I have just completed reading J G Ballard’s High Rise. I found the book was definitely a case of concept better than execution. Ballard writing style was very simple and I was expecting something a little more challenging to read. Either way the actual concept of the book was really good and it’s given me a good start to my last semesters project. The book is about a new high rise apartment block where the higher up the tower you live the greater your financial status. There are several areas that are communal such as the supermarket, school and swimming pool on the 10th and the top floor sculptural park. Everything starts of fine but over time several minor incidents concerning the residents eventually evaluates to all out gang war where residents of floors get together to launch attacks on rival floors consisting of a higher or lower class of society. Eventually the whole tower block descends to anarchy where most people have either left or been killed and men collect groups of women to keep in their lairs to use as they see fit.
I read the book to see if it could produce a creative spark in me and I like the idea of trying to produce something visual from a source such as a book but not produce too figurative a result. I got my sketchbook and started to create some sketches based on my initial responses to the book.
This is my first response which is probably very literal considering the subject matter from which it came from. I was very much thinking about the different floors in the building and that they were individual segments in isolation from the other floors yet still connected. I also wanted to get away from a very structured geometrically perfect grid formation. Hence this sketch was done in a very free-handed way.
I didn’t like the heavy tonal effect on this sketch and in all honesty it looked quite removed from what a “piece of art” should look like to me. However, it was the first response I made from reading the book and these early attempts are very much needed to allow more considered work to follow.
This attempt worked much better than the first. Here I tackled my idea with a much more linear approach. Visually it is also more abstract than the previous sketch that looked very much like a bad sketch of a building. I was thinking about the concept in the book of the floors in the “high rise” being self-contained entities, alienated from the other floors but at the same time physically connected to each other. To visualise this I had the idea of making the sketch using one long continual mark where the pen did not leave the paper but continued all the way to the bottom of the page and back up the other side. This way the “floors” are both separate entities yet still connected physically to each other like how I perceived them in the book. Although this is a very simple sketch I was quite surprised how easily I was able to take what was a concept from a written piece of work and create a visual rendition of it.
I also like the way the sketch has optical qualities about it in a similar way to the work of Bridget Riley. The lines are sufficiently close yet inconsistent in distance apart to produce an interesting visual effect. The two columns have also intersected in the middle to create a third random column.
I produced a few more sketches along the lines of the previous one but altered aspects with each new one. Sometimes I would use a different medium such as biro instead of gel pen or sometimes pencil. For this new sketch I decided to overlay one sketch on top of the other. Sometimes when I am making sketches I will just turn my paper 90 degrees and continue working. This approach allows me to not be too protective of what I am doing and it also increases the chances of good ideas coming out of random acts which I think is a vital tactic in producing abstract art. The skill is identifying the good random ideas from the bad ones!
This sketch extended the idea of one continual line making the floors but this time I created the “floors” in a non-uniform way so that they looked less and less like the floors in a building. I then turned the apad around 90 degrees and continued the same principle as before but using pencil instead of gel pen.
This sketch below was made using the same principles of the one above but I tried to make the clusters of “floors” neater as the looseness of the previous sketch detracted from the overall aesthetic. This sketch also had several layers of pen and pencil “floors” on top of each other, sometimes segmented, other times not.
I am pleased with this outcome as it is the result of an initial idea that came to me from reading the book and it has evolved over several progressive stages to the state it is in now.
This has exercise has shown me that it is possible to for me to create something productive with fairly abstract qualities from a work of fiction.
I am currently not sure how I can progress this work further into a painted outcome without it being a simple copy of what I have currently done. I like the linear qualities of this final work and that is something I could take forward using spray paint on canvas, either primed or unprimed.