O n  B i g  D r a w i n g s

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       When did you start drawing? Were you naturally attracted to this medium, or is this a more recent concern and engagement?

I always found it difficult to draw as I struggled with the concept of interpreting a three-dimensional world in two dimensions. It was only about ten years ago when I began to think of drawing as process, performance, and extension of my physical self and a means of understanding my material environment, that drawing began to make sense. It started to connect directly to my experience as a sculptor. 


What do you make of the traditional idea of 'mastery', which despite a lot of innovation, continues to have an ongoing association with drawing.

Whilst I can appreciate and enjoy all forms of drawing, I needed to find a way of using the medium, which had value for me personally and through which I could explore and understand the world around me.


What is a good drawing? What is a bad drawing? 

Very subjective – but for me, one which touches the soul and opens up a new way of understanding, or seeing the world around us.


How important is a notion of 'process' in your drawing practice?

My drawings are a result of process. They are an extension of my practice as a sculptor, they are a way of thinking and they are a means of exploring an ‘idea’ without any notion of what the result might be.


The main theme of our project is 'OnBigDrawings'. What do you make of big drawings / or small drawings, and why does it matter?

Scale is of little importance to me. However, since most of my drawings tend to be an extension of my physical self, they more often than not tend to be large.


What kind of relationship do you want your work to have with its audience?

Historically I always thought of drawing as being a private practice, and for the most part, it remains that for me. But more recently I have done a series of exhibitions where the drawings have been made as live performance. Whilst initially reluctant, I found the experience to be very rewarding. There is a much more direct relationship between the audience and the physicality of the process. More interestingly, from a personal perspective, making the drawings in different locations with different audiences, feed the work in quite different ways. I did a drawing as a live performance in the National Art Gallery in Craiova, Romania, directly in front of the work of one of my most important artists, Brancusi – and the connection I felt between that work, which changed or understanding of sculpture, was profound. But I have also made this work in tiny spaces with an audience literally pressing up against me, an intimacy which made me feel they were directly part of the process.

Beyond that, I just hope my drawing might make someone think differently, even if they don’t like what I do. 


What do you make of small, intimate drawings, sketchbook pages, beer mat sketches, and scribbles. Are these sheets more 'personal' or can they be art?

Drawing for me is about thinking and exploring an idea. It can be done anywhere and on anything – and a little doodle on a beer mat can be as profound as a Leonardo masterpiece.  


The current student generation is hugely influenced by graffiti and Manga culture, as well as a desire to represent things in more classical ways. How do you relate to this trend?

We each need to find our own path. Creativity is creativity and in our current climate, ought to be valued in all its forms. 


How would you define the fundamental differences between painting and drawing? (A quote: 'A drawing is a painting made with less paint', ... Henry Matisse).

I am not a painter, but if I understand that to mean that a drawing is as significant as a painting, I would completely agree. Its about what makes an audience think – what takes them to a different place, or reveals a different way of seeing and understanding. 


In 2010/2011 MOMA in New York staged its biggest drawing exhibition of the 20th century, and it was called 'On Line'. Do you think drawing is necessarily just about 'lines'?

Having not seen the exhibition, it is difficult to evaluate the title. Did it simply refer to the drawings as being constructed by line – did it mean ‘On Line’ more colloquially as being on message – current – in tune? 


Asian drawings are known to celebrate a notion of 'emptiness'. Do you seek 'emptiness' in your work?

Sol Lewitt’s black and white wall drawings usually start with a very simple logical, or mathematical formula – and yet when you see them, they take you on a journey, which is anything but dry. I have seen South Korean artists contemplate a huge sheet of paper for what seemed like hours, before attacking it with ink and brush in a kind of transcendental dance. It might be that the period on meditation was a process of emptying the mind, but the resulting action was an expression of something deep and rich. I try to understand what I see from a personal, not intellectual perspective – perhaps very wrongly??


Traditional drawing is a more intimate and 'personal' artform, yet a lot of contemporary art practice seeks a more social and participatory dimension. How is this reflected in your projects and drawings?

I think performative work can be deeply personal and intimate. In fact it is very hard to leave the security and privacy of the studio, where it is safe to reveal the intimate – and then to do that in front of an audience. I do both, both are intimate in very different ways and certainly no less intimate that drawing in any other generation.  


Drawing is often treated as a very technical medium in art education (especially in US art schools). Do you think there could be other ways to teach drawing?

Whilst I tried to learn to draw in art school, I never understood how to draw until I understood my own work. That was many years – perhaps 20 years after I left art school. 


One question foremost on my mind, was: how do the artists respond to Covid-19 and the global crisis, and do you think the new situation has an impact on your creative practice, your exhibitions and projects, and the nature of work being affected by working from home for extended periods of time? Perhaps artists start making smaller scale, more intimate works, made from simpler and easily accessible materials ?

If there have been any positives to the ongoing Covid pandemic, it is perhaps that it has given us time to reflect without the usual demands. It has been a time to re-valuate what is important, what does making work mean for me, even if there is no audience at the moment. Stopping is unnatural, but also has its values. 

I have continued to make work in the studio. In fact Experiments XXX and Experiments XXX Part 2 are  very recent works made during lockdown. Last year I did a small research project with University College London in relation to Motor Neurone Disease. As part of that process I spent some time with an elderly woman, Mrs Begum, who was in the very last stages of the illness. She described how gradually her life was curtailed by what she was able to do, effectively restricting her movements and shutting her off from the world. I did not know how to process that information at the time, but ironically when Covid19 effectively put us into lockdown curtailing our daily lives, Experiments XXX, Part 1 and Part 2  found their form. I wanted to do a drawing where I was fixed to one spot - shoes nailed to the floor - and explore the extent of my reach. I also thought about the collapse of the physical body, which informed the second part of the work. 

I have also been working on a series of drawings ‘measuring time’ in different ways. A series of continuous drawings where I would draw without stop for 12 or 24 hours and a drawing creating a single line for everyday of my life – a drawing which I hope does not reach a conclusion for many years to come! 

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Your own questions and concerns…

Answers to the questions will form the basis of key sections on the new resource that will be presented in a dialogue format. This will be the basis for further conversations with each artist. until mid December 2020 when the site and social media initiative will launch. A second stage of the project is planned from March 2021 to go further into depth with some of the key issues raised, and to consider the evolving -- stabilizing (?) -- situation for 2021 and beyond. 

Friedhard Kiekeben