Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Drawing in colour 2


During the Renaissance the word ‘disegno’ was used as a term to cover both drawing and design. In Florence ‘disegno’ was seen as essential to the beginning of any artistic activity, be this sculpture, painting or architecture. Therefore it could be argued that painting in Florence was essentially coloured in drawing and the main technical process for Florentine painters was fresco painting, which needed a cartoon to be drawn out first, so that a drawing could be transferred to the wet plaster. However in Venice there was a different story emerging. ‘Colorito’ a term that meant both colour and its application was seen as fundamental to giving the ‘look of life’ to painted images. Venice was surrounded by water, therefore it could get damp and dampness was the enemy of fresco painting. Because Venice was a maritime power, it had large supplies of huge canvases that were used for sails and these were ideal for making surfaces to paint on, therefore a very different way of painting evolved. Venetian processes of the layering and blending of colours involved not only new ways of painting but different brushes and the evolution of painting on canvas led to another way of thinking about colour and image. Instead of colour being seen as what you filled in between the lines, it became a structural principle in its own right. Instead of beginning with drawing, Venetian painters often worked out compositions directly on the canvas, using coloured brushstrokes rather than line to define form.

Drawing and colour have therefore a long and interesting association. Can you draw with paint? If so is this drawing or painting? Are all paintings that are planned out as drawings in advance, really coloured drawings?

It is interesting to compare a drawing by Titian the great Venetian colourist with a Florentine master of the same time.
Titian is used to finding the form directly, using the activity of painting to discover the figure. Therefore his drawings are not plans for paintings but exercises in discovery, the drawing below shows him thinking about dark/light balance, as in a ying-yang symbol. He is finding through the markmaking, you get the feel of this being a drawing by someone who thinks through a brush.


In contrast Raphael makes drawings that can be traced and copied onto cartoons and then transferred. His images are clean cut, sharply defined and exist as plans for paintings. You can see the relationship between Florentine drawings and paintings by comparing the drawing below with the detail of a painting at the top of this post.


David Rayson’s work is centred on what he has called The Everyday Fantastic, or “a soap opera with no text”. He uses basic computer drawing programs and cheap felt tips to draw those bits of the city that no one loves. Underpasses, bits of scrubland, the backs of housing estates, are all drawn or printed in such a way that the medium and the subject conjoin to give form to an idea of an awkward beauty, something on the edge of ugliness, something a long way from Raphael's ideal of the perfect human body and Classical composition. Rayson however still has to consider the relationship between drawing and colour.

David Rayson

Colour and drawing combine in Rayson’s work to give the effect of raw urban experience. There are no soft niceties in this colour palette, the marks are akin to scribble, or colour is simply just filled into areas, but this is an attempt to get at the essence of what the images are about, and felt tips and cheap computer drawing programs are perhaps today's canvas and oil paint. The low toned yellows and vibrant violets in the underpass image suggest that Rayson is very aware of colour theory, and his images therefore hide their sophistication, like an Elizabethan Playwright writing for Eastenders. 
Anna Bulkina in contrast uses colour in a very private intuitive manner. Her use of mono-print techniques means that at times her stained drawn images can blend gently into images that are very painterly. She is similar in some ways to Ken Kiff, but her colour sense being Ukranian is more Eastern European, you at times get intimations of Chagall. I don't think she is as consistent as Kiff but she is well worth looking at if you are thinking of working in a very private idiom, especially when telling stories about the potential of the domestic to become strange and fantastic. 

Anna Bulkina

Someone working more in the tradition of Titian, is an artist like Betsy Dadd. She makes animations and uses a lot of mono-printing techniques, but essentially it could be argued that she is someone that loves drawing in paint.

Betsy Dadd

Betsy Dadd draws directly on glass plates and takes impressions from these in order to achieve the sense of a 'frozen' gesture. She would probably have looked at Degas mono-prints beforehand, Degas being a wonderful bridge between painting and drawing, his pastels (see earlier blog post) holding a delicate line between the two disciplines. If you look closely at the mono print of the figure standing in a swimming pool above, you can get an idea of how the mono printing technique helps her to control the image. The rectangle of the bath itself would have been created by brushing paint directly onto a glass plate. The sharp edges would be created by using a paper stencil to ensure a crisp edge and then the red ladder would have been applied later. Dadd's images evoke the melancholy of the city, they suggest the loneliness that can become the lot of many people drawn into a city of thousands, who by virtue of the harsh environment of late Capitalism, are forced to exist alongside the many but outside of the comfort and protection of family and friendship groups.

It's interesting to compare Dadd's technique with Degas'. He is wiping away the ink to get a sharp edge to the figure, and his brush marks are clearly revealed by the way the paper picks up the ink. Even an artist of Degas' stature has to scratch into the plate to dig out the form, look at how he has tried to clarify the arm by scratching a line around it, and he has had a very difficult time finding the right marks for the hand and comb. The image is being discovered in its making and that is what makes it so fresh and much more akin to Titian's drawing than Raphael's. Dadd's figures are much less substantial, they act as symbols of isolation, rather than flesh and blood people. Each time a technique is used it is rediscovered anew, each artist having to find a language to express what it is to be alive in their particular time and in their particular place.

Rose Wylie

The artist Rose Wylie is someone who draws in paint. She belongs to the tradition that includes David Bomburg and Roy Oxlade, (see earlier posts) but has gradually developed a way of working that is perhaps closer to Philip Guston. It's wonderful to see her work now acknowledged. See 

I started this post with an image from Raphael and now end it with one from Rose Wylie, and you may therefore think that the history of art has taken a steady downwards slide ever since the Renaissance. However I beg to differ. Rose Wylie is as highly trained an artist as Raphael was, she is a graduate of the Royal Collage of Art and in her 'naive' images there is much sophistication. The Pre-Raphaelites were called that because they wanted to return to a more spiritual and direct way of painting and saw the work of Raphael as being a dividing line between the pure, direct expression of Medieval art and the overly sophisticated and controlled manner of the High Renaissance. Artists have always sought to bridge the gap between the experience of life and the artistic lens through which life can be looked at. Rose Wylie like many other artists is seeking to find that 'spirit in the mass', that moment of realisation, that time of duende or an authenticity that helps us touch the reality of being alive, and in doing that she has my full respect.  

See also
 Drawing in colour part one
Drawing in colour part three
Drawing in colour part four

Friday, 22 September 2017

Writing on drawing

This is simply a resource post. Writing on Drawing: essays on drawing edited by Steve Garner is now available on line. 

Chapter titles
Foreword – 'Re: Positioning Drawing' - Page 9
Anita Taylor
Chapter 1: 'Towards a Critical Discourse in Drawing Research' - Page 15
Steve Garner
Chapter 2: 'Nailing the Liminal: The Difficulties of Defining Drawing' - Page 27
Deanna Petherbridge
Chapter 3: 'Drawing Connections' - Page 43
Richard Talbot
Chapter 4: 'Looking at Drawing: Theoretical Distinctions and their Usefulness' - Page 59
Ernst van Alphen
Chapter 5: 'Pride, Prejudice and the Pencil' - Page 71
James Faure Walker
Chapter 6: ' Reappraising Young Children’s Mark-making and Drawing' - Page 93
Angela Anning
Chapter 7: 'New Beginnings and Monstrous Births: Notes Towards an Appreciation of Ideational Drawing' - Page 109
Terry Rosenberg
Chapter 8: ' Embedded Drawing' - Page 125
Angela Eames
Chapter 9: 'Recording: And Questions of Accuracy' - Page 141
Stephen Farthing
Chapter 10: 'Drawing: Towards an Intelligence of Seeing' - Page 153
Howard Riley
Chapter 11: 'Digital Drawing, Graphic Storytelling and Visual Journalism' - Page 169
Anna Ursyn

The Good Drawing is also now available on line. 

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Process and its documentation

Dóra Maurer: Seven Foldings 1975 Drypoint 

My last post about paper reminded me of how important process and its documentation are as ways of developing practice. 
When writing the previous post about Sipho Mabona's origami folding, I was reminded of Dóra Maurer's 'Seven Foldings', a print that became, as she stated, "the object of actions in continuous change". 
Maurer began this series of works by dropping acid onto an etching plate and documenting the process with a series of photographs. She called these performances ‘vehement actions' and began to use systematic photographic documentation of what happened. 'Seven foldings' was an attempt to record the process of change that a plate could go through in a more ‘geometric way'. She cut into the plate, folded it and took ‘phase-prints' of each of the stages. The work becomes a record or documentation of the process and as such its meaning becomes less about issues such as composition or media specificity and more about how as a document it can reveal the processes that lay behind its making. 
Maurer then began to use 16mm film to document her work, for instance the film ‘Timing', shows a canvas being folded. 
Folding was something that fascinated several artists during the late 60s and early 70s, because it was an activity that both revealed the physical structure of what was being folded, and was an activity that could be easily recorded and presented. For instance in relation to her project, 'Drawing Which Makes Itself', Dorothea Rockburne stated, “I came to realise that a piece of paper is a metaphysical object. You write on it, you draw on it, you fold it.” She was interested in paper not just as the ground for a drawing but as an active material, its inherent qualities determining the form of the artwork. The folds when exhibited in series reveal the process of exploration, this type of presentation being very important when process becomes dominant. Work that presents process as an essential aspect of its reason d'etre, has to often be presented very systematically, so that an audience can follow the moves that were made. 

Dorothea Rockburne, Untitled from Locus, 1972

Without the example of artists such as Maurer and Rockburne, Sipho Mabona's practice, (see last post) that relies heavily on its documentation, would not have been possible. 
However, I suspect this older generation of artists associated with process would have criticised Mabona's practice as being not rigorous enough. The fact that he decided to make an elephant, they would have argued, took the audience's attention away from the process of folding itself. 
I think this debate is important because it highlights the post-modern divide. Modernism tended to valorise media specificity and abstraction was a way of getting audiences to focus on the process of making art, such as the quality of the paint marks or surface. The introduction of imagery was often thought of as bringing in a narrative that came from outside art. Artist were advised to stay away from illustrating stories. But theories have moved on and in a post-post-modern world of practice, we are now in a situation where all earlier approaches to and theories about art making are available as on-line resources. However with so much choice, it becomes much harder to make decisions, my advice is therefore to focus on researching whatever it is that is interesting to you and as the research develops hopefully it will reveal an approach and imagery that is unique to your personal vision; not by you trying to make work that is 'different or stylish' but by the force of the inner logic of your process, by the depth of your research and the sharpness of your perception. Whatever you do, you will eventually have to present it to an audience. 
Presentation is very important when systematic processes becomes dominant. Work that presents a timed process has to be presented very systematically, so that an audience can follow the moves that were made. 

Eleanor Antin, 'CARVING: A Traditional Sculpture' 1972

A typical example is Eleanor Antin's 'Carving', every day she reduced her food intake and then each morning, she was photographed naked in the same four stances. She was effectively 'carving' her own body into shape.
The grid of looking, which historically is located within the domain of drawing or geometry can also work as a grid of classification, its structure allowing the observer to clearly examine visual difference. This is a structure borrowed from science; for instance the image below allows various gradients to be compared. 

Slopegraphs for comparing gradients

Eadweard Muybridge

The gridded systematic approach used by scientists and analytic researchers such as Muybridge allows us to easily see the results of an investigation and this was to have a powerful influence on art. It is of course important to remind ourselves that drawing as a means to explain things is an essential tool for all disciplines. During the Renaissance when the disciplines of art and science were not so rigidly separated it was easier to see the grid as part of the process of looking and systematically checking relationships.

Durer: gridded perspective device

As a tool for measurement a grid could be both laid over a plot of land or established as a screen through which to look at the world. 
In the late twentieth century Rosalind Krauss wrote an important theoretical text on the relationship between the grid and modern art. The grid as a formal device to use when stabilising visual relationships was during the last century embedded as a central component of design thinking. In the last fifty years, any artist with even a small amount of training in graphics or visual design would therefore have been introduced to the importance of the modular grid as an organising structure. 
In the 13th century, the architect Villard de Honnecourt produced a diagram used for producing page layouts with margins of fixed ratios.

Use of fixed ratios to stabilise layout in design

Although gridded page layout had been used since the invention of printing, the profession of graphic designer did not get established until the early 20th century, but with the rise of industrialisation, print in particular became vital to the dissemination of information and although fixed ratios were still useful, geometry and in particular the grid, were organising systems that could be used much more flexibly. There was a move away from centered text to “asymmetric” design as in a newspaper page, and designers began to use a Modular gridwhich was an especially flexible model for text and image arrangement.

Compare the modular grid above with typical gridded modular presentations used by artists who use systematic processes. 

Bernd & Hilla Becher

Andy Warhol

herman de vries

Sol Lewitt

The compositional logic of the grid as a template for aesthetic investigation was central to the development of the work of several artists interested in process. The serialised exploration of formal variation, was guided and limited by the geometric configuration of the grid and was an aspect of fine art I clearly remember being promoted from my time at college in the late 60s and early 70s. Perhaps the most sensitive of the artists working in this way was Agnus Martin. She often held a delicate balance between following the logic of the grid and allowing her own aesthetic sensibility to determine the final result. 

Agnus Martin

In the mid twentieth century the design grid was incorporated into the grid of the computer screen and early users of the computer to create art relied on this to generate their work. Frederick Hammersley was one of the first artists to use computer coding to generate imagery and the way numbers are used to identify the points on a screen relies on Cartesian coordinates which are themselves essential to the development of analytic geometry. 

Frederick Hammersley

Looking at the grid in relation to 'documentation', it also becomes clear how what was initially used as a device to stabilise design, is now becoming a format to emphasise rigor and authenticity. Tehching Hsieh's 'Doing Time' which was the Taiwan pavilion's presentation at this year's Venice Biennale, relied heavily on systematic documentation.

Tehching Hsieh's 'Doing Time'

The geometric grid that was used for the serialised exploration of formal variation is in this case being used to establish the authenticity of the action. Once more I'm reminded of how important 'disegno' is as a principle and or method that underlies fine art practice. Disegno constitutes the intellectual component of the visual arts, which in the Renaissance justified their elevation from craft to fine art. The use of a grid in this case is not simply about the clear visualisation of the process, it also asks questions about the human capacity to systematically organise the world. From the way we are clocked in, given a number and registered from the moment we are born, to the way that the collection of statistics becomes the driving force behind government decision making. Disegno, 'drawing' in this case being the way that an underlying concept shapes the final presentation. 
Geometry itself began as a way of developing a particular understanding of the world, when it was first used there would have been no separation between what we now call art and science, it was simply a useful way of drawing. Documentation has long been an essential tool for the understanding of scientific investigation and has now become central to contemporary art practice. Perhaps we are at last beginning to respond to C. P. Snow's problem of two cultures. He argued that "the intellectual life of the whole of western society" was split into two cultures; the sciences and the humanities, and that this was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems.

Social media relies on documented imagery to function, many artists have extended their practices into filmmaking via the process of documenting their actions and processes. Technological advances now mean that we all have a mobile device in our pockets that we can use to make films that are of better quality than those made with movie cameras used to be. I began this post reflecting on the film that was done to document Sipho Mabona's origami folding. Why not consider making a series of short videos about your own practice? Which aspects would you focus on? Would these videos focus on the sound of your drawing's making? On the way marks change a surface? or on the more performative aspects of your work? Perhaps a video could be made of the processes 'off camera'. Is there a filmic story in the history of the elements that you are working with? I have posted several times about the stories that come with various papers or substances such as charcoal or graphite, is there a way of making these histories into videos? 

See also some other related posts on the grid and disegno: