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‘Contemporary Drawing – A Red Thread’, Visual Artists’ News Sheet, May/June 2012

May 6, 2012

Curated by Alice Lyons and Claire McAree, ‘working.drawing’ was a group exhibition that proposed to examine the ‘diverse ways in which drawing is used as a navigational tool’, evident in the work of artists Tinka Bechert, Úna Burke, Gordon Ryan, Fergus Byrne, Magnhild Opdøl, Sharon Kelly, Eamon O Kane, Brown Bag Films, Glenn Leyburn, Fergus Delargy, and Olivia Irvine.

The exhibition functioned as a survey, examining drawing as a mode of ‘thinking through making’, activating performative, functional, nationalistic, and pedagogical dialogues. Employing a curatorial strategy reminiscent of the ‘Drawing Now: Eight Propositions’ exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, (2003), ‘working.drawing’ engaged with a range of disciplines, from the visual arts to architecture, design, and animation, re-activating the discourse surrounding classification of the medium. Whether some of these disciplines belong in a gallery context, or what might actually constitute a drawing were questions put to the viewer.

‘Drawing Now’ articulated a distinctive contemporary shift away from the ‘performativity’ developed in experimental drawing from the 1960s onwards, which celebrated the ‘perpetual state’ of art in reaction to the materiality of the art object. The exhibition rejected the tendency within drawing towards ‘process’ in art, privileging instead the medium’s capacity to be descriptive, representational, and complete, a stance that gained momentum in the 1990s in a drawing revival not seen since post-minimalism. With contributions from popular illustration, fashion, animation, and architecture, ‘Drawing Now’ portrayed contemporary drawing as autonomous, less connected to process, and informed by other disciplines, resulting in the ‘emancipation’ of drawing from the designations of fine art and the avant-garde.

Returning to the current Irish context, it seems significant that ‘working.drawing’ convened in concurrence with several other drawing exhibitions in galleries across the country, most notably in The Drawing Project, Dun Laoghaire, , The Wandsford Quay Gallery,Cork and Ormston House, Limerick. Does now seem a pertinent time to wonder whether another ‘revival’ of drawing is taking place? And if so, many other questions persist. What is the substance of this artistic or curatorial ‘return to drawing’, and how does it differ from previous revivals of the medium? Is it still relevant to classify drawing as a noun or a verb (i.e a thing or a process of doing)? With these questions in mind, I interviewed (via e mail) four of the artists participating in ‘working.drawing’, Tinka Bechert, Fergus Byrne, Eamon O’Kane and Magnhild Opdøl, to examine a range of current approaches to drawing.

What constitutes a drawing?

TB: I have come to see the term ‘drawing’ as a very open enquiry. It is perhaps the most immediate investigation, which shows very clearly the artist’s initial interest in the subject. Drawing can also be (as expressed in the English ‘drawing together’, i.e uniting, or bringing together in a common cause) a site for the convergence of disparate elements, sources, and materials. Drawing is always a form of wondering, thinking, and figuring out.

FB: A drawing is a means of channelling and focusing thoughts or observations in a physical engagement with mark-making or space-filling material. The drawing manifests an internal dialogue which can then develop in material form.

E.O’K: Drawing for me is a tool, a way of thinking, and the artwork itself.

MO: Drawing is a poetic, honest, and challenging way to work. It hides no mistakes.

How is drawing manifested within your work? Describe the process.


TB: My visual interests express themselves not just on paper but also in other media, which may be classified as installation, but I tend to think of these works as continuation of drawing into surrounding space. In German there is an expression, ‘the red thread’, which describes the process of making tangible connections between diverse elements, identifying a common reoccurring theme. During my recent residency in The Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Science and Humanities, I installed one kilometre of red line throughout several storeys of the Academy, creating a site-specific response to the building. In creating a three-dimensional visualisation of a line drawing done almost two years earlier, the site-specific work investigates chronological ordering systems which transcend a linear perception of history in favour of a multi-dimensional perspective of time, past and present. The installation echoes the original sketch, demonstrating how drawing can inform and determine my entire process in developing a body of work.

Fergus Byrne spoke in detail about the month he spent as artist in residence in The Dock, where he conducted life drawing classes, and spent time developing new work in response to the architecture of the building. Using drawing as a means of transcription and an analogue to his activity (walking, pacing, measuring) Byrne made visible his ephemeral actions, stating that the “drawing was in the making”.

FB: In a more abstract manner, the mark making aspect of drawing has been the departure point for the ‘Skip Drawings’ made over the last three years.  In a spacious studio I put paper beneath me as I skipped rope to keep warm / do something. The ‘parabolic’ mark of the rope appealed to me.

He also described previous engagements with drawing in response to sound-scapes, which produced a very different range of mark-making in response to the external stimulus of sound and its acoustic.

E O’K: For me, drawing is a way of thinking and can take many forms. Like Bruce Nauman and Gabriel Orozco, I approach all of my work as a form of drawing. My approach is very open ended and I use drawing on a daily basis to test out new ideas and to solve problems within various projects. A drawing may be complete when it begins to provide clues about where to go next. Conversely, it is perhaps never finished, as it could be said that drawing continually describes its own making.

MO: My art practice is a constellation of different media such as drawing, sculpture, photography, video, and installation, but they all evolve from drawing. I started drawing because it was convenient, as I had little space at the time, but it has become an important part of my work, and I find a lot of energy in drawing, both working with it, and looking at other artists who use it. My drawing and sculptural works that build installations evolve around the poetics of death: the curious eye of the viewer, the fearful eye of the escaping animal, and the playfulness of the hunter. Working in a highly detailed manner, I examine and render the surface and structure of fur, bone, and insides. As I investigate the detail I get past the grotesque matter. Even though the drawings are viewed as representational, I also see them as an abstraction. The drawings offer a fractured and restructured reality – a subjective synthesis of information, reality and death.

Do you think there is a current revival of drawing within contemporary practice?

TB: I do not see drawing as a counter-position to anything; it is just another material, which can have conceptual motivations like any other medium. However, an awareness of the media’s associations and inherent qualities can determine the impact of an artist’s inquiry.

FB: I don’t really think there is a particular revival of drawing. This line is often trotted out in the promotion of drawing shows, but I feel that I have heard it so often that it can’t actually be a revival but a recurrent commentary.

E.O’K: I think there are many reasons for the current revival of drawing within contemporary practice. Some of these are to do with the uncertain times we live in; drawing has the capacity to transcend perceived boundaries within different disciplines. It is a very mobile medium both practically and conceptually. There is a freedom to drawing, it defies categorisation, its relevance has never been questioned.

MO: I don’t know if there is a revival of drawing, it is always there, and it always will be. It depends on what you’re looking for, and what’s fashionable. An artist can’t change with the seasons; we just gotta get on with it.

Evidently, artists are divided on whether there is a ‘revival’ of drawing, but a renewed curatorial interest in the medium may be attributable to the intimate and enduring qualities of drawing, which provides a counter-position to sculptural or multi-media environments. Alice Lyons, co-curator of ‘working.drawing’ described drawing as a “deep-structure activity” which is “alive to us at a moment of steady and increasing clarity about the conjoined nature of visual and verbal activities”. Alluding to the relationship between text and image, and referencing the literary translator David Bellos, she described drawing as “akin to the process of translation” where the “mind is engaged in multi-level pattern-making pursuits”. Current curatorial interest in drawing – from the expressive and poetic to the conceptual and cinematic – does not appear to envision drawing in outmoded binary terms, negotiating instead a site for the ‘performative’ and the ‘autonomous’ to co-exist within the gallery space.  As a means of transcription, preparation, or documentation, contemporary drawing embodies a process which leaves behind a thing: an act of doing translated into a visually and conceptually cohesive end result, transforming even the simplest image into a powerful and enduring archetype.

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