Saturday, 14 April 2018

Drawings on show in Leeds City Art Gallery

Anne Hardy: Installation view 'Falling and Walking'

It’s nearly always worthwhile checking out your local art gallery at least once a month. Exhibitions change and a new arrangement of their existing collection can reveal new things about often seen work that you might have become overly familiar with. So as you return to university after the Easter break why not pop in to see whats on?
Leeds City Art Gallery has two drawing themed exhibitions on at the moment. The focus on the drawings used to develop the installation Falling and Walking’ by Anne Hardy is really useful to look at if you are thinking about how drawing can be used as a way of thinking about large scale ideas and how they might be realised. Anne Hardy uses a combination of model making and drawing in order to both work her ideas out and to communicate them to other people. Most of the drawings are quick sketches of ideas, you get the sense that drawings are very much ‘what ifs’ for Hardy and that the models are where she gets t grips with the nuts and bolts of how things might actually work. She often uses watercolour wash to establish a feeling for a space and what might activate it and ballpoint pen to scribble out a fast idea or to hold on to a thought before it disappears.

Ann Hardy: Thinking drawings and a model of installation ideas

Adjacent to the display of Anne Hardy’s drawings and models is a very interesting display of the gallery’s collection of two-dimensional work by artists that we usually think of as sculptors. This was very informative and once again highlighted the role that drawing plays in so many artists’ working methodologies. It was personally interesting for myself because one of the first drawings on display was ‘Crossed Beds’ by Jenny West, a fellow colleague at the Leeds Arts University and one that I worked alongside for many years when I worked on the foundation course. Jenny is well known for her very technical approach to drawing,  using tightly controlled perspective drawing projections. In the drawing on display she uses a variety of surface qualities to soften and sharpen different areas of the drawing in order to emphasise the planar movement of her spatial grids and to humanise the technical approach she uses to nail down the image. It was impossible to photograph the image through the glass it was framed behind, so all I can do is give you a ghost image of the drawing, one that has my own body standing within the centre of its crossed grids. 

Jenny West (Crossed Beds: Image behind glass)

Jenny’s drawing is positioned right next to two Claes Oldenburg images. Both of his drawings rely on a very strong sense of how scale can be manipulated in order to give drama and power to an image. The first larger drawing is of a faucet or as we would put it in England a tap. The tap is on and water pours from it in a vertical column. The image is designed to look as if the tap is huge and an architectural insert into a park or garden.  Here perspective is used very technically in order to give authenticity to Oldenburg’s vision of what an everyday item might be like if it was elevated to the scale of a huge landscape feature.

Oldenburg: Proposal for a cathedral in the form of a sink faucet for lake Union, Seattle

A small much looser drawing of cigarette ends is also in show, it is also designed to get an audience to see how these throwaway items could become monumental. These two drawings give you a snapshot into Oldenburg’s mind and you quickly realise how good a draftsman he is. The images are drawn with a consummate command of the materials he is using, whether he is making a swift sketch or a more detailed technical drawing, he is in total command of the process.

Phyllida Barlow: exhibition installation of coloured drawings

Phyllida Barlow

On the opposite wall is a collection of A1 size coloured drawings by Phyllida Barlow. Her drawings are made independently of her three dimensional work, and unlike the Oldenburg drawings are not preparatory sketches or visualisations of ideas but works in their own right. You could think of them as compositions, or freeform arrangements of colour and surface materials, as thin coloured sculpture or flat environments. This distinction between sculptors that use drawing to visualise what might be and those that use it to explore other possibilities runs throughout the display and highlights a key distinction between those using drawing in the old sense of 'disegno' and those who see drawing as a discipline that has its own autonomy, those that in effect treat drawing as an object in its own right.

Alison Wilding

Alison Wilding is an interesting case in point, she uses drawing to explore concepts that she has also realised in 3D, not to visualise more 3D versions, but to create some alternative 2D possibilities that exist as images in their own right. Rose Leverton’s ‘Dinner table beneath the floor proposal’ is of course in the other camp, the drawing is showing us a possibility.

Rose Leverton

The person that perhaps opens out the most conceptually interesting approach to drawing is Cornelia Parker. Her ‘Dead match exposed by a live one’ uses simple photographic technology (literally drawing with light) to produce a photogram of a burnt-out match, brought back to life again by the light of a newly stricken one, in the form of a glowing white silhouette. Parker is conceptually playing with us, getting us to see a beautiful connection between how an image is made and what the image is of.

Cornelia Parker: From ‘Dead match exposed by a live one’ 

The Cornelia Parker image was impossible to photograph because like most of the drawings on display it was behind glass. However it does give me a chance to show you a view of the exhibition as reflected in her photogram and it offers a timely reminder that all of the drawings shown in these blog posts are digital images rendered from photographic exposures. I am always having to write about a topic that is never actually seen, but only referred to. In many ways this demonstrates the power of photography, it is so embedded into digital technology that I often forget how it is shaping and processing everything that I refer to, so perhaps for a while I might turn my attention to 'drawing with light' and see how as a way of thinking it re-conceptualises what I have been trying to articulate in relation to drawing as an extended practice. 
In the meantime do try whenever possible to go and see original artwork, drawings are so much more like objects when you see them in the flesh, the camera lens flattens and de-textures everything, as well as resizing images to fit screen world formats. 

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