I’m sometimes asked how we select the artists to work with our students from The CE Academy. They need to have an interesting enough practice as befits the rest of our programme, but crucially they need to be able to work with these students without dumbing things down. Art is a universal language after all, and often the best judges of our selection criteria are the students themselves.
In 2015 Portuguese artist Diogo Pimentao visited us fresh from his solo exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. With representation from several international galleries, Diogo’s pedigree was well established in the art world. But that is not the world that these students typically inhabit.
Enter Mike. The name one student announced that he wished to be referred to as throughout the workshop. Diogo happily played along, or was played, as the case may have been. This playful approach extended to his work – opening up “the horizon of the drawing and its conventions to other dimensions, other processes and other tools”.
Mike and the others explored mark making with Diogo, investigating the possibilities of graphite, from a humble pencil to pre-processed lumps straight from a Portuguese factory. Using water soluble graphite students were able to manipulate the outcome using water, clay, or by burnishing their marks with metal objects.
Diogo described the small marks they had made through gestures of the wrist as “like table tennis”, encouraging the students to go bigger “like tennis” through gestures of the arm. Gestures of the whole body came next, with huge paper planes constructed by folding paper with graphite sticks and throwing them around the garden at Sudborough Green Lodge. When unfolded the drawings were revealed.
Generously, Diogo shared the technique behind his perfect sphere drawings. Hundreds of tiny beads of graphite, which looked like grains of rice, trapped between sheets of paper and a bowl. As the bowl was shaken vigorously the beads would bounce across the paper’s surface translating the students’ energy into drawings with no trace of the hand.
As is often the case in these workshops, the culmination involved the use of fire. Students were invited to meticulously glue matchsticks to the wall before individually lighting each match. Controlling their teenage energies, the flames were to be blown out at precisely the right moment. The result was a line of carbon – a drawing.
By this point Mike had decided that Diogo was indeed worthy of his reputation, naming him as his Arts Hero for Part C of the Bronze Arts Award qualification, which involves researching the work of an inspirational artist. However after interviewing Diogo, Mike discovered that he had recently had an exhibition at Galerie Yvon Lambert, Paris. With his new found confidence Mike announced that he was going to contact Yvon Lambert and suggest that instead of Diogo the gallery should exhibit his work.
I’m not sure if Yvon Lambert ever got back to Mike, but a drawing he made during this workshop did win first prize in the Alfred East Youth Open exhibition. Expect to find Mike in Art Review’s Power 100 in some years to come.