Even before we attended the rope making and braiding workshop, rope, specially the one used in fishing and ships, appears to me a beautiful object, one deserving close up inspection and rendition in drawing.
And of course, with my predisposition to anything miniature, I started to look at the fine doilies with a magnifying glass. Taking very close-up of the tiny knots and fibres. I suppose drawing is perhaps a different way to miniaturise, it is at least a fantastic tool to play with scales.
I made this drawing (‘Whale Yarns’) last year. It is a very small drawing, approximately 6-7 cm across. But we know harpoons are big, we know what they are used for. However, this harpoon is resting on a ball of rope, as in knitting. I have been for a while interested in drawing a comparison between the tools used in whaling (and fishing generally), and those used in knitting, crocheting, quilting, lace-making. To establish a relationship between the two activities. So far, I got lots of sketches but nothing definite, ‘Whale Yarns’ is my first finished drawing approaching these ideas.
So I was loosely searching the net for other artistic responses to rope in drawing. I found the works of Scott Kelley and Huguette Despault May. Both with a figurative style, but with subtle differences.
Kelley also has a lot of work relating to whaling, in particular, a series of watercolour portraits of children from lost whalers, which I find really beautiful, worth a look if you don’t know his work. But for the purpose of this post, I wanted to focus on his painting of pot warp (the rope used by lobstermen to secure their traps). They are not huge, all are around 20″ x 24″ (50 x 60 cm) more or less, so I imagine the rope is almost life size or a bit smaller. They are delicate watercolours or egg tempera on paper. It is a shame not to be able to see them live as I can guess from the screen make rope lose its robustness an appear instead delicate, quite ethereal and almost transparent; in fact, in the watercolour ones, the colour fades away towards the edges of the composition and we are left with the simplest of line drawings to evoke the material.
This delicacy of the material is also predominant in May’s work. But in her very intricate charcoal black and white drawings, the scale is the thing. The series is entitled ‘Hawser’ which already indicates the scale of the material itself (Hawser is a nautical term for a thick cable or rope used in mooring or towing a ship), but the drawing itself is considerately larger that Kelleys, all 50″ x 38″ (127 x 96 cm). And her ropes are broken, torn, entangled in themselves. The messiest part of the rope resemble human hair, which also adds a different kind of physicality to rest of the mangled threads and knots, they become quietly visceral.
May is based in New Bedford and Kelley in Peaks Island (Maine), they both have influences from the sea in their work, both animals with a marine affinity or the materials of an maritime industry. Both present an ordinary material and transform it through drawing into something more beyond itself.