Frances Bowman - Action Research Bursary

image: 'Paul's Dad' portrait by Frances Bowman 2013 Frances Bowman is 1 of 4 artists awarded an Action Reserach Bursary through the Yorkshire Artspace Engaged Practice Starter Studio Programme. She is developing ideas and work in response to the Parson Cross neighbourhood during 2013;

Notes on the Project so far – 19/06/13

I have been looking for people to draw portraits of. I draw in charcoal on A2 paper and I like to spend at least two hours on each drawing. There are two purposes to doing this – one is to capture the subject’s likeness as best I can on paper. The other is to spend two hours sitting with someone, getting to know them and what they are like at that particular time. These two purposes depend on each other. I need a sense of curiosity towards them, and a sense of wanting to get it right for them in order to achieve a good likeness in the drawing. At the same time, I need the task of making a portrait, to have a reason to spend two hours sitting quietly with someone, looking at them, talking sometimes.

So far I have drawn four people; three people I already knew in Sheffield, and then someone I had not met.

The question of how I find people to draw has been brought up by several people as an issue. The risk I may end up inadvertently choosing only certain kinds of people to draw and then presenting this selection of people as if they were representative of ‘the people of Parson Cross’ or some other theoretical group. However, I am less interested in creating an overview of a particular population by presenting representational drawings of faces, and more interested in examining the act of drawing a portrait and in getting to know individuals through this activity. This means that when it comes to presenting my work, I will be looking for ways that certain elements of this process can be made publicly visible.

My initial research question was ‘What does “working together” mean in relation to art practice, and what does this mean about the value of art for those involved?’ If you asked me to explain what is meant by this question now, I don’t think I would be able to tell you because it does not make much sense to me anymore. I think this is because I don’t find the term ‘art’ to be useful in relation to this. However, through the conversations and discussions I have taken part in with the other artists and mentors, I have realised that what I am interested in again and again, is to do with understanding and intelligibility. I am interested in the point at which something begins to dawn in one’s mind, the point at which something begins to crystallise and start making sense, or form into the asking of a question.  So my new question is - “What identities will me and my sitter create for ourselves, and what connections will we make with each other through the shared time spent drawing/being drawn?” 

For someone who works intuitively, I was surprised to find the way in which action research as a methodology can actually be quite empowering if approached in the right way. Rather than limiting my activity to conventional ways of doing things, it asks me to pay attention to what I am implicitly doing, and find ways of talking and writing about it.

I have learned that it is better to draw someone I haven’t met than to draw someone I already know. When drawing someone I already know our previous identities come into the session and it can be embarrassing or awkward. Because the finished drawings fall straightforwardly into the tradition of portraiture and are can be quite striking the interesting process involved in drawing it is less easy to show, almost hidden behind the finished drawing. I may have to refrain from showing the drawings at all in order to allow the elements I want to focus on to become visible.

I will aim to draw approximately 10 people. Then through writing about the experience I will explore ways of presenting different elements of the process. I also hope that through getting to know people in this way new ideas for artworks may be generated, that can be made together. Along side this portrait drawing I have been developing a few other plans through being involved in the Socially Engaged Starter Action Research Bursary. I am planning to make some public sculptures in Parsons Cross with another of the Bursary Artists next month. I also made a very interesting connection through the IBS Network, which has its office along the corridor from our starter studios in SOAR. Having an interested in the role art can have in health, I went into the office and introduced myself to Kirsty Murphy, the office manager to find out more about what they do. She put me in touch with a phd student Vicky Grant from Sheffield University researching the use of storytelling in the treatment of IBS. She is interested in working with an artist as part of this. She is also using action research methodology and we are currently talking about ways we might be able to work together.