Hestercombe Gallery, nr Taunton, Seminar, 6th November 2014, 12.45- 4.30pm
Hestercombe is a new Contemporary arts space in the south west and this is one of a series of 3 seminars with the aim of exploring and engaging with Contemporary arts ecology. This seminar focuses on the use of drawing by artists. As drawing continues to grow as a primary process in art production, how do artists, operating in an international arena use drawing techniques as a mechanism for artistic exploration.
The panel comprises of Tania Kovats, artist; Tim Knowles, artist; Kate Macfarlane, co-director, Drawing Room, London.
I shall write about each of these individually, and then aim to draw some conclusions and try to reflect on the relevance to my currant practice.
The reason this event caught my attention was because of Tania Kovats. She had been brought to my attention on previous courses in relation to drawing- first for ‘The Drawing Book’, and on looking at her work I was interested in her approach to investigating a subject that seems to embrace a wide inquiry, including scientists, writers, thinkers and beyond the immediate art world. The subject and themes in her work resonate too- the landscape, trees and water. I was introduced to her work ‘Oceans’ whilst visiting The Fruitmarket Gallery bookshop to purchase the aforementioned book, I then visited the website where she invited people around the world to send her water samples from the oceans, and felt slightly aggrieved that I didn’t live close enough to an ocean to contribute. This highlights also how she has used todays social media as a means to reach out to an audience far beyond the traditional gallery space, and as she reiterated in her talk this adds a whole new layer to the work. She described the letters and photos she received along with the water samples and how each sample comes with its own narrative.
In her talk she spoke briefly about the works in the exhibition, but then moved on to talk more about her book, ‘Drawing water- drawing as a mechanism for exploration’. She described how the book was made to complement the ‘Oceans’ exhibition, originally shown at The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, as opposed to a more traditional catalogue. She described it as being made in parallel. Of the drawings featured in the book she spoke about many of them being made in relation to being lost, which seemed to be something she could relate to in her own drawing- she described her own drawing practice as a sort of ‘shelter’ and how she used it to ‘fill a space’, and yet the ‘open- ended characteristic of drawing’ allows for a safe space to explore ideas and visualize thoughts. She mentions Darwin’s notebook in which he has written ‘I think’ followed by a drawing relating his ideas of evolution. Kovats spoke of her compulsion to consider the drawings of others, and consider them in terms of her own work. She hinted that this came from a sense of optimism that fuelled her curiosity. One of the last notes I made was her description, in relation to Oceans, as a ‘vast surface with so much underneath’. So apart from the objective description of the Ocean, there is this link to her search far beyond what might be obvious, in terms of both her own and other peoples experience. She also referred to the idea of internal and external space, mentioning Wordsworth speaking of ‘moments of alignment’, which might also relate to the vast surface (external) and so much underneath (internal).
Another thing I took from this talk was Kovats comments about her work not having a ‘look’, there isn’t a generally recognisable style. The thing that links them is her investigation of a single subject- Water. This is certainly very poignant in terms of my own work relating to willow.
I did get the opportunity to ask her about how her research around the subject of water (the book) and how her 2 and 3 dimensional work relate or inform each other. I was a little confused by her answer; I think she described them as different, but then ‘not separate’. Earlier she spoke about the book being parallel to her practice. I felt as though perhaps I had phrased my question poorly or perhaps it is a difficult question to answer. Tim Knowles chipped in describing an Italian Professor who spoke about the ‘practice of research’, Knowles seemed to like this description of artistic practice as a high level of curiosity about everything, and Kovats seemed to agree. So, perhaps they could be considered the same, but different.
Millar, Jeremy and Hoare, Philip (2010). Tania Kovats. Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, Oxford ( in association with Lund Humphries).
Kovats, Tania (2014). Drawing Water – Drawing as a mechanism for exploration. The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh.
Kovats, Tania (Ed) (2005). The Drawing Book – a survey of drawing: the primary means of expression. Black Dog Publishing Limited, London.
Kate Macfarlane was an unexpected addition to the panel, but proved to be really interesting. She is the co-founder of The Drawing Room, London. A centre that focuses on current drawing practice set up along similar principles to the Drawing Centre in New York. It is housed in a building also home to the studios of approximately 25 artists which allows for a dialogue informed by studio practice and the observation of artists at work. Drawing is increasingly being seen as a primary medium for artistic practice with artists making substantial, ambitious works. The centre engages in research around all aspects of international contemporary drawing and encourages the production of drawing as a primary medium. Support for artists from the centre comes in the form of scholarships and an extensive resource library that has open access, some of which they hope will eventually be available digitally.
There is an exhibition space, which had its first exhibition in 2003, which could feature work of emerging artists as well as those who are more established. They encourage artists to take risks and experiment. The current exhibition, ‘The Nakeds’, take a single drawing of a naked figure by Egon Schiele as its starting point and from there considers work by artists from the post-war period to the present day.
As Macfarlane spoke about the various exhibition they have had and the artists featured I was struck by the diversity of practice, in terms of approaches, subjects, themes and materials. She spoke of-
- Masking tape as a found line
- Erased figurative drawings
- An artist who mapped his exhibitions with measurement and drawings
- Misplaced lines- those out of context
- The exploitation of the materials that make the drawings
- Questioning the status of 2 and 3 dimensional work
- The use of soil pigment from soil to make drawings of the plants that grow in them
- Extensive use of a material (graphite) the bringing it back under control
- Figurative drawing on cardboard
- Drawing on found MDF doors
- Drawing made from rubbings on brown packing paper.
I found it exciting to listening to her talking about these ideas, so many of which seemed to have a direct relevance to the work I am currently making and questions I have been exploring. After the talk I spoke with her and she directed me to a publication by them, ‘Drawing: Sculpure’ which includes an essay relating specifically to the question of status around 2 and 3 dimensional work.
When I first booked this event Tim Knowles seemed a vaguely familiar name, but I wasn’t certain where I came across him. As I investigated he seemed to become more and more interesting. I realised I’d come across his work in relation to my currant work around willow. He made a series of tree drawings, including a weeping willow, where he attached markers to branches and placed a canvas close enough to record marks as the wind blew the branches around. I then realised he is featured in the drawing book- ‘Drawing projects- an exploration of the language of drawing’, and in another book I have recently acquired, ‘Art and Ecology Now’. It seems he was also featured in the ‘Walk-On’ exhibition I recently visited in Plymouth.
He is described as an artist best known for making visible what is, by nature or by design, unseen. He works in a range of media- photo, video, drawing, light installation and creates process- orientated works that rely on chance and environmental elements. He also makes use of GPS technology in the recording of data and the internet as a means of sharing/showing his work, often as it unfolds.
His works include –
- Tree drawings (as described above)
- Walks, often incorporating a kite-like weather vane attached to a helmet that allows the wind to guide him or using light to illustrate a path during the night-time.
- Postal drawings– packages sent through the post where a drawing ground and pen have been set up inside to record the movement on it journey.
Some of his works have involved volunteers.
As he spoke about his work ‘chance’ was mentioned frequently and the lack of control. He spoke about ‘letting go’. He spoke about ‘setting up the parameters’ to produce an ‘action’, and ‘allowing external forces’ to produce the work. He described how the works could show time whilst stationary as well as when they were in motion, particularly in the tree and postal drawings as the pens continued to seep ink creating larger round blots. He spoke of trying to ‘understand’ through ‘process’.
It was interesting to hear him talking about his ‘Seven Dials’ work. Using the junction of Seven Dials in London as the starting point he repeatedly walked, guided by the wind. Each walk was an hour, the length he could record, which he described as a chaotic meandering line in collision with the city grid. He said it was interesting how over time the city structure gradually revealed itself.
Knowles was asked about whether he felt his work had the same life when transferred into a gallery. I was a little surprised when he said ‘Yes, if it was considered’. He seemed to view it has having various elements-
- there was the event, which might include participation by volunteers, who would have their own experience of it
- there would be viewers, who witnessed the actual event and would have their own experience and perception of what happened
- there would people who experienced the work in a gallery who might create their own version of the event in their imaginations
He described the work as still ‘being effective’ at each level with the ability to enter ones consciousness and provoke thought. This is perhaps reflective of his ability to ‘let go’ in his work.
Brown, Andrew (2014). Art and Ecology Now. Thames and Hudson Limited, London.
Maslen, Mick and Southern, Jack (2011). Drawing Projects- an exploration of the language of drawing. Black dog Publishing Limited, London.
I found this seminar such a rich experience in terms of addressing questions in my own work, particularly around the question of 2 and 3 dimensional work and how they sit together. It reinforced the idea of drawing as open activity for exploring ideas and thought processes, and can take many different forms. There is no one definition of drawing; it is an open fluid activity. And it is increasingly a primary process of artistic production. With reference to this year’s winner of the Jerwood Drawing prize, a sound piece, the notion of ‘ephemeral’ drawing and ‘drawing in the mind’ were muted, but there were also references to ‘traditional’ drawing.