O n  B i g  D r a w i n g s

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Jeanine Riedl

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

I have no memory of drawing as a kid until age 5, when I fell in love with a horse named Spirit who lived on the farm next door. Spirit was archetypically beautiful, with a very long mane and tail. I started to draw her so I could always have her with me and because she seemed to be an enchanted beast. Maybe the act of drawing Spirit was akin to how the cave artists felt when they reproduced powerful likenesses of animals; they could share in its power and mystique. Anyway, drawing obviously had great value then! Later in life, I painted in oils and never really enjoyed it. Twenty years ago, I began to work on paper exclusively. Drawing is more approachable, more accessible, and I love its directness and transitory nature.

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

It's magical to create the illusion of volume on a flat piece of paper. Light and shadow intersect and group new tonal relationships. The observed world then is fluid with receding and advancing edges and forms. It's an exercise in appreciating what you are actually seeing and experiencing.

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

When I look at an image and feel transported into another way of thinking, then that's an effective work of art, no matter what genre or medium. There has to be a transformative effect.

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

For me, attention to process is essential, which means reacting to your materials, its' possibilities, limitations and resistance. You’re not in total control; the material opposes your wish, and the dialogue/ struggle begins.

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

It's a difference of participation for both the artist and the viewer. Smaller drawings are intimate. Large work is immersive, environmental. It's different making large work because I am "in" the drawing. I move up to execute detail and away from it to gain perspective on the whole. It's a physical involvement and relationship.

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

Monumental . Bigger than self. Time and motion are involved because you have to view the drawing at a distance and up close.

       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?

Intimate sketches are glimpses into the mind of the artist. Sketchbooks seem unselfconscious, not “arty”. I love looking at sketchbooks and make all my students create a dedicated book for the class.

Sketchbooks are essential to my own process. I travel and work fairly realistically on site in sketchbooks, studying and recording landscape, botanical and wildlife structures. Back in my studio, I work abstractly, using the memories and associations of having been in that place and having the experience of painting there, but not working directly from my sketchbook images.

       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 encourage it, because it is their milieu. I ask them to bring in what they are looking at, and we have a discussion about style, character, and narrative structure. I don't know much about manga myself, so I appreciate what they choose to share with me. I can't say I am convinced enough to read manga myself, but the discussions are interesting.

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

Drawing is informal and direct. Drawings seem more private and transitory because of the fragility of the medium,

       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'?

I see line as a directive movement signifying "coming from here" "going to there” but also signifying the volume or force of that directive. Line can pile up to create active mass/ density, like a porous mesh of intersecting forces, an electric network.

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

I don't seek "emptiness" per se. I want air (breath) to have volume (body) and movement (gesture). My drawings are essentially air and space made sculptural and imply movement.

       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?

My former work was about the natural environment and the natural and human forces which affect it. My latest work, because of my anger at the current government, includes social and political as well as ecological references.

       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?

Two ideas:

Scaling up beginning drawings so that gesture and the body become the dominant element/ force. Scale forces drawings to be more than intimate. Beginning drawings don't need to be so precious.

 Photographing the process of one's drawing with an iPhone to make simple films, (maybe just about a moving line) so the process becomes the subject rather than finished product. Elements of the film can be reversed or repeated, so that the drawing becomes nonlinear and time becomes circular.

       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 ?

I am working smaller scale, about 30” x 40”. The current  images begin with an ink monoprint from a New York Times spread, leaving crinkled textures, leached text, or actual bits of the newspaper glued to the surface. The image proceeds from that base. These works reflect my frustration with the obfuscating language of our current government concerning every aspect of our political, social, and ecological lives. The “ spin” has twisted real meanings, actual situations and scientific facts, leading to harmful misinformation. This work is related to former work in that I still use the aggressive mark as the emblematic carrier of immense forces within urban and natural environments. 

I have felt more focused during the pandemic, even though the political environment has been immensely stressful. Maybe I could only have made this particular body of work in isolation, who knows?

Covid has certainly allowed more time to work, but how I conduct my studio life has not changed that much because of it.

From Jeanine

Dear Olivia,

Thank you for these reflections on your wonderful work. It is fascinating to see how different this new collage work is from some of the previous frieze-like wall drawings, such as 'Polar Nights'.

In the earlier work there often is an observation in nature at the outset, and then an intensive drawing process in which you are emulating what is at work in the kind natural forces of the physical world. In fact the earliest, and very personal, experience, is with wanting to draw, is in the close relationship with your 'spirit horse' that you had as a child.

The recent body of work, by contrast, engages with a very public matter in an almost Dada inspired way. Newspaper footage gets collected, analyzed, and fragmented and it's all to do with the tense political situation of America in 2020. Then, these pasted-up sheets provide a canvas for gestural, and sometimes very colorful intervention. The tension of 'natural' forces now gives way to an engagement with tension and friction within 'societal' forces.


Could you tell us more about this shift?


Jeanine: Thank you for your analysis!  It is beautifully stated. I love the Dada connection - not one I had thought of!


I am obsessed with current events, and read many news sources daily. It was the hope embodied in the Obama election that a forward-looking, "cool" era was upon us. Instead, with Trump as president, the xenophobia and racism of our national history was reactivated. It was shocking to me that “democracy” now  seemed a fragile notion. Then there was the environment, which is being ravaged - it was difficult to witness all this destruction.

 The "Spin" series, based on ink monoprints of New York Times spreads or actual collaged news text within the image, was an attempt to fold the painful realism of the day within the messiness, openness and accidental aspects of abstraction. I don’t know whether I will continue to fold political events into my imagery, but it was important for me to do it at this time.

Of course I blame Trump for my shift into more socially referenced work. I am obsessed with the news, and read many sources daily. It was the hope embodied in the Obama election that a forward-looking, modern, "cool" era was upon us. As for many, it is shocking to me how quickly democratic norms have been violated. The election of Obama activated the deep racism of this country. Then there was the environment, which is being so ravaged, and it was painful to witness.

The world became disturbingly real and I couldn’t ignore it. 

The "Spin" series, based on ink monoprints of New York Times spreads or actual collaged news text within the image, was an attempt to fold the painful realism of the day within my painterly, gestural approach.

 I have always been concerned to relax the boundary between realism and abstraction. Until now, my work process has included preliminary observational on site studies of the environment as preparation for my abstract studio work. In "Spin", the messiness, openness and accidental aspects of abstraction were directly pitted against the specificities of the news cycle.

With the election of Trump, the world became disturbingly real. I was obsessed with the news. The “Spin” series, constructed on top of ink monoprints of New York Times spreads, was an engagement with and opposition to the painful realism of the day. I don’t know if this is a one off, or whether I will continue to fold political events into my imagery. I’ll have to see.