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

I have always considered drawing to be more of a place than a thing. As a young child growing up in a small coal camp in southern West Virginia in deepest Appalachia, my exposure to art was less than none. However, at some point very early on and for some long-forgotten reason I had a need to copy the Sunday comics. Finding a piece of paper and a pencil I began to consider Daffy Duck, Pluto, Pogo and while doing so the outside world seemed to fade away for a moment as I entered a private world of both extreme focus and odd pleasure. Never a good student and stuck in a three-room cinderblock school house along the C&O Railroad right of way where three teachers taught six grades, two grades to room, my inability to read was replaced with an ability to copy exactly pictures in books. At some point my parents would buy a small pad of paper at the grocery store and later my father found a large roll of discarded blueprints that I used the backs of to make much larger drawings. All along through my wild years of growing up I was always pulled towards that secret quiet world of rendering on the backs of scrap paper that became a doorway to my own private escape.

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

As a mature artist with now fifty-years of a dedication to the act of drawing I still find myself continually unsure and searching. I guess if anyone did anything over this long of time a sort of mastery can’t help but occur, however when I am working I am sure don’t feel like one that is for sure.

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

I never ask that question.

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

Like any endeavor the more one does a familiarity of the action can’t help but develop a process over time. In drawing the choice of media, surface, technique of application of media, scale and most importantly the focus of the work all control and in turn become a process by default if nothing else.

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

The foundation of my large-scale work begins with constantly drawing in small sketchbooks. From these I select one and redraw without projection so as to focus on the difficult nature of rendering it large that keeps it honest and authentic, to embrace the enhanced surface size and presence and to use my body as part of the mark making. I always find it a great challenge to draw at the furthest reach of my arms with the use the of the simplest of media..

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

It seems that every time a body of my work is shown, what I thought it was about is most times not what other people see. Many times, other folk’s comments highlight a much richer and deeper read of what the work is saying to them which I never saw. I see my job as just doing as much work as possible and stacking them up. It will take time, and those that see the work sort it out because thinking about how the audience of the work will react while working takes me no place good.

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

What is or isn’t art is way beyond me. My sketchbooks are so very important to me and an integral element in everything I do.

       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?

I have barely enough time to focus on my own work. Other than through some sort of osmosis from living in the city and working at an art school, I will let that generation fight their own battles.

       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 try to make my drawings be more like paintings and my paintings to be more like drawings

       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'?

The term to draw is defined primarily to pull, move, extract, to obtain, withdraw, suck, to elicit a response, to reach a conclusion, in playing cards, disembowel, attract, rotation on a ball, a ships depth, finished even, and also to produce an image with lines and marks.

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

I am reminded by how David Sylvester wrote about Giacometti. That he was always looking for that edge where the volume meets the void. I find that a noble pursuit.

      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 hope my work has a foot in both camps.

       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?

One can expose students to techniques, attitudes, concepts and examples, but in the end, it is up to each one of us the life-long chore of constantly teaching ourselves how to draw.

       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 aected 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?

Although I miss the freedom to travel and to do all the normal activities with family and friends, my studio is in the building where I live so I have used this time of lockdown to work, work, work. Also, my current work has as its foundation in the study of slide sections of the effects of black lung disease on coal miners (like my family) back home in southern West Virginia. This fact somehow in a strange way points to the current virus in some respects.