Last Friday was the annual Falmouth Illustration Forum, where an amazing group of invited guest speakers, established artists and practictioners, came together to talk about ‘hidden agendas’. Just as the sun (which had appropriately ‘hidden’ itself behind the moon) began to show its face again, Catrin Morgan, curator of the 2015 forum, started the day with an overview of hidden agendas in illustration. In preparation for the discussion ahead she opened our minds to the ways illustration can work – the messages it can smuggle, constraints it can work under.
Dan Fern then gave an insight into the matrix of personal interests, reference points and obsessions that underpin his practice. He made a convincing case for the need for us as artists to explore the roots of subjectivity – our personal agendas, those themes which run through our practice sometimes without our knowing. Seeing an overview of Dan’s beautiful and aesthetically precise work, cohesive even as it ran from collage to sculpture to film and art in the landscape, served as an inspiring demonstration of this idea.
Anna Bhushan followed with a talk centred about her experience of illustrating the seemingly ‘un-illustratable’ Bhagavad Gita. She posed some challenging questions about the limits of illustration and its role, plus gave fascinating insight into her creative process – demonstrating a beautiful balance between chance and control in her work. She spoke about her agenda as a commentator on the text through her images.
It was interesting to then listen to John Vernon Lord’s discussion of ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ and the unique challenges that come with illustrating James Joyce. While Anna was faced with the task of illustrating experiences that exist outside of what can be said, John Vernon Lord faced an impenetrable wall of words, with no meaning beyond the physical stuff of the language itself. Their comparable experiences brought into focus the tricky interplay of words and image, and the roles that illustration might play in locating or introducing meaning.
Atlantic Press’s own Mat Osmond talked about Ted Hughes’ ‘Crow’ and the collaboration between Hughes and Leonard Baskin. Then after lunch Vincent Larkin, an alumni of the Authorial Practice MA spoke compellingly about his recent residency at the V&A, discussing the relationship of illustration to photography, and how the practice of drawing from photographic images takes on a new relevancy in an age where photography is increasingly endowed with authority and power.
Mireille Fauchon gave an entertaining overview of her creative practice – and offered an entirely new take (following on from the Bhagavad Gita and Finnegan’s Wake) of working with a classic text – in her case ‘The prisoner of Zenda’ – assembling a fictictous country from images and artefacts to construct the narrative space of the novel. Like Dan Fern, Mireille’s talk demonstrated the value of identifying and following our obsessions and recurring interests – pursuing the threads that weave throughout our practice.
Max Porter, Senior editor of Granta Books, beautifully rounded off the day’s talks, placing the discussion of hidden agendas into a publishing context by describing the process behind Granta’s upcoming publication of “I’m Jack”. Max spoke about his love of the hybrid form – works which ‘bend the representational lines available to them’ – and argued for originality and hidden agendas in every sense.
The Question and Answer session allowed the speakers to touch in more detail upon the threads which traced through all their talks – the use of constraints, their various routines, the idea of creative flow and the open-ended and possibility-rich task of today’s illustrators. The forum, as usual, fostered intelligent and probing discussion of illustration as an authorial, intellectual and personal practice. The audience left inspired, challenged (and exhausted!). Thanks to Catrin for an amazing day.