Reflections on – Abandoned book study

Robert Motherwell

Abandoned book study 1981

Tyler Graphics Ltd.

'Abandoned book study', 1981, by Robert Motherwell. Lithograph printed from one aluminium plate

‘Abandoned book study’, 1981, by Robert Motherwell. Lithograph printed from one aluminium plate

Robert Motherwell was an American painter and printmaker. His gestural works are attributed to the influential New York School and often they are categorised by the sweeping term ‘Abstract Expressionism’. I don’t particularly find that term very useful.  In thinking about writing about Abandoned book study, 1981 I was more attuned to his practice and its relationship to the concept of ‘automatism’. Automatism is an alternative term that describes an uninterrupted drawing process used to explore the subject’s unconscious mind[1].

The text that will shortly follow is an exercise in automatism. It is a series of free associations prompted by Abandoned book study, which arrived uninterrupted in text-form from my subconscious. In keeping with the principles Motherwell applied to his practice I have refused to edit the piece. It is what it is: a documented moment where the mind and body coalesce for the purpose of creative production.

Robert Motherwell in his studio, Greenwich Village, November 1983. Photo: Steven Sloman

Robert Motherwell in his studio, Greenwich Village, November 1983. Photo: Steven Sloman

It looks like a street sign. Actually no, more of a bus stop I reckon. Thinking about bus stops, that reminds me of Leon Kelly. I’m age 13 at Seymour Technical High School – possibly the top contender for my most awkward period of adolescence. I had this untamable cow lick in the middle of my fringe hair and braces. Did I have boobs yet? Probably. Leon was this moody kid I saw in Math class. He lived on some farm out past the army base.  I think they had cows, does that matter? I’m not really sure it does. Well I have written it down now so we can’t leave that part out.

 I had my first proper kiss with Leon at the bus stop. I’m not really sure how it happened but in the end he rammed his tongue in my mouth, with boundless energy, like someone who doesn’t know how to use a Bamix. You know one of those stick mixers used for whipping cream? Anyways, I really wasn’t sure what you were meant to do in the ‘moment’ so I just stood there, all rigid with my eyes open.

We didn’t speak after that. Did I abandon Leon? Definitely not, I don’t even think we spoke more than six words beforehand so it’s not like it made a difference afterwards.  It was more like an exercise. You know, a mutual practice run for next time. When it would be more monumental. Not a weird pash at a bus stop.

– Anja Loughhead

Anja is an emerging multi-disciplinary artist based in Queanbeyan, NSW working with photography, drawing, video performance and installation. Her practice explores how photography has been used to represent culture and the subsequent implications this poses upon personal identity. Through the re-purposing of archive material and the manipulation of everyday items, Anja combine images, material and text to reveal alternative narratives. As the grandchild of Finnish migrants, these methods enable her to explore the visual construction of national identity by reflecting upon the self and her ensuing feelings of cultural diaspora.

Visit Anja Loughhead’s website


[1] Tate, Art Term: Automatism, accessed 22 October 2018
https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/a/automatism