David Lemm: Creating the Exhibition

David shares the process behind his final exhibition as Illustrator in Residence.


  • David Lemm
  • Residency

It's been a hectic time since my last blog post. My residency at House of Illustration officially ended in December, and after my final research visit just before Christmas I threw myself into preparing the work for my exhibition, only stopping briefly for a slice of turkey and a dram or two as the season required.

The exhibition has been open since 28th January and now (unbelievably) only has a week left to run. Hopefully you've made it along to the show, or can pop in before it closes on 6th March.

After deciding early on in the residency to explore more tactile processes, I settled on making my final works using paper collage. As well as the aesthetic and pure enjoyment of the process, part of that decision was to reflect the idea of raw materials being transformed/arranged into pleasing forms - something I have noticed in the 'chance sculptures' in building yards around the King's Cross development site and the piles of bricks being transformed into walls, roads and paths week by week.

I chose to mount the paper collages on untreated wood referencing this idea of raw materials, but also reflecting the apparent effort of the developers to include natural materials/textures wherever possible in the site.

One of the major themes of the residency was my continuing interest in map making: thinking about how we perceive/represent spaces and places, and considering maps as abstract, graphic representations of the world around us.

I also wanted to play with mapping a place over time, something a traditional map doesn't really do too well. So I aimed to make something for each month I visited, creating a kind of map based on my experiences.

Thinking about how we navigate and our understanding of where we are in the world, in relation to our surroundings, I wanted to play with the idea of the pin on digital maps, where you are always the centre of the map and the world opens/changes around you as you move.

So I thought I'd put visitors in the centre of my personal map of the area. I did this by imaging an X in the middle of the gallery and then assigned each wall a direction. In each direction are 6 panels (one for each month) and in each panel are shapes illustrating what I noticed or experienced at that given time in the specific direction.

I arranged the shapes by considering their position in relation to House of Illustration on a traditional bird's-eye-view map, with the closest elements at the bottom of each composition. Categorising each visit, I created little views into what was visible in the specific direction at the time I visited, exploring the idea of maps representing space from an aerial view rather than what we actually experience at 'street level'.

The panels relate to each other, with the illustrated elements changing over time - astroturf on steps one month, removed to reveal concrete the next. Equally, I thought of each composition as its own stage, where relationships between the objects create little dramas and where stories/meaning can be interpreted.

I also wanted each panel and the shapes to feel like framed specimens, inspired by plates in old encyclopaedias and antique scientific diagrams, so I screen-printed a delicate line to act as a frame on each panel. I assigned each piece a pseudo co-ordinate, to act as an ambiguous annotation/explanation - playing with conventions in diagrammatic information and idea of coded information going unseen in the environment (as I’ve touched on here before).

This resulting library of shapes and symbols is based on what I experienced in my exploration of the area, from which I built my own narratives, navigational system, and understanding of the place. But I also wanted to highlight elements in the landscape that perhaps go unnoticed, elements that revealed something about the place or were examples of nuance in the urban environment.

Since the show opened I've been easing myself back into the realities of working on commissions and trying to clear my studio of tiny pieces of paper - they got everywhere!

I'll sign off by thanking House of Illustration for all their support and looking forward to exploring the many paths that have opened in my mind as a result of the residency.