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Chalk + spit = clouds

new large scale commission of a blackboard drawing by British artist Tacita Dean


Leading British artist Tacita Dean has created a new blackboard drawing for the Tempest exhibition at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG).

When I first raised the Tempest, No. 17599,  is a newly commissioned drawing of clouds which measures a monumental 244 x 976 cm. Tacita creates her epic blackboard works using chalk and her saliva making these works extremely fragile and delicate, this particular work is the largest of her blackboard drawings.

This work was commissioned by Tempest exhibition curator Juliana Engberg who describes the work as a ‘miraculous artifice of storm clouds gathering… built up from the dark under-base of her panels to produce a brilliant white, suggestive of the heavenly back lighting that makes the drama of clouds so evocative.’

Tacita Dean was born in Canterbury, England in 1965. She trained as a painter and now works in a variety of media, including drawing, photography and sound but is probably best known for her compelling 16 mm films. The sea has been a major protagonist in her work but more recently she has become fascinated with clouds. She was recently a guest scholar at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles and has been contemplating the continental differences between clouds in the sky. She recently wrote:

“These clouds differed from their European counterparts because they were nearly never gray but extremely variable and white; they appeared unconnected to rain, as in Europe, but instead to the imperceptible activity of winds high above the earth’s surface” Tacita Dean

Juliana Engberg notes in the exhibition catalogue

“Shakespeare, and many after him, Wordsworth, Shelly, Rosetti, Cummings et al., have evoked clouds – empirically and metaphorically – as part of a pastoral experience and to express inner thoughts and prescient foreboding. Shakespeare in particular used clouds to express anxiety, political instability, loss and uncertainty. For the sailor, out at sea, clouds become a landscape of weather and impressionable shapes; natural phenomena to observe, dream into and study.”

This work and many others in the exhibition perfectly connect TMAG’s zoology, cultural heritage and art collections with work by contemporary artists to draw on the themes in Shakespeare’s brilliant play The Tempest. The exhibition links the plays magic, islands and storms and our own island home and its tempestuous weather and maritime history.

The Tempest exhibition was part of TMAG’s exhibition program in 2016.