Pete Codling is a 42 year old artist based in Portsmouth England. He has been Artist in Residence at the SPACE gallery in the University of Portsmouth for last six months. He has been quietly drawing directly onto the walls what must be the largest ever freehand charcoal drawing ever done. Well over 200sqm of densely drawn imagery covers the gallery walls, every corner and crevice has been touched by his permanently black charcoaled hands.
The artwork was created with compressed black charcoal; well over 600 hundred sticks were used. He has covered the rough textured white surfaces of the gallery as a charcoal epitaph to his old student studio space that will be demolished in December along with the drawing. Inspired by an argument on the current ‘business’ of art education; “the death of the age of romance”. He declares it as commentary on the crisis in our art education system and a return to drawing, the primary language of art.
The drawing depicts mythological animals and gods from Roman, Greek and Christian mythology. He has woven in references to technology, virtual reality, art history, dreaming, idolatry, utopia and romance. His six month “meditation” has allowed him to explore and connect his thoughts in something that crosses boundaries between cave painting, murals, frescos and graffiti.
It is a celebration of Drawing in the context of the Art School and the faculty of Creative Technologies. It does hopefully have something to say about difference between corporeal realities, that which is tangible and the potential follies of the virtual and the pursuit of utopias. He is no ‘luddite’, far from it, but he does strongly believe we must have greater empathy with the world around us before we can convincingly build other realities. “It cannot all be about war games, porno and adverts for consumables, what about the other senses and needs. What is it to be human in that virtual space?”
Part of the imagery shows a corpse on a table being stuffed or mummified, surrounded in the style of the Last Supper, with a discussion of people offering their ideas of what it is to be human. Other parts refer subversively to the story of Leda and Zeus the swan. There is Athena, the goddess of arts and craft and warfare holding an Ak47, or is it a flute? Even the Minotaur who Codling says is ‘Picasso’s self-portrait’, captured and carried by Chiron a centaur the great teacher, who carries a dead or wounded Perseus, the messenger defender and killer of archaic monsters. And is that Ariel the angel, who rules all things elemental and earthly who sits in judgement on his back? Codling points out that Chiron died from a poison arrow he made for his student. A fitting metaphor he feels for the problems with in art education.
There are Sirens carrying scrolls of circuit boards. Neptune whose Triton forms a USB symbol holds a dead mermaid by her tail. You will find I-pads, mobiles, laptops and cameras amongst the books, scrolls, sheets of and artist’s canvases furnishing the multitude of scenes depicted. We have the hunter, the giant Orion, blindly in search of the sun guided by the blacksmith on his shoulder. We even have a Bacchus who has out grown his tortoise. There are many things going on in this vast picture both obviously auto biographical but also reaching out to comment on the human condition in general.
Codling has reinvented the familiar classical stories, juxtaposing them to create a classical nonsense that does try to communicate something contemporary. He has been inspired by this year’s travels in Cyprus, Italy and Ireland responding with great “mythology, romance and blarney!” “The fact that this is a temporary artwork is part of its myth” the myth that he says we create “for ourselves in order to be more human, more alive”.
In what he claims as the largest “proper drawing”, in the world by one artist, he says; “..Who else would have the free time to draw for six months, unpaid, over 200sqms of art, using 600+ sticks of charcoal in the knowledge that all this work would be destroyed with the building as soon as it was finished?”.
The concept behind the artwork was to create something that does question our contemporary values in art, to use our inherent respect and intrigue for the skill and craft of draughtsmanship and capture the audience with the power of a picture. He has tried to compete with the everyday visual clutter and to try and say something of cultural significance and value. Has he been successful? Perhaps? Has he tried? Most definitely, and bravo for trying!
A limited edition artist book documenting this unique artwork; ‘Dust to Dust’, it will be published early next year.
Press release from email@example.com.