Praise God through Dance

Nigerian Praise Performance

I stumbled across this video:

http://process.arts.ac.uk/content/nigerian-praise-performance

…which piqued my curiosity about the nature of using dance as ‘prayer’ in a literal sense. I’ve decided to create an illustration based upon this idea.

I”m thinking of this as an exploration of metaphorical imagery – the illustration doesn’t move but the dance illustrated does, so that in itself is some kind of substitution.

something that caught my eye in the above video was the juxtaposition of the deliberate and the incidental – the woman in the video has created her dress from plain fabric and lino prints, she has sewn on other decorations and has created her dance. This performance takes place on the landing of a stairwell using, perhaps, a phone propped on the handrail to make the video. It is a triumph of art over a total lack of facilities and is, perhaps. common to ‘praise’ or ‘prayer’ that it can be offered in any circumstance… can there ever be a wrong time or place such that it would negate the intent?

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In this first initial sketch taken from the video (willow charcoal) I’ve tried to capture a moment that is full of the movement of the dance. In this case I’ve taken a pose that is off balance – it cannot be still for it needs to continue in order not to be a fall.

The marks are made mainly in the negative space and through accident I’ve discovered that I can show the intended shape of the subject within whilst at the edges of the drawing continue the marks to show movement. The edges where they are ‘scribbly’ don’t represent anything in the scene itself but they do provide a place to include that energetic motif.

I wonder now if I can do the opposite and use lines that are so rigid that they create a stillness or sapping of energy.

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The intent was to ‘sap’ the energy from the dance – experiment with creating stillness by using less ‘dynamic’ lines… but I think the opposite has happened. This appears to be a matter of contrast of textures or line – the fluid shapes of the figure are set agains a grid-like back ground which serves to accentuate the movement of the figure, the way she is a little off balance as if in the middle of a move.

I’m looking for some existing examples of this technique in use by other artists – it seems hard to search for as I don’t know what words describe it the best.

What has occurred to me though is that the opposite effect – a ‘moving’ background with a stiller figure in the foreground – would also be effective in this way. I though of a surfer standing on the shore studying the raging surf… I’m sure there’s a scene from “Point Break” just like this.

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This is a quick sketch of that idea – a still surfer watching a violent surf. My immediate through from this is to wonder about cutting out the surfer… in the monotone dancer before the figure and the background were blended as they were both black whereas the surfer here is obviously a different colour. Cutting a hole in the paper where the surfer figure is will remove the colour difference… it might even suggest new ideas… perhaps the surfer is only ‘whole’ when surfing… watching is emptyness!

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Here’s that – simulated cut-out in Photoshop to see how it looks. The outline could be better arranged so as to show the surf board and the surfer as more separate shapes. Cropping has made the image a bit more interesting as it now appears that the background continues rather than ending like a vignette.

The surfer image overall is a bit messy. It harks back to “Jeremy Clarkson in a Speedboat” and the work of Robert Proch in an attempt to evoke movement using abstract lines. I’m quite intregued by the neater spirals that lay over the top of more smudged lines… the smudginess stops those spirals from becoming like decorative appliques on material – they rather hang in the air. This is another textural contrast between the soft edged tones and the hard, neater lines of the spirals.

Something this does remind me of is that the original dance video notes talked about the pattern on the dress being put on by  hand by the dancer – this being part of the worship, a personal act of decoration that contributes to the praise as opposed to being a bought print.

This suggests continuing the design inside the figure in a way that picks up on the idea of ‘appliques’ and material designs.

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This didn’t go how I was thinking. The straight lined background was inspired by staircase railings that appeared in the original video sometimes. I tried to put a little dimension into the – receding into the distance a little. There are a few blue-green circles on the dress inspired by the decorations on the real one.

Then I started to look at something more macroscopic – the overall intention of the whole body position and I imagined how it would be as one, broad brushstroke. The strong brown band down the centres (actually drawn from the bottom upwards) wasn’t intended to obliterate the figure underneath as much. I tested the yellow colour to see if that was less opaque… and I may have pressed less hard.

One of the things affecting this I think is the lack of a ‘tooth’ on the paper – it’s a plain white sketch book. If I had been using something rougher I might have been able to get the same expression without the solidness of the colour, which might have been better.

I don’t think this band adds to the composition as I have it, and the previous version with the straight lines and empty centre was an effective minimal representation. However this strong colour band does suggest a different approach whereby the band is drawn first and then it is augmented to indicate the dancing figure… so that the band forms all or just part of that figure and can be seen in both contexts – as an abstract and figuratively.

Another thought occurs to me reflecting on the two images – dancer and surfer – on this page which is involvement: the dancer is fully involved in the image,makes it up, is central to the action; the surfer is detached, observing and waiting, which gave rise to cutting him out altogether. It’s an interesting idea in the surfer picture that the background has become the subject… indeed it was the thought of the background – the rough breaking waves – that inspired the picture, rather than of the surfer.

Turning this observation upon the dancer it has to be said that the background is irrelavent – the stairs in the original were not significant; the shape of the lines I have drawn in three differing styles were there only to serve the dancer’s image, not having any important role in themselves. An so I am tempted to ask why is it there?

It appeared originally as an accidental outcome from drawing a dancer and defining her shape using the darker surrounds which had to be drawn in in some way.

Two further choices for development suggest themselves – remove the background and make the picture entirely out of the subject material; or find a depiction for the background that connects with the foreground figure… some kind of context that makes sense or enriches the message.

When I cut out the surfer I suggested that he is ’empty’ – fulfilled only when surfing. With the prayer dance I would think the opposite is true – that the dance is a fulfilling experience (perhaps not dissimilar to the surfer’s feeling of surfing!?) and that there might be scope to represent that in the image.

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These are some visual development thumbnails to explore the ideas I’ve been writing about. The idea of continuing the flow of the figure beyond the figure and trying to express the joy of worship and fulfilment in different ways.

One thought I keep having is how much I liked my very first charcoal sketch – I think this may be a deeply personal effect whereby I am strongly drawn to it because it is my work… but perhaps there is a draw in its particular kind of simplicity: the charcoal, the monotone, the raw and unrefined marks. I may not ignore this – I could develop a more minimal approach using less marks, each one expressing more of the whole picture.

In my latest picture I’ve explored how meaningless the extra marks are, and why I’m dawn to the particular spiralling curve as a form of expression. The pens I am using may be inducing a certain kind of drawing that gravitates toward the curved line and I might find other forms if I change my medium/applicator.

It was interesting here to explore drawing the solid mass of the dress first, both in positive and negative forms. It suggested a boldness to be further decorated. The pictuer in the centre where the (meaningless) spirals flow through the figure, bounded by solid colour was an appealing look… but it was a little disturbing also – what was flowing might ‘destroy’ the figure; I tjink I’m looking more for something that goes into and/or out of the figure rather than something that becomes or replaces it.

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