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13 November 2023

5 mins

Phil Sawdon

Phil Sawdon, Shadow or Silhouette That Makes Itself, 2008, modified in 2022, pastel and watercolour on paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

Competent at drawing … I used to chalk similarities on the shop door. Needless to say, I endeavoured to speak very quietly to the door, meanwhile the donkey stopped short, and would not move. In my head I have developed a discernment for profiles … previously tottering around a travelling fair … we noticed one more donkey shivering … he had eaten the leaded pencil yet managed to stammer that a profile-cutter wanted an assistant … thought I should do it … I had to tout … periodically mount the likeness on card … 

‘Please step inside … have a likeness taken …’ 

Words, lines, and blots into a head, creatures … ‘à la [Etienne de] Silhouette’ … outline drawing … shadow portrait … drawn onto a substrate … silhouette … at a snail’s pace.

Phil Sawdon, Page 1, The Artificial Sketchbook, 2005, pen and ink on paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

Three blind stamps … ‘Museum’, ‘The Fictional Museum of Drawing’ and ‘Artificial Sketchbook’… a label, a legend to identify the silhouette that at one time was probably drawn in ‘The Fictional Museum of Drawing’ … the former with a bugle player with out-stretched arm, the latter with a dachshund. Sometimes the stamps can be trusted, sometimes they cannot. Am I without drawing or machine? A physiognotrace … physiognomy … pantograph … physionotraces … alliterative … a wooden framed tripod contraption … shadow of the sitter … a lit candle against a screen … Lavater (1741-1801) … ‘Essays on Physiognomy, for the Promotion of the Knowledge and the love of Mankind’ … 1772 … possibly a person’s true personality is exposed in the subtle physical characteristics of their appearance … the silhouette divulges those qualities … a multi-layered narrative?

Phil Sawdon, Page 2, The Artificial Sketchbook, 2005, pen and ink on paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

Customarily the Museum does not rely on labels and or stamps … perhaps the chance of a signature … perhaps a tell-tale sign that turns out to be intangible. There is a style …

A pen and a piece of discounted white paper inserted beneath. Long, thin, and at times dangling from a ‘commonplace book’ … momentarily a scrapbook of signatures, soon to be analysed.

The Museum Keeper archived a signature collar, both cut and then drawn. A small notch in the bust. 

Perhaps with the sitter … a defective contrivance …

Phil Sawdon, Triptych No. #2, 1993, watercolour on paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

… occasional brush strokes on display, a black colorant coating, thick, matte, opaque often water dry … bone black, sitting on a thin black surface, variation from silhouette to silhouette, pigment and binder, silica, wax and gum … watercolours?

Phil Sawdon, Contradictions, 1995, watercolour on paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

… India ink, pine soot, beer and tallow smoke … lamp black, dry watercolour, moist pan watercolour, carbon black, gall-nuts, white wine vinegar, iron filings, gum arabic … gouache for details ornamented with whites ‘bronzed’ or ‘touched’ … probably not …

Phil Sawdon, La Souris Est En Dessous De La Table, Page 20i, 2015, mixed media.
Image courtesy of the artist.

‘Did you ever practice with scissors on the cut-out of a deckchair?’

‘I cut all kinds of things including sealing a head in the box.’

Aside: ‘Only long straight shanks with short, sharp points, slack on the hinge … embroidery types are a partiality, they provide a flexible dexterity that transforms varied directions for an easy does it persuasion … ‘

In combination … a knife, a stiletto, a bradawl, a stylus and a needle spike … a side of the dry thin oiled paper the drawing is cut from, the edge is curled, trodden and tattered … In the background a simulated Albrecht Dürer’s head, engraving ‘Knight Death and the Devil’, 1513.

‘Scissor-types’ … ‘hollow cut’ with a painted body … cut from a light paper, the middle, the positive, the furthest place from fixed points of view … falls away …leaving the negative, the outside … backed by melancholic paper and desolate fabrics drawn into a space of theory and practice, in between the mind and the hand.

Shadows play … sunlight scraping on a photosensitive surface made to fool whilst tracing shadows.

A hand drawn shade … a paper-cut silhouette … querying … ‘What shall I draw?’

‘I don’t know how to draw!’

Phil Sawdon, What Shall I Draw?/Reflection, 2007, video stills. Image courtesy of the artist.

A humdrum shadow show(s) … a stylus tracing the silhouette … that of a younger self mostly devoid of interest … an apology of allegorical shades.

‘Use a cardboard box and a pencil.’

‘No doubt (a)A (s)Sure and (c)Convenient (m)Machine for (d)Drawing (d)Silhouettes’ …

Half veiled by a cardboard box, the right-handed draughter, engrossed, clutches the sharp blacklead pencil which holds the box firm to an unseen chair and a candle on an elaborate carved stand offers a trace of poise to the Museum … no head dress for sitting … decorated in whatever manner …

Phil Sawdon, Triptych No. #3, 1993, watercolour on paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

Meeting many people but not being touched by anyone …

Phil Sawdon, Triptych No. #1, 1993, watercolour on paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

The narrative takes place around and yet is distanced from the silhouetted foreground figure. A pull between a highly controlled visual response and an openness of interpretation invited by the absence of meaningful titles is perhaps pivotal to the dynamics of any narrative.

Twisted from the inside out … tones and contrasts determined in black and white. The silhouette emerges indifferent to the paper … perched, devoid of details … whilst on the others hand … ahead … an intimate atmosphere.

However, there are oversights …

A poverty of silhouette …


hosted by TRACEY at Loughborough University

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