- Camberwell Space
As you enter the exhibition the first impression is of the shear breadth of works, objects, and ideas which are contained within the show. There are all manner of size drawings, detailed plant illustrations, life-drawing nudes, quick sketches on tiny scraps of paper, sculpture-drawings, animations, drawing machines, even industrial steel supports. The definition of drawing has expanded so far, that the parameters of the medium have been exploded off the surface of the paper.
Over 70 artists have been selected for the exhibition, all of whom have a connection to Camberwell College, either as teachers or students. The exhibitions’ time frame starts from World War two, the earliest work being a large painted piece, a Shelter Scene made in 1941 by Edward Ardizzone, and leads to recent graduates’ work, for example Victoria Sin’s ‘She must be used to it, she is so goddamn beautiful’ a kind of drag Turin shroud. What is really refreshing is that this is a show about drawing, but one that does not contain the ‘usual suspects’. There are plenty of big name artists’ work on show, alongside artists from all over the world, both famous and many less well known.
Works are grouped thematically on the walls. The curator & artist Kelly Chorpening explained in her talk that she was looking for interesting comparisons, as if the works where having conversations with each other. Some works are from the period when students were taught to copy their teacher’s style. Another grouping is of works which looks at different approaches to studying nature and human’s influence on the natural environment. She talked about the distinction between fine art and illustration becoming blurry, and suggested it doesn’t matter anymore. Artists working today borrow drawing methodologies from all disciplines, everything from scientific specimen studies to architectural drawings to graphic novels. Whichever visual language is used, it is the idea which determines the form. Artists are no longer bound to certain rules in the way the might have been pre-WW2.
There are stories behind each piece, some of which have been explained in the small booklet containing an essay by Kelly Chorpening. The pieces that particularly grabbed my attention are;
Anne-Marie Creamer Meeting the Pied Piper in Brasov, a paper prologue , film 2011
A black box containing fifty four black and white watercolour drawings of remembered scenes from a journey are slowly lifted out of the box by the hand of the artist. In the background a piano accompaniment reminiscent of old silent movies plays. There is a comical interplay between the speed at which the artist reveals her drawings and the pace of the sound track. This piece is romantic with some melancholic overtones, the fairy tale of lost children revisited. (watch here http://amcreamer.net/meeting-the-pied-piper-in-brasov-a-paper-prologue/)
Max K. Weaver Boiling Masses, 2017
A small square drawing with tightly cross-hatched shadows suggesting a fleshy mass. This layer of the drawing is overlaid with curved lines, which intersect with the shadows. At one point there seems to be a crevice or feature, such as a nipple or fold, but it does not conform to normal anatomy. This drawing speaks of the physicality of being, both awkward and exuberant.
Tim Ellis, Eraser 2017
A simple machine with exposed parts is constructed on a wooden platform. A steel drum, a brass wheel, chain and armature holding a lead pencil tip point towards a roll of paper. There are lines on the paper, but just opposite the pencil, points a rubber, with the sole purpose to remove the marks the pencil makes. To me this work embodies the insecurities of being an artist. A role which often means you are always questioning what you do, is this line good enough? Draw something, rub it out, and try again. The work harnesses the intrinsic beauty of machines, be it a dysfunctional one which is stuck in a permanent state of contradiction.
Yu-Chen Wang Chain Reaction 2018
Lying inside a case is a fine detailed drawing of what could be a machine or some kind of strange sci-fi plant stretches across the paper. Next to the drawing is what looks like a broken light bulb, and a small heap of metal shavings. The drawing suggests a series of inter-connecting reactions, sparks fly like hairs. There are moments of tension, mistake and chaos in the drawing. I don’t know whether this was completely fantasy or taken from real experiments, but I enjoy the way the drawing describes a continuous state of flux.
Priscila Fiszman, Love Stairs 2018
A film plays alongside a drawing which looks like a town-planning proposal document for a public space. The film opens up the story of the project, in which the artist worked together with a community group and architects in Rio de Janeiro to install a specially designed walk way down the side of a hill. The contrast between the clean and tidy design, and the complex reality of the project are great. The work highlights the importance of understanding and improving human experience, and how art can be a powerful instrument for positive change in communities.
Would it be possible to curate such an eclectic and experimental exhibition anywhere else? Big galleries and art museums seem bound by their blockbuster shows and commercial aims, their take on the avant-garde is limited to that which has already been approved by committees of curators. Art schools and universities are sanctuaries for experimentation and research which isn’t bound up to visitor figure targets. They each hold an unique archive of the history of art, and have access to the artists of the future. This combination is something we need to value and protect.
I strongly recommend a visit to see this exhibition. It is the sort of exhibition you need to revisit to fully appreciate, and each time you go you will have a new favourite and notice something different.
The exhibition runs from 16 Jan – 16 Feb 2018, for more information go to; http://events.arts.ac.uk/event/2018/1/16/A-History-of-Drawing/.