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|Flight from Gateshead Hall I|
Scratchings: Talon, Sting and Claw is a collection of detailed and intensive drawings by Hamilton artist Stephanie Vegh that rework book illustrations to create a new perspective on the past. This engaging show brings together new work with a growing body that has shown in Toronto and internationally.In the artist's words:
Scratchings explores the often devastating impact of overlooking sensitive natural populations. From the bees that pollinate our crops to the rats of ancient infestations, Vegh’s work discusses how these tiny creatures shape human history through their presence or absence in our lives.
“While playful in the spirit of an idle student’s textbook scratchings, my drawings in found history books reveal a serious stake in these interventions,” says Vegh. “My labour-intensive articulation of diminutive subjects at an excessive scale in relation to their illustrated environments subverts the logic of these books, forcing a fusion between their history and my own.”
Taken as swarms, these bees and rats have the capacity to itch at our anxieties and unsettle us with their fleeting and chaotic movement through space. Recent drawings combine various bird species with the words and imagery of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre emphasizing the influence that these creatures exert on the human imagination, both as metaphors for our own character and uneasy intruders in the comfort of our domestic delusions.
This started as an entirely desperate measure – I had a long-standing invitation from the Leeds College of Art & Design to contribute to a curatorial project on the Brontë sisters and no time to conceive of how to tackle that literary legacy – but the time at Gibraltar Point was also a great object lesson in creating unstructured space to relax the mind and give ideas time to evolve. (...) Most studio days ended with extended breaks on the sand, reading and re-reading the works of Charlotte, Emily and Anne while, quite significantly as it turned out, watching flocks of birds sail past.
The prevalence of birds in the writings of the Brontë sisters was inescapable, so much so that I was compelled to return to mainland TO on one of those spontaneous ferry trips on a wild goose chase (sorry) for a copy of Bewick’s History of British Birds, the library tome/bludgeoning weapon referenced in the first chapter of Jane Eyre. When I discovered the perfect facsimile edition in the attic shelves of the first used bookstore I tried, I decided it had to be a good sign. Creative direction acquired, I restocked my beer supply to celebrate and retreated back to the island for several satisfying days of dissecting that book and
reassembling its pages into hybrid fragments. (...)
After all this revision and erasure, I finally had the foundations from which to illustrate the characters of Jane Eyre. Jane’s descriptions of each character (herself included) are fused into Bewick’s ornithological observations thanks to much character counting and patience with a crow quill pen, while the final touch of a watercolour bird in flight painted on scraps from the destroyed book and carved into place in the finished work helped relieve my (and I suspect, Jane’s) claustrophobia in the face of Bewick’s parade of strangely obedient flightless birds.