'12 Capricci' by Diana Smillie

by Diana Smillie

These drawings were done  using a blackback seagull's feather quill, at speed and with no prior mental image of what figures were going to populate them.

Looking at the title, there is the obvious semantic link to Goya's great series of etchings, Los Caprichos. With my drawings however I find myself aligning with a more musical incarnation of freedom and imagination: the 24 Capricci for solo violin composed by one of the darkest lords of Western culture, the virtuoso assoluto Niccolo Paganini.

Published for the first time in 1820, these short, intense pieces are bristling with demonic brio, and are alive with impulsive, improvisatory qualities, and it's here that I find connections with my work. Not just the sometimes dark imagery, but also the responsive flexibility of the quill as it twists, turns and snags to create sudden and unexpected splatters of ink remind me of the violin's flexible and responsive catgut strings - not actually from cats, but the intestines of sheep or goats; like the feather, both taken from nature in the service of seeking and finding freedom in art.

The intuitive, exploratory nature of Paganini's Capricci is something I relate to in my work strongly, as when I draw in this manner I learn new things along the way, usually by accident. As I improvise I am guided by the pen as it leads me across the paper. The black lines that evolve into coherent forms across the page remind me of the clear, sinuous explorations of a solo violin as it glides and curvettes to build the edifice of its harmonies .

There is absolutely no literal connection between these drawings and the 24 Capricci - as in music, they come from a place in which words have no power. Finding meanings in them, as the viewer, is your job. There is no right or wrong way; one of the greatest gifts I get back as an artist is being told by someone what a work means to them, what they see in it; it's always surprising and I'm constantly amazed by how different people take their own personal meaning away with them. I'd like to think that the freedom I've experienced when drawing this series transmits to the viewer as a freedom of interpretation.

Diana Smillie