This month I have been looking at drawings made by artists using text-based marks as described in Margaret Davidson’s book ‘Contemporary Drawing – Key Concepts and Techniques’. She explains that some artists work on pre-printed papers such as newspapers, sheet music, maps, book pages and that is always the preprinted marks that have some say in what the finished image will look like and what it will be about. Davidson continues to explain that sometimes these artists are working with the content of the text but they are always working with the shapes the text makes. As with those artists working with nature induced marks, discussed in last months blog, they do not necessarily control the outcome.
One of the examples Davidson shows us is a work by Sally Schuh. Schuh creates visual interpretations of Gertrude Stein’s writing using repetition to create a visual translation of what Stein created in literary form. Stein used repetition to make auditory patterns out of sounds and oral patterns out of words.
Schuh assigns each square of paper of her drawing to a sentence of Stein’s writing. If the sentence consists of one phrase, Schuh types that phrase into a square with a manual typewriter. If the sentence has many repetitions of the phrase, she types them all into the square. Visually the squares vary in density and tonality, sometimes the typing breaks the paper apart. The phrases vary from legible to illegible, from light to dark and Schuh arranges the squares and delicately attaches them together.
Davidson also gives an example of Carl Andre’s typed works and there is an interesting description about these works with lots of lovely big pictures on this link:
Davidson also gives artist Louise Hopkins as an example and there are many articles on the internet about her. Since the early 1990s, Louise Hopkins has used furnishing fabrics, maps, song sheets, comics and pages of magazines to create works that address the process and problems of representation. Her project is to transform existing surfaces into paintings or drawings, taking them from the everyday world and giving them a new status. In this example Hopkins has coloured in areas of a newspaper page leaving the words ‘the’ and ‘of’ and ‘of the’ visible.
The position of the visible words cannot be seen until the work is complete and therefore the work is unpredictable and the result is intriguing and well balanced.
All of the artists I have researched so far, despite their different mediums, have set up a process or a set of codes that will predetermine the outcome of the drawing. The drawings can often have the appearance of being simple and simply made, but when we look further into them we begin to see the interweaving messages and complexities of the work.
There is this relinquishing of control, perhaps not as extreme as Jackson Pollock but more in the manner of John Cage who used chance operations based on the I Ching to determine the type of paper, colours, tools and techniques. Here is a piece from an article from the Huffington Post that it explains this well. It relates to his musical compositions but we can see how this influenced his drawings:
Tying all of Cage’s life work together, including the visual, is the Zen principle of non-attachment (Nekkhamma). Chance operations offered a path of “right intention” for Cage to relinquish control over his compositions, releasing its expressive possibilities into the universe and away from the narrow proprietary authority embedded in Western notions of the Artist handed down from Romanticism (and not coincidentally capitalism as well). Non-attachment underlies Cage’s embrace of silence, the opening up of individual being to the common experience of environmental ambience, a way to get the ego quite literally out of the way. As Cage (decades before August Rush) once said: “Music is all around us; if only we had ears.”
Next month sees the opening of Agnes Martin at the Tate. I am hoping to see it next week and so much of next months blog will be focused one her.