Charlotte Hodes
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Drawing Skirts Baring Wing 2008

Drawing Skirts Baring Wing, University of Northumbria, Newcastle 2008Catalogue essay by Charlotte Hodes

My interest in using skirts as subject matter within artworks developed out of my period of research as Associate Artist at the Wallace Collection from 2005 -2007. During this time I had the opportunity to look closely at both the ornate and highly decorated eighteenth century Sèvres vases as well as the Fêtes Galantes paintings of Jean-Antoine Watteau. I was drawn to the way in which the female figure represented in Watteau’s paintings invariably wear lush pastel coloured silk dresses with generous folds. I particularly noticed the contrast between the large areas depicting voluptuous silk fabric of the clothes and areas of bare skin; the petite head, neck and hands that peep out are contained within this expanse. The figure appears articulated and ‘defined’ by her dress.

Through my engagement with the research department at London College of Fashion I have found a way to apply the image of the skirt into these recent paper cuts, Drawing Skirts. The archive library at LCF holds some early twentieth century pattern books containing linear diagrams of flat skirt shapes. These diagrams2 reference the female figure but exist without depicting the female figure itself. The formal arrangement of the flat skirt shapes, depicted on a single page, owes more to practicality than to aesthetic judgement. From my perspective as a painter, these pages suggested potential compositions. They reveal a dynamic tension between the flat skirt shapes and the final volumous, animated skirt that they would become. The drawings that I made directly from the skirt diagrams formed the starting point for the papercuts. In the completed paper cuts, the skirt diagrams are re-presented with a new function and context in which they are no longer of practical use. I have also introduced linear or silhouetted female figures as a counterpoint to the diagrammatic skirt shapes; both the skirt shapes and figures are depicted ‘in motion’ but are held in check by the cut and collaged drawing across the patterned surface.

The skirt diagrams are solely constituted of graphic marks; dots, dashes and lines, of varying width and interval. I drew these diagrams as a way of incorporating the marks into my visual vocabulary. My drawings were then scanned and imported alongside linear pencil drawings of figures, which I derived from photographs of myself. Once in the computer, all these drawings were redrawn, the scale, line and colour modified. Once the compositions were resolved, the resulting large scale images were printed on a large format printer and were subsequently developed in the studio using the ‘hands – on’ process of collage with a scalpel blade and glue. The cut edge of the scalpel blade defined both the lines and the flat and patterned forms. The cut line is similar to graphic marks of the skirt diagrams and is in effect a ‘drawn’ line but unlike the pencil it has a limited capability. The lines have a flat quality, like a contour, rather than suggesting a rounded space or shape. They emphasize the surface and when repeated, act to build up patterned areas reminiscent of embroidery. The sweeps of printed and cut pattern in the completed paper cuts appear quite painterly and so it is paradoxical that it is the drawing and more specifically line drawing, which underlie the making of the work.

Every skirt has a distinct and specific shape and character, containing within it meaning and reference to it context. The paper cuts work as images containing their own logic and structure, carrying a sense of a fleeting female presence, which is, for me, so connected to the idea of ‘the skirt’.