don’t feel right when I’m not drawing! Life, other work and motherhood are constant distractions but since I was very young the pull has always been to draw.
What would you like an audience to take from your work?
I hope that my work might encourage the viewer to look, a little harder, a little closer, to find a quiet beauty in the most unexpected of places. In a world where instant gratification and superficial realities are the norm, I hope the drawings may foster an appreciation for the handmade, the individual, the imperfect, and advocate a sense of contemplation that enables us to look beyond a surface veneer.
Is it possible to describe a typical day in the studio?
The early morning is frantic; children need to go to school, animals need to be fed, admin needs to be done. When I finally close the studio door on the outside world at about 9am it is quiet, and it is just me and the drawings. Some days are straightforward, there might be a run of panels to be sanded and gessoed. I listen to the radio, podcasts, audio books. Other days I am sitting at my table, drawing. I might put some music on – music I know so well I don’t have to listen. These days are the most intense, the time goes very fast. Motherhood has made studio time more precious, more urgent. I don’t have many breaks. I am lucky that I have a half an hour drive to pick up the children from school – it is a transition time, back to the real world.