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 started drawing as a kid. I gravitated to it because it was an immediate and inexpensive medium. And I’m still wrapped up in it for these reasons. I appreciate it because I can do it on my own terms, anywhere. There is no need for expensive materials nor a special lab.

       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 the idea of mastery is not so relevant to drawing today. In fact, I feel that the word suggests limitations and promotes a false sense of value with regard to what is and what is not a legitimate drawing. Certainly, a person can master the medium in a limited technical sense, possibly in relation to the drawings of old masters, but are those drawings interesting? Do they explore anything new or are they just replicas of past artists’ drawings?

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

A good drawing or a bad drawing has nothing to do with skill and everything to do with whether or not it holds a viewer’s attention. If I see a drawing and I find myself continuing to look and think about it, then I would consider it a good drawing.

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

Process is huge for me. I spend a lot of time cutting apart drawings and shapes and moving those elements around on a larger sheet of paper. I find a lot of joy and frustration in this collage process. It takes forever to finally find a composition that seems right. If I didn’t go through this process of cutting drawings apart, if I just settled on the very first composition I came up with, the length of the drawing process for me would be much shorter and wouldn’t feel as challenging.

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

I think about the history of drawing, which is really all about the small preparatory sketch for a painting or a sculpture. Those small preparatory sketches, are rarely exhibited and almost always in dimly lit, low-ceilinged spaces in encyclopedic art museums. Of course this is mainly about the fragility of those materials, but it’s also apparent that those old, small drawings are never considered as important as painting or sculpture. Big, contemporary drawings challenge this history by inhabiting space on a large scale. I’ve been aware of this when making and exhibiting large drawings. Currently I’m focused on making small drawings. There’s something really wonderful about working at a small scale which allows a drawing, or parts of it, to evolve on a living room coffee table or a kitchen counter.

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

I think my dream is always for another person to spend time looking at a drawing I’ve made, or at least to not walk past it so fast.

       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?

I think they can be personal and be art. If an artist sees their scribble as art, then it’s art. If the artist doesn’t think of it as art, but others view it as art, then it’s art.

       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 can relate to pretty much any mode of drawing if there’s something new in the work, but if it’s an obvious replica of someone else’s work out there (unless it’s an intentional replica of another artist’s work, à la Sherrie Levine), then I’m not that interested in it.

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

Aside from differences in materials, painting and drawing both have a lot of baggage, but I think the baggage associated with painting is a lot more restrictive in an “everything’s been done” kind of way. Drawing, on the other hands, has this art historical inferiority complex, but that just makes it the scrappier medium, with more room for growth and new discoveries. Despite this, drawing is still the underdog of the art world when considering how auction houses and galleries price drawings (in comparison to paintings).

       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'?

No, drawing can be about so many things, and not just lines.

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

I don’t think about emptiness. I’m definitely trying to make something solid and tactile when I’m working on a drawing.

       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 don’t know if I’d consider my practice to have a strong social or participatory dimension, beyond some earlier experiments with large-scale, text-driven non-linear narratives wherein viewers/readers could choose to read the story in whatever order they might wish to read it (if they read it). The impetus for this was a strong interest in post-modern literature and the ways in which various authors such as Helen Oyeyemi, Ali Smith and Don DeLillo have played with the conventions of traditional storytelling.

       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?

Absolutely, I think there can be other ways to teach drawing. I teach a drawing course at Northwestern University called Obsessive Investigation which emphasizes idiosyncratic research for generating drawing and writing instead of focusing on the technical.

       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?

Covid certainly has had an impact on my practice. I am working at a smaller scale. I’m also working out of a little home studio- a room on top of the roof of my home- instead of walking an hour to my studio, which is in a private space but has a shared bathroom and hallways. I’ve also shifted away from making narrative drawings about politicians, dictators, cult leaders and other public figures who abuse power. I’ve always been intrigued with the people, structures and organizations that openly and secretly possess power, but because this is now what almost every news story is about, continuing to make work about these themes seems redundant. I feel like I’m adding to the ugliness and polarization that is so sharp and present. So I’ve moved into more benign topics such as architecture, which might still nod to prior content, but in more subtle ways. I’ve also gone back to focusing on drawing basics- shapes, color, line, composition, etc. I’m finding joy in this. I think it’s really important to have some source of joy during a pandemic/economic recession.

       Your own questions and concerns…

I’d be interested in knowing how the other artists on the website view the relationship of drawing to printmaking. How important is the idea of the one-of-a-kind mark or an original drawing?

Also, how do artists know when a drawing is done?