O n  B i g  D r a w i n g s

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Friedhard Kiekeben



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


To be honest, I don't actually remember ever NOT drawing--I've been doing it since I could grasp a cylinder (or a stick, or even some rocks) and deface walls, mud, and sidewalks.


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


To be able to use the precision that can be accomplished with drawing--I think even before we understand the concept of mastery, or even that the word itself exists, the desire to reach some sort of grander competence coexists with the desire to freely express, and in some cases merge.


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


Drawing is art and I strongly suspect that we judge it in the same way, that is, we know "good drawing" when we see it, judging it either by photorealistic semblance, or some sort of mastery in technique--whatever that may be--and we also bring into that value judgement if the creator had a goal, the origins/inspiration for and of the image, and even the experience within the medium of the creator; ie, someone who has only just begun working with this more precise medium will have their work judged differently than someone who is more experienced. This "judgment" breaks down further, since drawing can and is done with various media--and the ability to erase or not, to "correct in process--also affects that value.


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


While it's not something I spend a lot of time consciously doing, I do have a process that I use, both to get myself into the "space" to work, as well as the steps/technique to accomplish the work.


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 think that's fascinating that Matisse said that, since Matisse' technique (limited palette, etc) has had tremendous influence on my process, and interestingly enough, I tend to agree. The fundamental difference between painting and drawing--and I mean this as a generality, since the difference lessens as the marking material becomes more fluid, ie, ink--is the level of precision that can be reached with somewhat less effort.


         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'?


There is a school of thought/philosophy that considers all visual work to be line, or based on line; when we discuss organic shapes, bodies, etc, we talk about the "line" of conformation--the contour--so ultimately, everything IS line.


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


That concept of "emptiness" is also considered a form of "harmony" and I do pursue that sense of harmony, a balance between myself and the image.


       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 it's no misstatement to say that in the very act of displaying, of sharing, what is created in a way that removes control of who the end viewer might be, that this in its very nature is both social and participatory.


       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?


Of course there are other, perhaps more organic, ways to teach drawing, even following the seemingly "do it however you're moved to do it" method that's applied in other visual forms. But it would seem that both the method and the learning in that vein as well as its desirability, would be entirely dependent on what the final aim, at least in that "beginning stage," is, of the creator.


       One question foremost on my mind, was: how do the artists respond to the Covid-19 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 ?


The combination of fear, isolation, and to a degree material scarcity, have all certainly made me look at materials to create with in different ways. Like Picasso, I have gathered cardboard because it is versatile and can be both canvas and a construction material (as well as be pulped and transformed into something more plastic), and in addition, have found myself revisiting the large pieces of kraft paper that protected other works, to the degree that I am in fact incorporating them into this particular project, a reflection and an action that is purely situationally caused.


My big concerns now revolve around the state of the US as it moves forward, not only in terms of the pandemic (which is an immediate, "affects us all" concern and situation), but also the political climate, which seems to be specifically engineered to continue divisiveness, creating deeply entrenched points of view, and how in some ways banal it seems to be concerned about a personal future when a collective one seems so precarious.





Thank you for sharing these insights. Your series of ‘Crown’ portraits is an outstanding body of contemporary portraits, both in their own right as digital vector drawings, as well as in relation to the world changed by Covid 19. 


How would you consider and place your work in relation to the history and practice of portrait art in general?





Aristotle said, “The aim of Art is to present not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance; for this, not the external manner and detail, constitutes true reality.” The history of portrait art as it has come to be known in the last several centuries and more primarily in the Western world, is that it has become the depiction of someone famous, powerful, and eventually, wealthy enough, to commission such a remembrance of themselves. Some artists represented that internal, others the “desired internal” or whatever quality the represented wanted, via symbolism of color, clothing, accoutrements, and such. And still to this day, the concept of portrait is that of a private commission of sorts, something for the upper class, the famous, the well-to-do, and again, for many, it is to portray some sort of higher ideal, of beauty, bravery, vigor, and wealth, for examples. 

However, the work I’ve done, in essence, turns some of that around. These are portraits of what we all consider to the “common” person, doing “common” things—except given the circumstances we find ourselves in during this period of time from late March of 2020 onward, these people depicted are, for the most part, doing something extraordinarily heroic: facing the invisible threat that is COVID-19 to care for and help others. That they are “ordinary” people, actual everyday heroes, is where the departure from traditional portraiture begins. Yes, there is a degree of “self-editing” by the sitter, in that these are predominantly based on selfies, with occasional “someone else took this shot of me” contributions. That said, it was my hope that in drawing these portraits, that these every day acts of heroism would be seen, that the “sitters” would know that they are seen, their bravery recognized, and their goodness loved and validated, and that others, seeing these qualities shining out at them, might take courage, hope, and encouragement.