- Stroud Valley Artspace, Stroud
- South West England
On June 1st, 2019, Nicola Grellier began drawing daily. That was the beginning of a process that ended 366 days later, on May 31st, 2020. I am standing in Stroud’s single room SVA gallery looking at two walls that are covered, floor-to-ceiling, in the drawings that constitute today. Each drawing is 20x20cm, and they are hung in grid formation. Number one, NO EXIT, is in the top left corner of one wall and, weaving left and right, they descend in rows until the wall is filled. They continue in the same way on the adjacent wall until they conclude in the bottom right corner with number 366, TODAY.
Drawings, and the act of drawing, are often used as a means to an end – preliminary sketches, compositional plans, that sort of thing – but here drawing is presented as an end in itself. Drawing can liberate and it can paralyse. Has there ever been an artist anywhere that has not at some point stood frozen, fixed in the brightness of the blank page? Grellier describes one of the functions of drawing as ‘A way to get rid of that white thing.’ today demonstrates her many methods of doing so from taking her time with ink and a brush, to times when perhaps it was necessary to work at a faster pace – there are numerous collage-heavy works here, some exclusively so.
There are trends in form, palette, and mood that emerge during the ebb and flow of the year. A burst of colour can last for days before bold monochrome steps in and takes over. The palette is dominated by an envelope shade of green-brown ink that Grellier uses to depict floating limbs and other bodily forms. Dotted throughout are sensitively rendered life-drawings, and several airport coffee table sketches that Grellier admits may not have been completed on the day they were posted. This is fine, of course. I know because I have undertaken similar one-every-day-for-a-year projects myself. I understand the challenges one faces during such an undertaking: Getting started, keeping going, avoiding repetition, losing interest, remotivating, finding time. Settling in.
The first few rows of drawings in today bear witness to Grellier’s settling-in period. It is telling that only 13 of her first 28 drawings are reproduced in the book she has published to document her endeavour. Indeed, Grellier herself described drawing number 28, an air of heaviness, as ‘the first one where it felt like the work was about more than sitting and drawing.’ A month, then, to form the habit of drawing daily; to stand by her conviction until it felt more than automatic. It is at times like these when the value of committing sharing one’s intentions and the drawings themselves on Instagram every day comes into its own.
Drawing, as Grellier has reminded me many times, is like a muscle that needs to be exercised. She is right, of course, but it is also more than that. Drawing is more than a muscle, though. It is a window into the mind of its creator, and this is emphasised when confronted with the images from today all together in one space, rather than scrolling through Instagram, or even flicking through a collection of prints. Once the first 28 days are behind her, Grellier settles into the rhythm of drawing daily and her inhibitions recede. She loosens her grip on form and content so that the series begins to function as a continuum of expression, of processing the day or week’s events. A language starts to talk – or draw – itself into existence, and its only living speaker demonstrates a fluency the like of which can only be achieved by the total immersion that comes in the form of daily use.
The second quarter of the drawing year contains many limbs, disembodied, floating, or as is often the case, repeated within the same drawing. Ten arms swing from a central pivot: 151. Handshake. Six legs imply movement: 103. Habits.
today is also a collection of 366 titles. In the gallery I sit and read through them and the list itself becomes a work. A 700-word summary of Grellier’s year. Passages read like a diary. 71 to 78 might describe a difficult week: Somewhere else, Inside air, Swifts Hill, Lost, Ups and downs, Domestic, Juggling Balls, Stop. Carry on. Likewise, 93 to 99: Things change, Mistakes are god, Done in, Balance, How to decide, iCloud, Saturday night in. There are other sequences, too. The final two months of the series takes place during the early lockdown phase of the COVID19 pandemic: 276. No touching, 279. Anticipated exposure, 289. Infectious agent. 285. A pocalypse, 297. Home schooling.
A year in the life of this artist – any artist or non-artist for that matter – reveals many ups and downs, the pressures of family life, mental health concerns, and the need to Just Keep Going. Was that a title of one of the drawings? It feels like it should be. Grellier is at pains to point out that this series is not a journey she has been on, though concedes that is an analogy that many have made. In her interviews with Emily Lucas, a PhD candidate who has taken Grellier as her case study, she says that as a viewer she always wants more than just the image on the wall. In this sense, with today, Grellier has given the world the kind of work she wants to see. The objects in her drawings are recognisably of the world, but there is another narrative that runs through the 366 titles that accompany this work. Together the images and titles tell a story of someone who has just about found their place in the world and is staking a claim to a territory. Grellier is always learning – that would explain the recently completed MA, despite having been a successful artist all her life. Nicola Grellier knows that there is always more, and as she continues to develop her practice, she never stops asking questions of herself and the world around her. In today, Grellier established a way of achieving just that, and I would not bet against her doing it again one day, and the next day, and the next…
This review was commissioned by Nicola Grellier
Images courtesy of Nicola Grellier