Clive Murray-White / Michelle Caithness: a Collaboration
This is an exhibition of drawing and sculpture by two artists who have discovered that they share an almost identical set of artistic values.
Clive makes marble sculptures about or based on Michelle whilst Michelle draws Clive in his studio making the sculptures of her. Both ask numerous questions about the evolution of portraiture and neither pressures the other to create flattering “realistic” representations.
Portraiture, of any kind, is inevitably collaborative and possibly invasive but when two artists are both artist and subject, things can become doubly interesting. In this case each has progressively encouraged the other to accept new freedoms and experiment with the intention of getting closer to his or her true expressive potential.
I have never considered myself to be a portrait artist, having only produced two such works in my life. Given the opportunity to draw Clive at Cowwarr in 2016 I was confronted with the reality of a sitter and the inherent formal obligations of the process.
A traditional approach to the task pulled me into using old art habits: The classical frontal or three quarter pose and a search for ’likeness’, both fell short of revealing Clive in context.
A person as a subject is made of many things. The challenge of portraiture became fresh and exciting when the three dimensional nature of artist making sculpture, within an architectural setting, loomed as a distinct possibility.
My subject lives and breathes in a spectacular setting, with sculptures and lumps of stone, within an illuminating landscape.
Observing the sculptor working in his studio with works completed, works in progress and amongst the tools and detritus of creation, presented intriguing compositional opportunities.
Clive’s physical characteristics became animated through the repetitive act of working and contemplation.
The relationship of sculpture to drawing through the act of mark making on surfaces and the play of light on stone led me to new exciting formal discoveries with charcoal on rough paper.
Clive in his studio held all of the information I needed. His process of discovery mirrored my own need for formal invention. I became free to interpret the notion of portraiture in my own way.
Michelle has a face shape that is deeply etched into my subconscious. For at least the past 25 years whenever I doodle this has been the face I draw. To me finding the living version just seems like a moment of well-deserved fate. I can draw a recognisable representation of her in a matter of seconds. This tempted me to make my first sculpture of her somewhere between a relief and a drawing on stone that concentrated more on how I perceive her than being chained to the restrictions of slavish representation.
Whilst that little work, Michelle 1, is most definitely recognisable as one of mine it blasted through some self-imposed restrictions on what I would or would not allow myself to do. The fact that Michelle could see and appreciate this liberated me to push my expressive and formal boundaries into corners I have not dared to fully explore before.
Each sculpture goes through a series of approximations from roughing out to finishing. Each tool leaves graphic evidence of its work. Up until now I would hurry through the initial activities and rush towards a finish. I now stop, even in the very early stages, to thoroughly assess what may be there in case it could be expressively useful. This simple procedure, discovered while making the Michelle heads, seems, from my perspective, to have added a new vitality to my work.