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It’s not just black and white - The Open College of the Arts
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It’s not just black and white thumb

It’s not just black and white

The Whitworth Gallery in Manchester has recently been refurbished and this visit — to see the Deanna Petherbridge show — was my first since the changes. They’re quite subtle, though the café now looks out onto the neighbouring park and is much bigger. It was there that I met the eight students who’d come to see the show.
Over lunch and coffee we discussed their experiences of their courses and, inevitably, their tutors. There was also quite a bit of chat about how Drawing Two differs greatly from Drawing One, with students giving advice to one another about how to tackle those differences. For anyone who hasn’t taken the plunge and attended a study visit, it’s in this sort of conversation — as much as in the discussions about art — that their value is often found.
But what of the art? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Petherbridge’s work in the flesh before, and certainly not a solo show of images that spoke to one another across her long career. There’s a patient, meditative quality about the meticulous ink drawings she makes which might seem incongruous when the images are of war-damaged buildings, but instead it adds pathos and tension to the work. What takes moments to destroy is carefully remade in image form. Much of the work on display is an exploration of the built space. It isn’t really of specific architecture, but it is architectonic. There’s often a slippage between different vantage points in the works and much of our discussion was around Petherbridge’s representations of space. It’s complex and often contradictory. Parts of a work might conform, more or less, to linear perspective, but elsewhere she represents space in ways more familiar to architectural plans or that found in Middle and Far Eastern art. This generates unease, forcing the viewer to take time to work out what’s going on. As Stephen writes on his blog:
Technically the work is exceptional. Working in Isometric/Axonometric, perspective is thrown all over which pulls you over the drawing in a head spin, pictures within pictures. Mind blowing.

Catherine’s comment gets to the nub of the effect that this jiggery-pokery can have on the viewer.
The way she mixes them [different kinds of perspective] is disorientating, and made me feel wobbly headed at times. My brain could not work it out. (https://cleveydraw2.wordpress.com/category/coursework/part-4/oca-study-visit-petherbridge-at-whitworth/)
An OCA blogpost by recently retired tutor Jim Unsworth was mentioned a few times on the day as it covers how perspective can be manipulated for effect. Find it here.
Stephen’s blog, incidentally, is a great resource in relation to Petherbridge as he’s carefully listed and explained all the artists he’s reminded of when standing in front of these works. Some of these artists are new to me, but what’s clear from reading the blog is that Stephen (just completing Level One) is connecting the work of different artists, but from his perspective, and not just within a conventional art historical narrative.
Complimenting the Petherbidge show, the Whitworth was also showing a collection of prints by Marcantonio Raimondi, who collaborated with Raphael. Mick, like Stephen, has plotted connections between artists, writing that:
The whole afternoon was curiously summed up by Deanna Petherbridge in The Primacy of Drawing where she notes ‘Raphael and Dürer famously interchanged drawings about 1515 […] The Raphael / Dürer reciprocity is an acknowledgement of admiration and equal status,’ when Durer was probably made aware of Raphael’s work through the etchings of Marcantonio. (Petherbridge 2010: 76).(https://mickosthehat2.wordpress.com/category/drawing-2/gallery-visits/study-visit-1/)

From my perspective — no pun intended — it’s the connections between works and between artists and between students that made this visit so rewarding. Linking things together is an important, but difficult, part of degree level study. It’s tempting to simply read art history and to regurgitate received wisdom, but by honestly engaging with Petherbridge’s complex and demanding (but very seductive) works with others in the Whitworth and beyond it’s possible to build a personal relationship with art and to mediate it through one’s own experiences.
Since the visit the students have swapped blog addresses and left comments for each other which, I hope will strengthen their sense of belonging to a tangible institution as well as introducing critical voices to which they can turn throughout their studies.
Image Credit:
Image 1: OCA tutor Bryan Eccleshall
Image 2: OCA student Jennifer Wallace

Posted by author: Bryan
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7 thoughts on “It’s not just black and white

  • This was my third OCA visit and in truth the best by far, and they have all been good. Yes, I was completely seduced by the work of Deanna Petherbridge and the Whitworth is a great space, my first visit there so all new to me. As a distance learning student for some years, The OU before and now the OCA its easy to become isolated, frustrated and can be a lonely existence at times. What the study visit brings is that real people, like you are having the same anxieties as you are, who are just as interested and informed who want to get on, bounce ideas off. As Bryan alludes to in his blog, that this interaction and social part is as important as the art itself. What this visit has done for me has made me more confident in talking about the work with others. Moreover, the post visit chats via email, blog sharing etc has been invaluable as part of my learning too. I look forward to the next one

  • I think what I got most of out of this visit was hearing people’s experiences of doing Drawing 2 (which I felt rather scared of). I know it should be the art but this time I found the discussions more useful. It made me decide that I must bite the bullet and embark on the next stage of my creative career! And the art was interesting too, of course.

  • Excellent Trauti. These trips are so important for getting to meet other students and for finding out stuff from them and tutors. I don’t think anyone ever regrets coming on a trip and usually goes home with lots of stuff to think about. People who put them off don’t know what they’re missing.

  • I like Bryan’s linking up all the connections – and the many broken connections in some of Deanna Petherbridge’s drawings remind me what it sometimes feel like as an OCA student! It was good to be in a group all doing drawing courses to look at an exhibition of drawing. You had the feeling we could drop in and out of conversations with each other knowing we were all part of the same interests.

  • I really enjoyed the visit Bryan, I wasn’t familiar with Petherbridge’s work prior to the exhibition but it was certainly fascinating to see it in the flesh. I found the contrast between the scale of the works and the minutiae of the mark making incredible, I certainly don’t think I’d have the patience for it and the fact that she doesn’t plan the drawing in advance makes it all the more remarkable. I’d also echo Trauti and Jennifer’s comments that discussing our courses in addition to the art as we walked around the exhibition was rewarding as well.

  • This was my third OCA visit and the best by far, and the other two were good. Yes, I was completely seduced by the work of Deanna Petherbridge and the Whitworth is a great venue too. I’ve been a distance learning student for some years now – firstly with the OU and now the OCA. It’s easy at times to feel isolated, frustrated and can be a lonely existence at times. These visits are such a lifeline as you meet people like you that have the same anxieties and that you are not on your own. This social part and the interaction from other students post visit is to me as important as the art itself. I look forward to the next one

  • Cheers Bryan
    It was a great day out and its so good to put the virtual to one side and have a reality check talking to real people in realtime not only about the art but especially about thing that are concerning you about the course and seeing the conversation flow naturally from one to the other. Like the lines from the Streets of New York “and maybe there’s somthing you’ll learn or you’ll see, and bring it on home make it easy on me.”

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