marc woodhead
lines of enquiry
  Lines of Enquiry

I remember, aged 6 or 7 being mesmerized by film footage on television of a great, terrifying and seemingly beautiful billowing plume of smoke exploding upwards, miles into the sky in tinted technicolour. Maybe it was the fact that it was filmed from such an elevated position in the air, the slow movement of the camera and how, at such a distance, the explosion appeared to move in an awesome slow motion. My only reference point, the only way I had to make sense of this imagery, was my children’s illustrated Old Testament, of fire and brimstone, of burning bushes. I assumed the film in front of me was a recording of a work of God. My mother, realizing the error of my excitement, explained that I was looking at an atom bomb dropped from the sky over Nagasaki, and the moments after the instant deaths of more than 50,000 people. It was a moment I have never forgotten.

Experimenting in etching, drawing and painting, I have been creating landscapes of opposites; of serene pastoral spaces and of violent explosions, of Scots pines and detonations, of dandelions, petals and car bombs, of haloes and of nuclear winds. Looking at the way beauty and violence have been represented in the History of Art, I have imagined walking through Leonardo’s drawing of the Birch Copse, and into Ludwig Meidner’s exploding cities. I have walked along the tracks of Samuel Palmer’s moonlit idylls, and gazed over the surfaces of Andy Warhol’s blankly treated disasters and looked across the sensually seductive surface of Titian’s violent Flaying of Marsyas. I have imagined nuclear winds in Corot’s boughs, and trees as explosions in Arnold Bocklin’s early landscapes. I have imagined Giorgione’s pastoral shadows as billowing smoke, and explosions in the cherry blossoms.

I first came to the idea of Pastoral Explosions in 1996, making compositions using spliced up photocopies of Ludwig Meidner’s explosions. Creating with marks of destruction, an expressionist theme with the twist of re-presenting these black and white inky expressive marks of Meidner, blankly traced in serene landscape colours, in greens and blue greys, in photocopied prints and paintings ... explosions in pastoral spaces.

It was this interest in creating pictures using the marks of other artists as a starting point, of working in different idioms, quoting two opposing styles at once, contrasting image and colours, and at the same time, of distancing my own making that lead to an interest in print making, the printed image on the paper is removed from me.

In Guernsey, in October 2010 during my IAIRP Residency, experimenting using copper etching plates, I worked with the idea of imaginary explosions in trees, in Scots pines. Using soft grounds on square format plates, I made soft, diffused, indistinct lines that seemed to belong to a world of Giorgione, of pastoral spaces, whilst at the same time, in my mind, signifying a trajectory of destruction. On hard grounds, I incised sharp slender pine needles, the revelation of Durer’s haloes, fluctuating between raw and refined mark making to create distant explosions close to the surface, printed in triptych format. The idea of near and far, of printed mark making, distant but on the surface, continued this theme of opposites and is, in part, a response to the presence of violent action in the world, to the changing nature of warfare, and of the literal nearness of distant events brought close in the media on a daily basis, and the question of how to respond.