Something has happened to drawing.
It has been snatched back from the
amateur sketcher and the art school copyist;
excused from the politeness
of the drawing room and
the perfunctoriness of the drawing-board.
Used for so long to outline form in nature – to describe an apple or the musculature of a classical torso - it is no longer just a stage before coloring-in.
Any requirement to merely give a perspective line has been waived. Its down-and-out days in the pissed-up subways of the anti-social behaviorist are similarly in question.
Drawing appears to have opened up a new space between the lyrical and the epic. Scaled up to the proportions of Renaissance fresco, Romantic history painting and Expressionist panorama, it has gone beyond the sketchbook page.
Drawing h a s g o n e B I G.
Drawings have commonly been the maps from which to understand or relate to what we see in the world.
They might be realistic, architectural or expressive in style; but essentially they have helped us pin something down or represented an enactment of that very process of refinement.
Drawings are no longer back-up diagrams or blueprints for something else; they are all in some way acts in graphite, ink or chalk: the drawing as verb.
Each of the artists featured here, in turn, eschews the traditional notion of drawing as an ancillary art-form pointing to future outcomes in other media. Rather, these artists in their own different ways foreground drawing as the engine of ideas that are themselves the finished artefact.
On Big Drawing, in 2 0 2 0 : As a parent in lockdown, there comes a moment in the day when your kid has been on the X Box for a solid 3-hour stretch. In your head you can excuse this as a necessary distraction whilst you battle with zoom meetings and the perilous distractions of the home office: the hoover; the garbage; the cookie jar; the Netflix box set. So, you look into the square eyes of your child and think, what can I get them to do that won’t make me feel so guilty? Something “creative”. Many of us have reverted to crafts but glue and glitter and paints require supervision and are just so messy. Fess up parent, you know it’s true. But you have a ream of cheap printer paper. You have coloured pencils and wax crayons at the back of the cupboard. And the school have suggested you get your little one to keep a lockdown diary and make pictures that encapsulate their domestic incarceration to exhibit when liberation finally comes. Make marks to mark history – you’ll regret it if you don’t. Sit them down at the kitchen table and leave them to it.
History will tell us that 2020 was a disaster in terms of human lives lost. It will also tell us that a virus called Covid devastated the practise of artists across the world. And whilst this is particularly true of artists dependant on performance venues and live audiences, for the visual arts there are many who have found the restrictions freeing. A challenge at first, possibly. But after the scorched earth, new vibrant shoots. That’s what I see in the artists featured in this Big Drawing project. Exciting and sometimes unexpected off-shoots of established practice:
“If disease spreads, draw a picture of me, and show the picture of me to those who fall ill and they will be cured” speaks the Amabie, a mythical three-legged sea creature which the artist RICA TAKASHIMA has hung about her work as a kind of talisman; a prescient Covid Cassandra. The artist’s drawings of amabie watermark the pages of the project website. And yet, the artist herself moved away from drawing for a time during the first peak of the pandemic in New York city to make masks for homeless people. Drawing seeming somehow wrong when action was needed more than the gift of prophecy.
For other artists, recording and commentary has been important. Drawing to document the frontline workers as in the make-do-and-mend material studies by JD GLASS; and overdrawing to contradict and challenge and question the epidemic of print and social media hysteria as seen in the annotated collages by OLIVIA PETRIDES.
In the stampede from the real world into the world of Zoom JEFF HARMS has found a voice for his cartoon storyboard. Will he ever return from the cosy home studio of the podcast? Will DANIEL HARTLAUB - left out by a pandemic that outlaws social interaction and places a curfew on the scenarios and narratives that she drew on – find new stories in the empty streets? The sex, the fights, the rock and roll. All spaced out and meaningless for ever?
Others have turned away from what is going on outside to find quiet solace within both their homes and themselves, in the company of the familiar and the banal. Not for artists like CHRISTINE WALLERS and TRACY HILL the war reporting, instead these artists using line as a meditative way to transcribe the spaces in which they found themselves.
For DANIELA EHMANN and AVANTIKA BAWA, an acceptance of cancelled shows and postponed installations and performances without an audience, leading to a stepping off of the production throttle to find nuance in repetition. Each day, each Groundhog Day, the same subject, the same small rituals but resulting in the delightfulness of “the same but different”. The confinement giving some permission to replay, recharge, rethink. Many have used their recent work to mark time. In the case of NEVILLE GABIE, quite literally drawing it out as he embarked on a series of continuous drawing sessions lasting for hours, days. A lifetime. A lifeline.
A recent newspaper article in the UK explained how, when the British artist Rachel Whiteread travelled to Wales to wait out the lockdown, she was surprised to find the rural location to be claustrophobic and a great big barn - on paper, a perfect workspace for a big name, large scale artist - to be the opposite. So, she scurried back to the kitchen table to downsize her folio and to created intimate drawings. Her beautifully entangled Spirograph net drawings have something of the layman’s doodle about them, tidied and given the compositional complexity of the practiced artist.
The kitchen table has been a place of creativity and comfort as we huddle together in our family bubbles. For sure, now that the news of a vaccine has come, we will burst out and go Big once again, we’ll take big gulps of creative air. Probably go wildly Baroque. But the domestic experiment, where we fell back on the incredible feasts that can be made from the basics will reveal results that are worthy in their own right. But I think it will be the time when we were forced to look in on ourselves that we will come to think of as a blessed moment of creative reflection.
Jennifer Shaw, Freelance Curator