The day was led by OCA tutor, Polly Harvey. One of the best OCA Study days I’ve been on; we made the gallery visit, had a group discussion led by our tutor and a talk around the exhibits by co-founder of the Jerwood Drawing Prize, Paul Thomas.
At first I concentrated on just a few of the works rather than trying to take in all of them. However, the group discussion and the talk by Paul Thomas directed me to other works I hadn’t properly considered before. The three artists I picked out during the first hour are listed by website below:
Helen Thomas, Eight Day Draw No 1, 2016. Blog post describing the work Created over eight days, using graphite powder, 0.5mm propelling pencil, pencils, graphite sticks and erasers. and intuitive, various inputs such as marks made in her sketchbook on the way to her studio, drawing left handed, increasing and decreasing scale. The resulting drawing reminds me of a luxuriant hedge, I loved the wild blackness and energetic marks and was even more intrigued when I found out how it was created. The process is fascinating and I would love to try this out myself. It could be carried out using textile techniques, I can imagine long lines of black cotton thread sweeping across a sheet of fabric, with other marks made by wool, collaged fabric, bits of lace, etc. However, I think I do prefer the ‘purity’ of the black graphite marks and erasures on paper. The artist’s Facebook page photographs give a fascinating glimpse into the working set-up Here
I made several iPad sketches in response:
My second choice is the drawing by Thomas Treherne – Man Photographing Stars, 2015. Image Mystery and energy. Small man, huge sky. What I interpret as arid rocks. Strange motifs in the sky, amongst the stars. What may be partial erasures and re-drawn marks – or maybe they are deliberate, perhaps they signify movement, time passing. The stars are collections of positive and negative signs, crosses and minuses; they are fascinating. A few of them seem to be exploding. Some are vertical marks. The stars get smaller towards the horizon, the sky is a dome and Earth really is round .. The drawing may have been made very quickly, or maybe part of a series, a moment not thought about but noted down. I do like it. I superimpose my own mental images onto it.
Lastly, Playhouse, 2015 by Lewis Chamberlain. Image. In contrast to the previous drawings, this one is realistic and carefully arranged. It’s also strange. There is a large dollshouse and a tiny shed. There are two tiny figures, a toy woman and child. The remains of a bonfire at the front. A garden fence with leaves and bunting at the back. I was telling myself the woman and child had been turned into tiny toys, that they needed saving, and maybe there was a little dad in the little shed … I stood in front of it and created a whole mythology. So much easier to create my own story with it being a monotone pencil drawing. Because it makes me, the viewer, create a story special to me, well that makes it interesting, terrific art. I suppose all three of my choices do that, allow the viewer to make their own minds up, because the drawings are, somehow, set free to do just that.
First prize was won by Solveig Settemsdal, for Singularity , 2016. White ink injected into gelatine, video 9.27 minutes. The form starts as a tiny point, expanding and pushing its way outwards, rolling in the gelatine matrix. It is a drawing with both intention (the dropping of the ink into gelatine) and a reactive physical process. The constant transformation was beautiful, but I also found it a little unsatisfying. I did want to grab hold of the shape and squeeze it out of shape, break it up. I usually love video installations and wonder why this didn’t satisfy me. Perhaps if I had headed for this piece within the first half hour I would think differently? I have a horrid feeling I may tend to prefer those pieces I see early on in an exhibition.
Our tutor suggested we identify which pieces did not work for each of us, and we should consider why. For me, I didn’t like so much the drawings which were exploring some kind of philosophy, asking some difficult questions about the nature of geometry, of reality perhaps, trying to explain the visual world. For example, I can appreciate the technique of Kazuya Tsuji, Solid I, 2015. Box shapes are carefully drawn to resemble metal solids. False perceptions lead us to make assumptions about our surroundings. I can appreciate the drawing in the exhibition and on the website, but it doesn’t speak to me. Why do we have to agree on what is and what isn’t real?
How do the works I’ve chosen affect my own practice? I think by encouraging freedom of expression, not being tied down by conventional textile motifs. Recently I have been thinking of my coursework as a kind of drawing, which it always has been but I am starting to actually believe it.
Our tutor also asked us to define contemporary drawing practice, having seen this exhibition. I’m not sure I can actually define it. There is both expression of feeling with its invitation to the viewer to respond, and there is exploration of logical thought. There is realism/fantastic realism and abstract. A variety of surfaces; paper, textile, video … A variety of drawing tools as well. Most of the works lack colour, which doesn’t bother me but several people pointed it out. So am I saying contemporary drawing practice is varied in absolutely everything but colour? I’ll try again … I think contemporary drawing practice is experimental, an exploration of ideas, a seeking of ways to express those ideas, and an invitation to the viewer to either create their own responses or, alternatively, question the nature of reality as opposed to imagination.
We had an energetic discussion amongst ourselves with our tutor after an initial walk around the Gallery. We considered our own reasons for drawing, how frequently we do draw and there were various responses, mostly around preparation for other work. I think that’s what I understood, because coming home and writing these notes, I realise not one of us said we made drawings as an end in themselves – and yet we had just been admiring two rooms full of such drawings! I certainly believe drawing is an end result, not a practice or preparation, but wonder why none of us said so at the time? Maybe someone did, while I had a little daydream, but I suppose that is why some of us want to do art. To put our daydreams into practice, but whether that is contemporary or not, I have no idea.
Thanks and appreciation to our tutor for the day, Polly Harvey.