Georgina Houghton ‘Spirit Drawings’ Courtauld Gallery, London
I particularly wanted to see the work of Georgina Houghton because of the present project in Part 3 in which I‘m exploring markmaking resulting from blind drawing and drawing machines. I have an interest in understanding what happens to the artist’s response when the element of ‘self’ is removed from the drawing process…when the conscious mark is subdued and replaced with the emotional response.
Georgina Houghton (1814 – 1884) was a spiritualist medium who in the 1860s and 1870s produced paintings which were largely abstract watercolours and which she declared were guided by various spirits. Little is known of this artist who has been dismissed as an eccentric, amateur artist and this is the first exhibition of her work in Britain. Houghton was a dedicated spiritualist, a movement which attracted many believers in Victorian England. She pioneered the use of drawing as a method of expressing communications with the dead. She would hold a séance, talk to her spirit guide and draw complex, colourful watercolours. These works anticipate the work of 20th century artists and the automatic and unconscious drawings of the later Surrealists.*
There is no doubt that when you stand in front of these works, one cannot help being in awe of the draughtsmanship and the quality of the watercolour. The layer upon layer of fine beautifully drawn watercolour lines are impressive and result in extraordinary images. But they left me unmoved. I was looking for the response which went beyond the visual and there just wasn’t any. For me they lacked any lasting depth and the element of repetitiveness of the shapes suggested a formula.There was a sameness which was disquieting in particular with those images relating to the so called spirits of dead artists. But there was no disputing the extraordinary nature of the images and the uniqueness of the work produced by a woman at that period.
*Seeing this exhibition led onto further research into ‘automatic drawing’…
Kandinsky and Mondrian were fascinated by spiritualism. Mondrian felt his art reflected a greater universal truth beyond everyday appearance.
Automatic drawing was pioneered by Andre Masson – a means of expressing the subconscious. The hand moved randomly on the paper and so the element of chance came into play and this could be attributed to a ‘spirit control’ according to some.
Sub conscious creativity included dreams, hallucinations, automatic or random image generation – anything which operated outside of rational thought processes.