Contemporary Drawing – Scale

I return again to Margaret Davidson’s book Contemporary Drawing – Key Concepts and Techniques for my source of reference and inspiration. I have read or tried to read many other articles about contemporary drawing on the internet and delved through other books on the subject but I always seem to return to her book for well written and understandable text.

In her chapter on scale, I was really struck by the Norwegian artist Jan Groth, b 1938. These 3 are tapestries made around 1966, they are enormous:

Groth starts with normal sized drawings of a single or few charcoal lines on white paper, then the image is reversed to become a white line on a black background which dramatises  and emphasises the hand drawn quality of the line. The image is then handed over to the Gobelin Tapestry Works where it is enlarged and translated into a weaving or embroidery. Groth supervises the progress of his work but accepts the changes to his image that the weaving process inevitably brings about.

I would love to see these, to stand in front of them must be awesome, quite frankly. I have seen Tracey Emin’s giant embroideries at the Southbank Centre and Grayson Perry’s tapestries at the Turner contemporary in Margate but I wasn’t aware that this technique on this scale had been done before.

I find his drawings and sculptures exquisite, they are delicate and sensual in their own right and they remind me of Giacometti, in a minimalist way:


On the subject of scale, Davidson talks about how artists need to think about how the scale will affect them as they work on the drawing, how it will affect the size and nature of the mark within the drawing and how it will affect the viewers as they look at the finished piece.

Even though I haven’t seen the original works by Groth, I can understand the importance of scale in his work and interestingly, this is Grayson Perry’s answer to a question of scale he was asked in A Conversation with Grayson Perry by Ocular magazine:

Why is the ability to work on monumental scale so important to you?

Contemporary art real estate is growing. Galleries are so big now and so imposing and whenever I get shown where I am going to exhibit, I always feel a bit intimidated by it because I make small things that take a long time to make. I am always at a disadvantage to people who make huge things, and have large workshops and do videos and so on. So my tapestries are a way of me dealing with a very crafted and detail rich object that also can be of a fairly large scale. So it is was the answer to my prayers in a way.

This has given me food for thought regarding my own work. I make small hand embroideries based on my drawings that are often drowned out by large brightly coloured paintings in a gallery space. With a forthcoming mixed show in the New Year, I will research the possibility of having one of my watercolours digitised, enlarged and manufactured by a machine – something that I would be unable to create by hand on a large scale.

Davidson repeatedly impresses on us that the one thing that really unites all contemporary drawing is intentionality. By this she means to continuously think of all the concepts and how they interrelate and that every decision has a reason behind it. Her previous chapters describe issues such as surface, materials, composition and so on, and all of these decisions are crucial to the meaning and message of the drawing. Drawing is more than the subject matter, it is a combination of what the drawing is of, and how and why the drawing is made.






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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