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The Continuum of Drawing

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Artist: Amanda Nedham Title: Bullseye target: I’ll draw you a fly 1 of 25 Medium: Graphite Dimension: 8×10 Year: 2019 Exhibition: Field Projects

Drawing has been a topic I have been practicing, lecturing and writing about for years. I am currently teaching a course designed to traverse both Art Theory and Art History of Drawing in the Visual Critical Studies department at The School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.  Some example texts we dive through are Drawing Now – 8 Propositions and the monumental text The Primacy of Drawing by Deanna Petherbridge. Along with this, drawing is a huge part of my practice as a visual artist and integral to my role as a writer and a critic. I can’t help but think drawing is connected to everything. After seeing several shows this year that deal with this ever changing medium, I’ve selected my three favorite and feel they all offer something different and critically important to drawing’s ever changing role.

I recently took my students from SVA to visit Field Projects to see the show, I’ll draw you a fly by Brooklyn based Amanda Nedham and was thankful to have her speak with my students about her process and narratives in her solo show.

I’ll Draw you a Fly, Nedham’s first solo show with Field Projects, consisted of more than a dozen drawings and a few sculptures that grew from Amanda’s fascination with Dian Fossey the American Primatologist and conservationist fascinated with gorillas. The show does not rely on a singular subject or a singular theme, although it does weigh heavily on Fossey’s story. The reason I’ll Draw you a Fly is such a strong show, is it’s instance on drawing’s ability to rewrite the narrative the artist first chose. Nedham did not depict her subject as the most important thing, but she began with them and lived with them – open to change, to accumulation of new forms and their potential new meanings.

This, I argue is the strength of the show and of the specific commitment to materials and processes that Nedham uses. Pencil, charcoal, and charcoal dust have been a cornerstone of language, design, and mark making for hundreds of years. Nedham approaches drawing with a contemporary lens but with a more reserved formal rigor that relies on techniques and materials in a fastidious and sensitive way. The work is not that straight forward though and it steadily questions drawing’s role in communication by her insistence in assemblage and in fracturing and amalgamating knowable forms to create new forms.

Although the interests in this show are derived from a fairly recent history of Dian Fossey,  each drawing can stand on it’s own. However,  it serves a larger purpose when it is situated in groups and in clusters.

In her show, I’ll Draw You a Fly, Nedham shows us divergence in a seamless way. Her mastery of drawing is convincing enough that I might believe these objects were in front of me – but that’s not the point. The drawings act like offerings, often singular subjects shown on 8×10 inch paper and grouped together.

Artist: Amanda Nedham Title: Bat-gorilla: I’ll draw you a fly 6 of 25, I’ll Draw You a Fly Medium: Graphite Dimension: 8×10 Year: 2019 Exhibition: Field Projects

John Ruskin (1819-1900) an art critic, writer and philanthropist asserted that pencil and drawing was the best dictator of the hand, and the most refined way to study nature. Ruskin insisted that drawing directly from nature was paramount and tied intrinsically to a spiritual conviction of sorts. This ethos still lives in some artists’ work like Amanda Nedham, Jennifer Pastor, John Cage and Caroline Wells Chandler. This happens when the technical application is often questioned and observation is second to memory and play. The subjects these artists consider are collaged – and chance and mistakes play just as an important role as the sharpness of a pencil.

Artist: Stephen Vitiello (b. 1964), Title: Speaker Drawing Medium: Pigment and spray fixative. Year: 2006 Exhibition: Drawing by Any Means, The Morgan Library

By Any Means, Contemporary Drawings at The Morgan Library showcases select pieces by Robert Rauschenberg, Sol LeWett, John Cage, Gavin Turk, Jack Whitten and several others. This show, although small in scale, displays the a wide range of drawing’s growth and expansive language since the 1950’s. This show shared an intense shift in the art world that fed off pluralism of the mid twentieth century and challenged the status quo. I took my Art Theory class to this exhibit as well and it served as a great launching pad for the text, Drawing Now – 8 Propositions, which shares 8 specific chapters themed around ornament, the body, architecture, fashion – all derived from drawing language and it’s defiance to be defined.

This show at The Morgan Library helps formulate the questions ‘What is a drawing?’, ‘What does collaboration in drawing and in art mean?’ And ‘What are the means artists are using to re-contextualize the historic medium of drawing?’ Stephen Vitiello’s Drawing made by the vibrations of a speaker shows us directly chance, rhythm and the ‘third hand’ in drawing’s potential.

To me, this show is important because it pins down a specific time in art when questioning materials, methods and intention came to a halt and took a political stance to not repeat the past.

Artist: Caroline Wells Chandler Title: Chagall Claw Medium: Hand Embroidery and Flash on Stretched Cotton Dimension: 24×18 in Year: 2019 Exhibition: Tutti Frutti, MRS. Gallery

Caroline Wells Chandler does not seem at all concerned with following art historical norms but that does not mean he does’t revere specific artists (e.g., Image Above: Chagall Claw). Caroline’s work is rooted in a sort of comedic anarchy of techniques, conventions and subject matter. From cake fails to children’s drawings and provocative collaborations, Chandler insists on creating his own world on his own terms. Additionally, he also insists that every piece in his recent solo show at MRS. Gallery in Masbeth, Queens is a drawing despite the fact that some appear to skirt the lines of sculpture and painting. For Chandler, drawing and collaboration seem to be intrinsically tied to art making and to a way of life. Drawing seems to help Chandler steer bodies of work and inspired him through observing children’s art to break down ideas of refinement, technique and subsequently change the art hierarchies that art school and the art market create.

Chandler’s defiance to declare that some pieces in the show are paintings and some are sculptures shows his commitment to the broad continuum that drawing champions. Chandler, a graduate of Yale MFA could most certainly refine technique and use graphite only. He could surely represent forms with light and shadow and believable space but that is not the point at all to this artist who takes a great deal of pride in absurdity and of laughter being a part of his work. Because of this, Chandler’s work operates on many levels, and pokes fun at social norms, art materials, sexual innuendos and failure and success. It seems most aptly, that to Chandler that Drawing is a verb, an adjective and a noun and most importantly, an attitude

His attention to others, to collaboration and to children’s art speaks to the interest in a visual language that is primal, unmediated and direct. That is to me, the endless strength of drawing at any level or in any formal solution.

Tutti Frutti, Chandler’s first solo show with the gallery runs through June 1, 2019.

Artist: Caroline Wells Chandler Title: Conductor Medium: Mixed Media on Bristol Colored pencil on paper Dimension: 12×9 inches Year: 2019 Exhibition: Tutti Frutti, MRS. Gallery

To me, drawing’s continued relevance is the inconsistency of the hand and the infallible and ironic way our attention absorbs and contracts while creating work. This results in the mediated work, the un-mediated work, automatic work, and in way’s that escape description.

Drawing creates new ways of seeing in a time where analog may to some, feel out dated. These select shows and artists show it’s triumph, its error, it’s abilities and it’s relevance. Drawing’s legacy is its inability to be defined and its importance to all facets of human language and connection.