Isolated Moments – Shadow Play

The next in our Isolated Moments series, aiming to keep spirits buoyed and creativity alive during COVID-19 global social isolating and quarantining measures, comes from Fermynwoods Associate Educator, sculptor Clare Abbatt – an artist who specialises in sculpture and figurative work, placing hands-on making in the context of art history.

During the Pinochet regime (1973 -1990), when communication was forbidden and dangerous, the Chilean artist Eugenio Dittborn found a way for his art to reach the outside world by posting it. The genre became known as Airmail Paintings. Dittborn’s work is political, the materials he used often cheap and what was to hand, notably brown wrapping paper. Images were collaged, drawn and printed, incorporating text and portraits of people. His paintings, fold marks from the original posting present, are displayed in galleries with their envelopes alongside.

Bas-relief images

In addition to Dittborn’s Airmail Paintings, this workshop is also inspired by some of my own current works in progress, bas-relief portraits of my grandchildren. Here they are, with the clay still damp. They will be fired to a mid terracotta colour and I’ll be waxing them for a soft sheen.

Instead of clay, this workshop uses materials you may be able to find around the house – paper, newspaper, scissors, glue, paint, felt pens, crayons. Old magazines can also be used as a source of images. Printed photographs of family members, if you choose to include these and have a printer. An envelope and a stamp.

During this lockdown receiving a letter in the post can be a great pleasure for adults and children. Follow the steps to create a personal piece to fold and post to someone.

  • Find a place to lay or hang a piece of paper in the sun to capture your shadow – getting the angle right is important.
  • Draw around the shadow of your head and neck. If you are living with someone else you can ask them to draw around your cast shadow in profile. If you are in lockdown on your own you can face the paper and draw around your own shadow. If you want to cast a shadow inside, tacking a piece of paper onto the wall, a strong light directed at the subject is needed to create an adequate image.
  • Once drawn you can either cut out your shadow and create a pattern to use more than once or keep the original tracing and use that as the central element in your design.
  • Decide how you want to create your work: using paint, collage, text, perhaps including printed photographs, a poem or a handwritten message. I painted a green background around my shadow image using the remains of a test pot of household paint.
  • Thinking about who I am missing during the lockdown I used collage. Words and images, photographs of some of my family, an extract from a wonderful poem by Mary Oliver, The Summer Day.
  • Fold the paper appropriately to fit either an A4 or A5 envelope.
  • Post and wait for a delighted response.

Clare Abbatt

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