IAS371: morphological analysis

The problem

After considering previous work, I've identified that the undercurrent of my environmental destruction and climate change interest is really the bigger theme of grief and I want to undertake a major project this semester that deals with that subject directly. My problem is: how do I create an artwork that expresses the human experience of grief and loss? Specifically, an artwork that moves away from the figurative toward a level of abstraction with a link to narrative.

Morphological analysis


The removal of colour strikes me deepest as a way to communicate the experience of grief. It's stark and immediate and hits all at once, hiding nothing and asking nothing of me. I become easily overwhelmed in this noisy world and reducing stimulation and minimising unnecessary information is a survival technique. It's simple and direct. There's no better way to capture darkness than with black and the way black draws attention to light and shade speaks to me of the separation (from the world of colour, from everyday life) that grief induces.

Levels of surfaces that are built up interest me. Also layers that are transparent such as water. I like the way meaning isn't immediately apparent and there's an appreciation of the interaction between the physical elements in the piece and the subject matter and how everything becomes a world within worlds. For this project, I'm interested in how I can create some kind of physical barrier, a screen between the viewer and the work behind it. That barrier could be marked or scratched or used as a medium itself that connects and plays with the artwork behind it. Grief is like that - there's a sense of separation from the world... like you're living behind glass.

The way one central focus simplifies things attracts me, pulls me in and gives me room for contemplation without overwhelm. Looking at familiar things from different angles and giving them my full attention allows me to see what I've never seen before and have a different and fuller life experience. I like the way the eye gets to travel through nothingness in order to approach that contemplation.

Hands and feet
Similarly to focus. using my hands and feet allows me to see the familiar through new eyes and feel my relationship to the world in a direct and sensual way. It's also an exploration of point of view and connection with the eyes of the viewer who is echoing the position of the subject. Hands and feet and body parts bring me instantly into the experience of having a finite body and form. Grief also does this.

The desire to be in a state of humility and awe has shaped much of my life. I want the ordinary to become transcendent. I want to feel the sacredness in everything and create a little silence in my work - both for the viewer and for me as the creator in the experience of creating. For many, spiritual teachings and religion holds them through states of loss and grief and allows some hope and although I'm not wanting to impose any spiritual ideals or beliefs in my work directly, I do want to contribute to more stillness and deep listening in the world.

When looking at my morphological analysis, I was again faced with another limitation of the digital medium in my art because scale (large scale in particular) is impossible to replicate or accurately convey. We can try for example. in the cinema or with the use of massive projectors on buildings but it will never be the same as standing in front of massive sculpture or big painting. Large scale, static pieces connect me with my own impermanence and shifting states of being and ask me to move, to approach, to step back, to inhabit the space, to raise or lower my eyes and turn my head in a way that digital art on my laptop, television or iPhone does not. The way large, static artworks put me immediately inside my body and physical relationship to the piece and the room in which it exists, thrills me. The forced embodiment that large scale creates is one way of connecting with the realities of the human form and mortality.

From figurative toward abstraction
My previous works have all been figurative and narrative and I want to move away from that in this project. My personal experience of grief has been a marked withdrawal from the world of "story" and "things" and "language" and "words" (for example, there was a whole year when I couldn't listen to music that had words in it). Those aspects of the mind that seek to define and name become increasingly meaningless in the grief state and can become even more evidence of one's disconnection from life. In that state, the experience is louder than any defining factor - defining factors can be limiting. It's like "don't impose upon me an experience. Let me have my own experience and see what I see and feel what I feel and let that be enough."

Emerging questions:

How do I contribute a sense of reverence and silence in my project? How do I move from the figurative toward the abstract? How can I use layering to deepen impact and encouraging physical interaction? How can point of view and focus be used to convey the experience of grief? How do I avoid imposing my ideas and ideals on the viewer?


1. Why do you think the theme identified best suits your work? 
For me, the most important theme my work will attempt to address is one of "identity". How do we, as modern humans relate to the inevitable losses of life? What losses are acceptable to grieve (and what losses are not acceptable to grieve)? How do we relate to the human experience of grief? Do we push through it? Do we become ashamed of it at a certain point? Do we seek to pathologise it or diagnose it so it can be treated? Where do people go to support themselves through this experience? Is there anywhere to go if you're not into religion or spiritual teachings? This is a societal concern and one I see our culture as poorly equipped to provide for.

2. Does your work overlap into another theme/sub theme? 
Absolutely. The theme of "the body" is inseparable from this project as we experience our mortality directly in the body. Also "time" as a theme is evident on many levels as we age we relate to grief and loss differently and times brings many losses (ie. the losses of aging, of function. of dreams, of friends and many more). "Spirituality" is also another obvious theme relevant to this project, particularly in the aspect of the provision of comfort or hope.

3. If so, what is it about your work that identifies with one theme over another? 
I find myself less interested in a focus on my own experience as the artist and more interested in the realm of social commentary and how we as individuals relate to the existing constructs of the society we live in. Identity is one of those constructs. Yes, we have our individual relationships to our own identity but we cannot form that identity without interacting with and coming up against the constraints and ideals of identity as dictated by our society. With "spirituality", I find myself less interested in it as a theme for this project. Specifically, it's not about giving any kind of comfort or hope to viewers... it's not about providing a space for healing or processing of grief. There's nothing to do here, nothing to change - only being with the experience exactly as it is.

4. How does your material practice suppport the concepts of your theme?
Using black only and it's interaction with paper, I hope to approach the experience of loss. Like our forms, paper is also impermanent and will break down. Charcoal comes from the burning of what was once alive and paper also comes from the destruction of what was once alive. Working in large scale, I hope to convey a sense of connection with the limitations of one's own physical body and how that body moves through time and space. I'm not sure how yet, but I'd like to create some kind of clear barrier - a perspex screen perhaps that separates the viewer from the artwork as grief separates the bereaved from the world. Drawing (especially large scale) is a method that focuses my mind without tension and a sense of freedom. Exploring the application and removal of a medium (ie. charcoal or paint) attracts me with it's kind and forgiving nature... the ability to keep working back into the surface... to build up layers... to remove what doesn't work and put it back on again interests me... In this space there are no mistakes possible just details emerging and receding. Also the use of my whole body in relation to the surface that larger scale allows - to come forward and focus on details... to step back and gain perspective and see relationships not visible from close up... and to move the big muscles of my body in the creation of the work itself.

4. Who are the creative thinkers that inform your work?