01 Introduction : Figurative Compositions

"Are we to mark this day with a white or a black stone?" Cervantes, Don Quixote, 2, 2 ,10.
Does nothing comes from nothing?
He had bought a large map representing the sea
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand
Lewis Carroll's blank map
The crew, in Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark , were delighted to receive the Bellman's map with nothing on it, saying that Meridian Lines on maps were "merely conventional signs". They thanked their Captain for bringing them "the best - A perfect and absolute blank!" It was something they understood.

In Raymond Briggs's book When the Wind Blows there is a central double-page spread showing nothing but the white heat of a bomb explosion with pink-tinted edges. Something ends up with nothing.
When beginning a drawing, Laura Fairlie (in Wilkie Collins' novel The Woman in White ) declares
"Fond as I am of drawing I am so conscious of my own ignorance that I am more afraid than anxious to begin".

Maggi Hambling has said
`I think white is the most powerful colour. A lot of people may think red is, or might say black is, but the fact is that whatever colour your put with white is emasculated in some way. I suppose it's so powerful because it is pure light. The space in a watercolour where you don't put a mark should be as eloquent as the space where you do. The white of the paper is as much a part of the work as where you make your marks, where you put the colour'.
White is a blank sheet of paper.
It is the colour of snow and milk, of clean sheets; of lambs; of woolly cumulus clouds in the sky. It symbolises purity, chastity and innocence and triumph of the spirit over the flesh. The souls of the redeemed who have attained spirituality are usually to be seen in pictures as being clad in white robes.
White is the innocence of the bride in her white garments at a white wedding. Dante saw his saintly host of those who were blessed in Paradise in the form of a white rose (also an emblem of the House of York from Tudor times). The archangel Gabriel holds the white lily of the annunciation as a sign that a pure soul is necessary before Christ can take possession of it. In Revelations a white stone was given to those `who overcometh' and Christ cantered upon a white horse. Buddha was said to be borne to earth on a white elephant. The `white bird' represents our soul or conscience and the white dove represents peace.
The White Merle was a white bird of old Basque folklore, whose singing would restore sight to the blind. A white night is a sleepless night - in French (for Annick) `passer une nuit blanche'. Days marked with a white stone used to be an expression for days to be remembered with gratification. The Romans used a white stone, or a piece of chalk, to mark their lucky days on the calendar. Days that were unlucky they marked with charcoal. White sometimes masks the truth. It is called a white lie if you say something untruthful in order to avoid hurting someone else's feelings. Can you see white clearly? Is it something or nothing? Is it a veil like the snow covering the ground? `I'm dreaming of a white Christmas'. Buildings are whitewashed and, if you want to white wash something or someone, it is to hide unpleasant facts or the truth about them in order to make them acceptable. In sport and games, if you thoroughly beat your opponent it can be called a `whitewash'.
A few years ago when the West Indians thrashed the English in a cricket test series, someone called it a `blackwash'. In idiomatic English, if you refer to something as a white elephant you mean that it is expensive but completely useless - a nothingness. Useful things like fridges and washing machines, and other large electrical goods, are often called `white goods'. In order to convey good clean honesty, governments have chosen the name of white for their offices - `Whitehall' and the `White House', for instance.
White papers are the official reports which give the policy of the Government on a particular issue. Whitebait dinners used to be served to cabinet ministers at Blackwall in Greenwich towards the close of the parliamentary session. But whitebait is coloured silver not white and, while I think about it white wine isn't the colour of white at all. The white of an egg is only white once you've cooked it. Off-white and cream are the ugly sisters of white. `Persil washes whitest' and have you seen but a white lily grow? White is usually thought to be cool but white hot is extremely hot. You can turn white as a sheet if you're frightened. You can bleed somebody white if you extort all of their money. You can wave a white flag to surrender, and hope to be immune from harm (in respectable circles!). You can show a white feather to cowards and swear black is white. To hit the white is to be quite right or to make a good shot in archery - the white being the inner circle of the target - the bull's eye.
The professional or clerical worker, `whose calling demands a certain nicety of attire' is called a white collared worker. You can drink white satin (an old nickname for gin) at places called the White Horse. Wilkie Collins' book The Woman in White is one of the great novels. The White Lady is a ghostly spirit in many country's superstitions and myths, which was a general foreboding of someone's death in the house. White magic is a sorcery in which the devil is not involved, as opposed to black magic. A white slave was an expression for a woman sold or forced into prostitution.
A white squall is one which produces no diminution of light, in contradistinction to a black squall, in which the clouds are black and heavy. `White Leg' (also called milk leg) is an ailment of women, usually occurring after parturition, bringing about (among other things) a whiteness of the skin. There is a disease of the joints which used to be called `White Swelling' in which the synovial membranes passes into a pulpy degeneration. White can be the colour of someone's skin.
The British Empire of the late 19th century introduced the vulgar term `the white man's burden', meaning a duty supposed to be thrust on the white races to educate and govern what they called `coloured' races for their own welfare. Cricketers, tennis players and bowlers wear white clothes. White pepper, I think, is inferior to black pepper. White sauce (made from milk, flower and butter) accompanies meals. White spirit is not a ghost but a colourless petrol liquid, used to make paint thinner or to clean surfaces. White hair is a sign of old age - that's why George and I went bald instead!
In its opposite symbolism white-livered means lack of courage If you refer to someone as a whited sepulchre you mean that they appear to be morally good but are, in reality, evil. The `White League' is another name for the Klu Klux Klan. Interesting to note that the `Klu' of Klu Klux Klan was not recognised by my word-processing `spell-check' when I was typing out this stuff, whereas Klux Klan was!
Cage's 4' 33"
While we look at one of Rauschenberg's all-white paintings we will listen to the silent piece in three movements by John Cage which he composed at Black Mountain in 1952, entitled 4 minutes 33 seconds (4' 33", or sometimes entitled `Tacet for any instrument/s'. You can buy it on CD on the Hungaraton label HCD12991). The work was first performed in August 1952 at the Maverick Concert hall in Woodstock, New York - with David Tudor performing it. Apparently, in order to let the audience know when the three divisions of the work started an finished Tudor closed the cover of the piano keyboard at the start of each movement and opening it at the end of the specified time. It has been suggested by a person in Kent that the possible reason for Cage's choice of length and title for his piece 4' 33" is that the number adds up to 273 seconds, which, on the Celsius temperature scale, is 273 degrees - absolute zero.
What is the distinction between music and sound? Is silence something or nothing? Silence allows us to hear and listen. Hearing is about perceiving a sound, while listening is making a point of concentrating on what you hear. We are more aware of our selves in a state of silence - our hearts can be heard to beat, our blood hums in our heads, our eyelashes crash together when they blink and we are more aware of the sound of our breathing. Our awareness is heightened. Something can come from nothing.
`Erased de Kooning drawing by Robert Rauschenberg Willem de Kooning (that most revered Rotterdam-born American Abstract Expressionist painter, whose brush strokes have been being worshipped by strings of genuflectors these past few years) once made a drawing which became almost a nothingness. In the early 50s Robert Rauschenberg had been working for some time at erasing - `not just by deleting certain lines, you understand, but by erasing the whole thing'. Using his own work for rubbing out wasn't really satisfactory so he hit upon the idea of approaching de Kooning, who obliged him by giving him a drawing which he particularly liked and would positively miss if he parted with it. So Rauschenberg took de Kooning's drawing home. It was `done with a hard line, and it was greasy too'. He was alleged to have spent a month rubbing out the drawing, using up to 15 different types of erasors. Rauschenberg liked the result and hung it up in his studio. Some of the faint lines were just discernable on the white paper and the inscription beneath the work read `Erased de Kooning drawing by Robert Rauschenberg 1953'.
Is this an example of nothing coming from nothing, something coming from nothing, or nothing coming from something? Some of you may think it is something coming from something but unfortunately, or fortunately (as may be the case) I do not have the slide of Rauschenberg's erased de Kooning drawing. Not having a slide of it seems to be in the spirit of the game. Perhaps Rauschenberg was right when he said his paintings were "invitations to look somewhere else".
`The quality of nothing hath not such need to hide itself. Let's see: come, if it be nothing, I shall not need spectacles'.
Does the light really go off when you close the fridge? Someone (I think it was Berthold Brecht) wondered what happened to the holes in the cheese when the cheese had been eaten. Similarly, where does the hole in the polomint go once it's been sucked? What would happen to a Henry Moore sculpture if the holes were filled in. Nothingnesses exist to hold the form together. The holes in our bodies serve distinctive functions. Think of the mouth, the ear-holes, and the anus.

02 Cross-hatching


I am now going to go on to talk about `cross-hatching'. Cross-hatching has nothing to do with angry chicks emerging from their eggs nor to do with devising ill-humoured plots or schemes. Furthermore cross-hatching is nothing to do with causing fertilisation between birds of different breeds nor moving to the other side of an opening in the deck of a ship or an opening in a wall where food can be served between kitchen and dining room.
In defining our terms we need to examine the meaning of both words: a cross is a mark or shape consisting of two intersecting lines; to hatch is to mark with parallel or crossed lines to indicate shading. Cross-hatching for the purpose of this talk is therefore - the hatching of a surface with parallel lines in two or more series crossing or overlapping each other. Or, to put it another way - the crossing of a series of drawn lines of various lengths, widths and at various angles, usually in pen and ink with which the artist constructs his or her areas of shadowing or modelling.We may permit pencil or crayon as alternative media and, of course, the medieval fresco and tempera painters often used a similar technique with their brush. I think that's about the crux of the matter and it has crossed my mind, while I speak, that the word 'cross' comes from the Latin crux and the word 'hatch' seems to come from the 15th century Old French word hatcher, to chop, from hache; hatchet.
As a means of creating tonal effects by drawing repeated and parallel horizontal, vertical, or diagonal lines cross-hatching has its distinctive uses for those so inclined to employ the method. You will find that some definitions of cross-hatching restrict the number of sets of hatched parallel lines to only two, in order to produce the effects of shade. This is of course, we find, an unnecessary limitation and it would merely bring about unasked-for constraints upon the enthusiastic cross-hatcher.
James Joyce has asked -
`Will whatever will be written in lappish language with inbursts of Maggyer always seem semposed, black looking white and white guarding black, in that siamixed twoatalk used twist stern swift and jolly roger?' I now wish to comment on the qualities that can be achieved by the various overlapping of different groups of parallel lines, whether they be the intersection of two sets of parallel lines, three or more. In passing I trust that those of you who are not familiar with the drawing process appreciate that the colour white in a drawing is usually achieved by not drawing at all and the colour black is usually in this case made manifest by applying a superabundant layering of cross-hatches (or is it crosshatchings?) in the same area. Black itself indicates the very quintessence of the unmanifest and to some it is an unpropitious colour. Milton described black as `staid wisdom's hue'.
But to the likes of a Malevich, Motherwell, Rodchenko, Newman, or Reinhardt, and others, they revelled in its lack of hue; its very capacity to absorb light... The slide here shows a painting of a black square on a white background by Malevich, painted in 1913 and exhibited first in 1915. Upon his Black Square Malevich declared (seemingly drawing closely, but flatly denied by Malevich himself, from the ideas represented in P.D.Ouspensky's Tertium Organum ., 1912) that he was -
grabbed by a ... timidity bordering on fear when it came to leaving the `world of will and idea'... the reality in which I had believed. But the blissful sense of liberating non-objectivity drew me forth into the `desert', where nothing is real except feeling ... and so feeling became the substance of my life.
You will see that the ` Black Square ' is the quintessence of austerity; a painting which pictures nothing - but said to be an expression of mystical value. At the time some regarded this as the end of painting. Malevich, on the other hand, considered it to be the release of the tyranny of representation with its pointless `drawing from Nature' for inspiration.

On the particular slide here (if I manage to find it in time) we have to assume that there is a spelling error or a misprint of Malevich's first name `Kasimir' .
Here also (I hope) we have Claude Bragdon's influential cube of 1912 - a possible prototype of black squares. I'm not referring in this talk by the way to those areas in space, known as `black holes' where gravity is so strong that nothing, not even light, can move away from them. There are also, of course, the black squares of Ad Reinhardt. Here we have on the screen his Abstract Painting, Number 33, done in 1963. In 1918. In an attempt to be concerned with creating `the last painting which anyone can make' Reinhardt saw these works as an
`unmanipulated and unmanipulatable, useless, unmarketable, irreducible, unphotographable, unreproducible, inexplicable icon'.
I would like to have discussed at this point Josef Albers' series of `homages to squares' but I I haven't got the time just now!.
When he was still under the influence of Josef Albers our old friend Robert Rauschenberg made a series of monochrome black and white paintings in 1952 and 1953. Some of the paintings were multilayered with black pigment emphasising the physical quality of the painted surface. Here we have Barnet Newman's painting entitled ` Eve ' . reproduced in The Independent on Sunday on the 12th of April 1992 ( by way of introducing colour to the lecture) - and here is a slide of my own cross-hatched copy of Malevich's painting- White Square on a White Background , juxtaposed with a collaged version of the same painting. Malevich's seemed to reach the ultimate in minimalism - a dead end to non-representation. The polarity of black and white is something, something which ... but I digress. I must return to my theme of cross-hatching.
Cross-hatching again
The intersection of these lines carries with it a particular dynamic quality according to the particular angles of the lines employed. Right angled cross-hatching brings about a negative or passive quality and this can be used to advantage when contrasting figure with the ground. [one of these days I will get down to discussing the different effects obtained by the use of angles in cross-hatching.


03 Figure and Ground

Think also of the ambiguity of figure and ground. Sometimes we are uncertain as to what is the object and what is the space. The whiteness of the paper already exists before you proceed to draw. It has established itself as a fundamental entity; a ground to tread on. What marks you make on the paper are as important as the marks you don't make; or is the opposite the case? The editing and selection of gap-making is fundamental to drawing. Nothingness, therefore, allows something else to exist. Planets move in space. Planets need space to move about in. Space doesn't need planets. The pencil (or whatever other drawing instrument you are using) clothes the naked surface of the paper with a network of marks and the paper often peeps through the drawing. A picture is made up of a balancing between the making, the removing, and the not-making of marks. Somehow a drawing represents the trails of a journey like, as Klee put it - `taking a line for a walk', which is a far more conducive activity than taking a dog for a walk.

Listen to what Maurice de Sausmarez has to say about line in his useful little manual Basic design: the dynamics of visual form:
`A line can be thought of as a chain of spots joined together. It indicates position and direction and has within itself a certain energy; the energy appears to travel along its length and to be intensified at either end, speed is implied and the space around it is activated. In a limited way it is capable of expressing emotions, e.g. a thick line is associated with boldness, a straight line with strength and stability, a zig zag with excitement, although all these are crude generalisations. Straight lines of the same length and thickness in parallel groupings may introduce factors of proportional relationship and rhythmic interval; change the lengths and thicknesses and more complex rhythms and optical `beat' are experienced.'
De Sausmarez then goes on to discuss the dynamics of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines. His little book is well worth your inspection; written for Foundation `basic design' courses in the 60s, when staff student ratios in art schools were one teacher to five students! De Sausmarez also discusses the phenomenon of alternation between figure and ground, (and I quote from him again) - `where spatial ambiguity is experienced', as well as `emphatic fluctuations of figure and ground' -
`at one moment the black figure emerges from the white ground, at another the white figure emerges from the black ground. We are forced to recognise the fact that in the field of vision nothing is negative; the space round and in the image is as positive as the image itself.'
There we are - `nothing' has the same status as `something' after all. Let us praise from the roof tops - gaps in drawing, the space between objects, pauses in music, silence among noise, holes in Polo mints and cheese, emptyness - and what hitherto I have been calling `nothingness'. Let us also praise what Arthur Koestler called the - `depersonalised after-life, beyond the confines of space, time, and beyond the limits of our comprehension.'

Life is that tiny little interval of time between the infiniteness of the before and the after-life. Life is merely the figure on the ground - a drop in the ocean, a grain of sand in the desert. It is the space left on the paper, therefore, which is now becoming the important `something' and the marks made by the drawing are perhaps less significant. Do we have more a memory of image and sound than we do of space and silence? Can we distinguish between one blankness from another or one silence from another. If we can, do we follow our noses and contemplate our own essential nature to the exclusion of all else as being the only way of achieving pure enlightenment. Is this what looking at the canvases of such painters as Rothko, Malevich, Ad Reinhardt, Barnett Newman & Co. is all about - looking at space; thinking about ourselves-looking-at-space; our significance and our insignificance, within space and time infinitesimal?
Jean Dubuffet has said that - `Art does not lie in on the bed that is made for it; it runs away as soon as one says its name; it loves to be incognito; its best moments are when it forgets what it is called.'
Malevich At this point I would have liked to have shown you the `Suprematist' oil painting on canvas: `White on White' by Malevich, painted in 1918. It is a composition showing a white square situated at a slight angle on the top right hand side of the square canvas, painted upon a slightly whiter ground. Malevich regarded the square as the `purest' of geometric forms and with such paintings he reached the ultimate distillations of his ideas. He'd reached the light at the end of the tunnel where the journey ended. He thus returned to the human form and during his last years he painted extraordinary portraits in the manner of the old masters such as Piero and Holbein.


04 The Tartan

A technicolour form of right-angled cross hatching is, of course, the tartan. In case you don't know (and since I do not possess a slide of a tartan at this moment). a tartan is a design of straight lines, crossing at right angles, to give a chequered appearance, especially the distinctive designs associated with Scottish clans. Scottish meaning - relating to, or characteristic of an area called Scotland, its people, their Gaelic language or their English dialect. Scotland being a country that is part of the United Kingdom, occupying the north of Great Britain. Great Britain being the largest island of Europe and in the British Isles, separated from the mainland of Western Europe by the English Channel and the North Sea. Europe being the second smallest continent in the world, forming the Western peninsula of the land mass of Eurasia.
The world being the Earth as a planet. The Earth (aged about four thousand million years old) being the third planet from the sun. The sun being a gaseous body or star that is the source of heat and light for the planets within the solar system. The Solar system being a system containing the sun and the bodies held in its gravitational field, including the planets, asteroids and comets - all moving about in Space. Space being the unlimited three-dimensional expanse which all material objects are located or, if you like, the region beyond the earth's atmosphere occurring between the celestial bodies of the universe. The universe being the aggregate of all existing matter, energy, and space.
Now to get back to tartans. Now in Scotland some of its residents sometimes wear knee-length pleated skirts called kilts. These kilts are often worn during Burns nights when Scottish people often drink a lot of Scotch whisky which tends to hurt their heads when hung over and which often results in the need to wear Aberdeen Angus beefsteaks as hats overnight to alleviate the pain. Burns, by the way, happens to be a Scottish lyric poet and has nothing to do with burning, scalding or `scorching hats' which is what they do when they cook their hat-like steaks for breakfast afterwards. An over-imbibing of whisky, of course, brings about what is known as a `Scotch Rash' which can be determined by a short examination of the noses of heavy Scotch drinkers.
The rash, if you like, resembles a kind of nasal cross hatching - defined clearly upon the surface of the nose by a network of hairlike-thin capillary veins that are meant to convey oxygen-depleted blood to the heart. It is not for nothing (and remember this lecture is about nothing and something) that `Scotch Rash' is an anagram of cross hatch and `hat scorching' is an anagram of cross hatching. A `check' (besides being a bill of exchange [if spelt `cheque']) of course is a pattern of squares or crossed lines. The word check also means `to pause, or cause to pause', indicating an abrupt `space of time' which one allows for reflection, restraint or control. Here we come across that space in between again - that oh so important space - that valuable nothingness!
The word `check' comes from the Old French eschec, a `check' in the game of chess, hence a pause (to verify something). There we are again - a pause, a space, the gap in between, a significant nothingness. When we look at a chess board do we see black squares on white or white squares on black? Which is figure which is ground? The black squares only exist because of the intervening white squares and vice versa. The interaction of tension and relief.
Gingham (that cotton fabric, usually woven of two coloured yarns in a checked or striped design) will not be discussed here as another form of cross-hatching you'll be relieved to hear. If I may, I wish to continue by referring to what one or two scholars have said about cross-hatching: Mr Henry Blackburn, an Edwardian commentator upon the subject, advises us against mannerism in our use of cross-hatching:
The rules laid down as to the methods of line work, the direction of lines for the expression of certain textures, "cross-hatching," are, if followed too closely, apt to lead to hardness and mannerism in the young artist, and he will with difficulty shake off.
In the matter of 'giving every chance to the camera for reproduction' and the subsequent printing of a drawing, Mr Harry Furniss gave the following recommendation when advising how to draw in pen and ink :
Now when cross-hatching it is wise to draw one set of lines some time before the other, not crossing them until the ink is dry. Otherwise the result will be bad when the drawing is reproduced.
Controlling the proportion and scale of those in-between island spots of whiteness in the paper, among the criss-cross strokes of the pen nib is exacting. It's back to having a respect for the value of holes in the polo mints or the cheese again. The space between the lines is fundamental. You can't play a harp that doesn't have gaps between the strings. Prison bars need to be spaced out sufficiently so that a prisoner can saw his way out and escape. Spokes of bicycle wheels need space between them so that we can see through the wheels. A wonderful cross-hatched image is that of the fishing net and the mesh needs gaps in between in order to allow the water to flow through when catching fish! It is essential to draw with an unclogged and smooth-running pen nib, as well as securing a receptive paper, according to what particular cross-hatching method is desired. I could go on at length about the virtues and delights of the flowing of the black ink as the pen glides across the white paper making its marks and I could descant upon those marvelously energetic devices called stripes and those gorgeous parallel lines. But I must temper myself. A dictionary definition of a stripe, by the way, is
`a relatively long band of distinctive colour or texture that differs from the surrounding material or background'.

Another case of a gap allowing a thing like a stripe to exist. Which is the stripe then - the band or the background? God bless interstices! Each allowing the other to exist.
Crow, cross, chat, macrami, karate, chant.

Writing upon 'Cross-Hatching' Mr Edmund J. Sullivan refers to the work of Arthur Boyd Houghton and he warns us of the dangers of what we now call the moiré pattern effect which is a shimmering pattern effect that is sometimes produced by the superimposition of different sets of intersecting parallel lines at different angles from one another.
Technically remarkable is his fertility of resource and mastery of cross-hatching, in which he indulges freely where it will serve his purpose. It is always bold and luminous, and he manages to avoid what may be called the "flicker," which distresses the eye, not only in a pen drawing, but more still in the case of reproduction on zinc or copper, where it is frequently emphasised by the acid.

Mr Sullivan goes on to discuss the 'remarkable subtlety' of cross-hatching:
yet in the simplest manner by more or less parallel lines of varying thickness taking generally the direction of the form. The thicknesses of these lines and their proportion to the white space between them shows how valuable the slightest difference can be made if used with economy.
What a wondrous device cross-hatching is for the constructing of tones in a drawing. With what magnificent results can the judicious and resourceful draughtsman employ it as a means of affording a satisfactory and pleasing method of obtaining deep and dark shadows. One must, however, advise the aspiring cross-hatching student to accustom him or herself to a very sparing use of this expedient. It is requisite that, however numerous the tones are in a pen and ink drawing (and they should not be too abundant), the general effect should be simple and homogeneous.