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 started drawing when I was two. I inherited my attraction from my family, especially my father.

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

I think that idea is important insofar as artists and educators preserve allegiance to deep looking and observation. Drawing is one place where we can practice this allegiance.

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

Most drawings are good drawings. I think drawings are less good when they are too careful or oppressive.

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

I still don’t understand what process means in relationship to art-making. All art-making is process-oriented. Do you mean slow? Iterative?

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

Big drawings often feel more assertive and demanding of a painting or painting-adjacent conversation. Small drawings often feel more scrappy, idiosyncratic, notational, or diaristic.

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

I want people to see my work and at least feel challenged, activated, or turned on. Even better if they feel an affirming connection between seemingly disparate emotional or social realms, and thus part of a wider dissident circle. Maybe they’ll think, “damn, she’s a freak and so am I.” Or “wow-- maybe I’m more of a freak than I thought, cause this speaks to me.”

My work is about many things but one key theme is queer knowledge, in which an analysis of power forms and flows from both sexual, sensory, and relational exchange, as well as the study of history and contemporary politics. I want people to feel the tension and complexity of this in my work, and connect with me on it.

       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?

Are you saying the ‘personal’ cannot be art? One, Feminism 101 (Carol Hanisch, Combahee River Collective, Kimberly Crenshaw) tells us otherwise (for me, the personal is political and therefore the personal is art) and two, the mainstream art economy has an obsession with the ephemera of high-grossing canonized artists, which means that capitalists consider the ‘personal’ to be art when it’s profitable. So the ‘personal’ as art is affirmed from the bottom and the top!

       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?

In my experience the current student generation is somewhat influenced by these cultures but I see so many influences-- it’s just not monolithic… I am not sure I can identify a central trend among students, except for the influence of the internet.

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

Painting is more sculptural, object-oriented, and expensive. Drawing is cheaper and more rooted in translation and problem-solving; translating what the artist sees and feels, and for me especially there is a circular satisfaction in translating observed realities in my environment to the paper, and then translating internal fantasy to the reality of the paper/ drawing plane. The “real” moves in both directions in drawing. Observational drawing is also a form of control. Control of narrative, control of circumstances, surroundings. Finally, almost everyone draws as children, and drawing is materially accessible to most people. Definitely the peoples’ medium lol!

       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'?

Definitely not.

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

This statement is offensively broad and subjective. I recently saw a collection of Ukiyo-e prints that were most definitely not celebrating emptiness. Also, I do not seek emptiness in my work. I am a maximalist.

       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?

Again, I reject this false binary. The intimate and personal is social, and it can be participatory. Here are some excerpts from things I’ve written in the past on this subject:

My work is a translation of political and sexual desire. I am concerned with the limits of fantasy in the context of an oppressive social landscape. Strange concoctions and messy logic emerge when I explore those limits. In other words, what is the viability of a feminism based in sex, magic, and friendship when it trickles or explodes into the cold uncompromising outside world?

I am on a quest to realize the conceptual potential of cartooning and protest art. These concerns contain a broader and queerer question: what are the limits of fantasy in the context of an oppressive social landscape?

I love comics and satirical cartoons and propaganda and am curious about how artists expand and build on these forms. In some ways, my concern with the limits of fantasy are soothed by my refusal to accept any limits to drawing. What does a conceptual political cartoon look like? Can a performance become a drawing or can a drawing become a ritual? Can a video become a protest sign?

       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?

Yes- students should be empowered to build their observational drawing skills and fantasy drawing skills in parallel.

       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 ?

The intersecting crises of covid-19 (new) and white supremacy (old) have had me putting my energy elsewhere. I’ve continued to make my work, but I’ve also been doing more organizing and working on an animation project related to the first covid death at Cook County Jail and the campaign to end money bond.

I believe that artists can use their gifts to resist the rightwing capitalist agenda (or the moderate neoliberal capitalist agenda! → both of which conspired to bring us the current situation) and/or artists can do that parallel to their art practices, which is sometimes more fruitful because they can process their idiosyncratic and soul-specific concerns without worrying about attaching a political thrust which may not be directly related to their weird and special work. I love some good movement graphics but I also love when artists make the freaky shit they wanna make and sell it so they can eat, pay rent, and give some money to prison abolitionists and Black Trans mutual aid projects etc. etc.

Hi, Ruby.
Hope you are well. Really have enjoyed doing a deeper dive into your work. I do have a follow-up query regarding the breadth, scope of your work, which is below.

Thank you Jeanine, and thank you for your careful read and pointed questions. 

I felt very aware of various forces and struggles at work—relational, economic, political and environmental—i.e., natural or organic. The visible struggle—or tension—with an “antagonistic” force, if you will, is expressed in the art processes—attempting to “quiet,” Graham, through drawing him to demise, or attempting to “control” water.
Different “forces,” of course, have different degrees of cognitive, emotional, physical tension that become expressed in the works and medium. Can you expand upon the relationship of specific struggles with the degree of tension experienced and expressed in a work(s)? For instance, what was the personal experience from Graham start to finish. Was there a “release” at its end so that you knew you were finished? Was there a physical or emotional building of conflict, tension? Climax to resolution? 

I knew I was finished when I made 110 drawings because that was the correct number to fill the gallery wall. At about 20 I started to really know his face and at 75 I started to feel a surprising sense of empathy for him. At 105 I was sick of him again. All of my work has moments of being painstaking and cathartic in its production, regardless of the subject matter. I don't think that the tension within the content necessarily influences the degree to which I struggle with making it. 

How does this work's tension and struggle differ from other work, or does it? How does a particular “force” and “tension” influence the choice of medium? Choice of drawing over video?

No, I would say that the consistent tension in my work is between fantasy and reality and that medium and subject matter are always inextricably linked-- one does not proceed the other. 

If you need further clarification let me know. Struggles are personal as well as societal. I am curious about the artist’s own struggle with depicting her, your, subject matter; subject matter that also has societal significance.
Be well,