Accompanying an exhibition of Rebecca Salter’s work at the Yale Centre for British Art, Rebecca Salter: Into the Light of Things is a gorgeous book that explores Salter’s work in the context of international Abstraction, and in relation to her experience of Japanese artistic practices, aesthetics, and ideas of space. Here the artist herself offers a glimpse into how these ideas have influenced her work.
Article by Rebecca Salter
There is an old Chinese saying that a piece of paper is not empty until you have made the first mark. How true this is. Confronting a blank sheet of paper can strike fear into the heart of an artist and we develop various displacement activities to deal with it. But this Chinese saying highlights a compositional aesthetic which I first explored during my time in Japan and which has stayed with me ever since. It is the powerful relationship between the mark you put down and the ‘blank’ space around it. The word ‘blank’ is, however, misleading as the space instead of becoming a place of nothingness is ‘activated’ by the presence of the drawn or painted mark. Each is animated by the presence of the other. In my work I try to capture this symbiotic yet dynamic relationship to create an intermediary, almost ambiguous pictorial space. An appreciation of this relationship is particularly important to the highest art form in the East, calligraphy.
Although I would never claim skills in Japanese calligraphy I am happy to admit to being influenced by its methods and the importance placed on the living quality of the line. The material nature of the brush, ink and highly absorbent paper means that marks must be made with immediacy and confidence. Skill is learned over years and has to be remembered physically as well as intellectually. Only by ‘knowing’ the line physically can it be kept alive and spontaneous. In my drawings I attempt to breathe life into the line by deliberately trying to undermine accumulated skills. The right hand becomes too fluent, too adept, so I switch to the left to keep the drawing alive. As Yagi Kazuo (the artist I originally went to study with in Japan) wrote, ‘drawing is everything.’ He was right.
Rebecca Salter: Into the Light of Things by Gillian Forrester is available now from Yale University Press