Contemporary Drawing Blog

This month I am returning to some notes I made from Margaret Davidson’s book ‘Contemporary Drawing’ that got me all excited about contemporary drawing before I started this blog. Towards the end of the first chapter, Davidson talks a lot about the relationship between surface and mark, explaining how it is fundamental to contemporary drawing and that it is these decisions the artist makes, whether realist or abstract, that makes it a contemporary drawing.

She gives examples of types of paper, smooth, textured, toned and translucent that all have special qualities to allow the artist to create the desired image. She also discusses given papers such as graph paper, phone book paper and text book paper and alternative surfaces such as glass, wood and leaves.

Describing her own work, she creates a realist image of a manmade object onto an unlikely and natural surface. She explains, both the image and the surface are changed by the encounter with the end results being twofold: a natural object that has been made into an artefact by the addition of imagery, or imagery that will soon decay and disappear because of what it is drawn on.

In chapter 2, she discusses Mark, basic marks such as line and tone, dots, splashes and splatters. Line that communicates form, tone that communicates form, line and tone together and mark making for its own sake.

I enjoyed looking at the image ‘Untitled’ by Brice Marden 1970, pastel graphite and wax on paper:

Brice Marden

Three black rectangles line up side by side with the narrowest of narrow vertical white lines between them. The white lines are paper without the tonal media, the large black bands are paper with the tonal media. So the question is: Is this a drawing of three black lines or two thin paper lines in a sea of black tone – or both? Davidson mentions the nature of line itself, its width and bulk and the scale surrounding it.

John Cage

I was also struck by the work of John Cage, an American composer, music theorist, writer, and artist who made a number of monoprints and drawings using fire as one of his mark-making tools. Cage’s works use fire right when the paper is being cranked throughout the press, here is a short video of him making the prints:

Incredible! John Cage died in 1992, he devised complicated creative strategies that were dependent on chance outcomes dictated by the I Ching. Here is “An Autobiographical Statement” by John Cage, written for the Inamori Foundation and delivered in Kyoto as a commemorative lecture in response to having received the Kyoto Prize in November 1989. Courtesy of the John Cage Trust.

John Cage / Rocks: Ryoan-ji & New River is an exhibition of drawings and watercolors. Concerning these works, the artist remarked: “I worked once or twice [a year] at the Crown Point Press. Etchings. Once Kathan Brown said, ‘You wouldn’t just sit down and draw.’ Now I do: drawings around stones, stones placed on a grid at chance-determined points. These drawings have also made musical notation: Renga, Score and Twenty‑three Parts, and Ryoanji (but drawing from left to right, halfway around a stone). Ray Kass, an artist who teaches watercolor at Virginia Tech, became interested in my graphic work with chance operations. With his aid and that of students he enlisted I have made fifty‑two watercolors. And those have led me to aquatints, brushes, acids, and their combination with fire, smoke, and stones with etchings.”

John Cage/Rocks

Ryoan-ji & New River OCTOBER 22 – DECEMBER 7, 2012










About Shelley Morrow

Since 2011 I have been predominantly a figurative artist with an interest in conveying expression, movement and gesture. I take the drawings I make and explore them through various processes, particularly embroidery, textiles and etchings. I graduated with a BA in Fine Art at Camberwell School of Art in 1990 and currently taking my MA in Fine Art at Brighton University. I also work at Draw in Brighton, running and teaching Life Drawing sessions
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