“To draw is to look, examining the structure of appearances – A drawing of a tree shows not a tree, but a tree being looked at.” John Berger.
Contemporary Drawing has become its own art form. It is a phrase that covers any and all drawing, realist, abstract, modernist, post-modernist. The main issues concerning contemporary drawing are not about what is drawn, although this can affect it, but more about how something is drawn, what material, what surface, what mark, space and structure. Alongside this, artists who create contemporary drawings make specific choices for specific reasons and there is always some kind of plan, logic and intentionality.
In her book, Contemporary Drawing, Key Concepts and Techniques, Margaret Davidson breaks down specific techniques and concepts in each of the chapters. Reading this and various other articles on the subject, there is one artist whose name appears more often than others and that is Georges Seurat.
Seurat seems to be the first to develop a drawing technique that consciously explores the relationship between the surface and the mark. He found that with a blunt crayon on textured paper it was not possible to draw tiny details and he created his drawings by building up layers of tone. Here is ‘Embroidery: The Artist’s Mother 1882 – 1883, conté crayon on Michallet paper.
Seurat created a series of drawings that shimmer with light and dark particles, drawings that seem to have solid forms with no outlines. He chose textured paper, applying the crayon with various pressures to achieve tones containing varying amounts of white flecks from the paper. Seurat was classically trained as a few of the drawings he left behind show, he had knowledge of how to achieve accurate form with contour and tone with parallel and hatched strokes. Seurat left this drawing style behind and did not return to it, he developed his own style with conté crayon on textured paper and deliberately incorporated the nature of the surface into the act of drawing itself, so that the surface influenced the mark. Seurat had made the issues of surface and mark as important as the subject matter of the drawing. This may not be astonishing today as we have such an array of paper and materials etc. to choose from and these choices are no longer unusual, but if we consider the purpose of drawing at that time and before, it used to be no more than a preparatory to painting or sculpture.
In future blogs I will be posting articles about current contemporary drawing artists but I felt it necessary to establish a historical background. For March I will be writing a bit about Egon Schiele’s drawings as his radical drawing style never ceases to amaze me.