There are those ways of using drawing that lead to a singular understanding of the medium. There are those artists who use drawing to concretize their conceptual practice within a material framework. There are Those is an attempt to look more deeply at the process of drawing and those reasons to draw. Why are we seeing so much drawing, why are we interested in it and how are artists using it? The medium of drawing holds a particular place in the hierarchy of the arts. It is a method for sketching, a way to solve problems, a mode of research, a part of a larger practice and a place to begin. Historically, drawing is seen as supplementary more than definitive. It is traditionally distinguished as being made with a pencil, pen, charcoal, marker or crayon, usually consisting of lines, patterns or shading. Drawings are typically presented in intimate spaces often hung close together to bring in the viewer.
There are Those included a small selection of Vancouver-based artists who use drawing as part of a larger process of working, but who also set it apart for its specificities, using it in a particular way, as a means to slow down their thinking process. All the works in this exhibition are labored, generally overdrawn. They have a slightly obsessive character, either through exhaustive detail, repetitive gestures, or the obvious working and reworking of a motif. All the works make reference to historical material, either stylistically or thematically, but all the artists have very different approaches to the process. What brings them together is their reliance on drawing as a way to come to terms with their subject matter, as a process for acquiring knowledge.
Kim Kennedy Austin’s Caddis Flies is the most direct example of this connection between drawing and learning. Using The Fly Shop 2007 Catalogue and Travel Digest as her primary source material, Austin fastidiously renders and groups a selection of fishing flies. For each drawing she builds an indexical grid of the different flies, citing the name, catalogue number, colours and hook sizes. She conscientiously reconfigures them onto a page as if filing them into new categories or reorganizing them into a more understandable order. She is studying, not making studies. For Austin drawing is a form of reading, of taking in information. She is trying to understand something as an outsider, using the limited information provided by the catalogue photographs and advertising copy and translating them through drawing. Her drawings are meticulous, attentive to every detail. It is as if her ability to understand is channeled through her drawing skills. She acquires the knowledge by processing it visually and formally, and by turning it into material. Austin also captures time, a way of sharing knowledge and an essential aspect of life that is related to making. How to make the fly is very much like fly fishing itself: particular, stylistic, time consuming, repetitive, meticulous, quiet, isolated and precise. You learn the skills of one while doing the other.
This materializing of knowledge is also relevant to Shannon Oksanen’s drawings of three French Existentialist writers. But for Oksanen it is more about how knowledge can be made manifest than accruing a particular knowledge. For There Are Those, Oksanen presented three ink drawings of Simone De Beauvoir, Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Oksanen reproduces their portraits as a way of describing them, reflecting on who they are as personalities, as images. Out of these formal studies come deeper and less tangible questions. Can their images reflect their thought? Can drawing them onto a flat surface capture meaning? Does bringing them together offer new insight into how their writings intertwine and inform each other? Oksanen represents them at a time when they were defining new thought and influencing each other. There is a certain nostalgia for this time. She represents them, bringing them together, as if self-consciously drawing a philosophical conversation, imagining the potential of their ideas in earnest.
Corin Sworn’s four drawings presented in There are Those most overtly address and figuratively illustrate this relation between material production and the process of understanding. Sworn’s study begins with It Is Not The Origin That Is In Question, Only Its Efficacy a drawing from her Summerhill series, which is based on the non-structured pedagogical methodologies of the utopian Summerhill School (first opened in 1921 in Dresden before being moved to the south of England shortly afterward). This drawing depicts a black and white photograph selected from the book Neill and Summerhill: A Man and His Work published in 1970. It is of a young student leaning over a table of crafts. Sworn’s pencil drawing is heavily worked and densely covered from corner to corner with varying textures. The other three drawings included in the exhibition are softly rendered in coloured pencil and are of abstract paper crafts taken from Card and Cardboard Coloured Crafts first published in Spain in 1969. In opposition to the coloured pieces, which have a lightness in mood and gesture, the murky Summerhill drawing seems foreboding with its dense bluish-grey markings. Its weight reflects it importance. It begins a narrative, naming a place, an understanding, an idea of how understanding should happen. It depicts a place full of potential. Sworn’s crafts depict a popularization of Modernist abstraction in the late 60s, alluding to the manner in which this formal notion of abstraction filtered down into all aspects of life from leisure to education and how they as images represent a colloquial history of aesthetics.
This relation between form and ideals, material and thought, process and understanding collide in the work of Laura Piasta. Her abstract drawings begin with rigid lines, each placed and handled so carefully. Soft shading forms shallow depths around each line, giving them mass and turning them into shapes. They vary in length and direction to form a soft geometric pattern of triangles, which grow into an overall shape that twists, rounds and flattens. The irregular shape sits in the center of the paper, floating, holding position in stasis as if waiting for more lines to be drawn. For Piasta, drawing these lines that move between solid mark and elastic form is a way of embracing an idealism. First and foremost, for the artist the impact of making formal studies, as they take shape, exists simultaneously in the mind and as material. Secondly, there is weight in the viewer’s experience of visual forms.
Ryan Sluggett describes his drawing process as shifting in orientation from horizontal to vertical. He usually starts drawing on a horizontal surface and finishes them vertically on the wall. This shift in perspective also happens for the viewer, but begins with a line that expands and recedes. From a certain distance each of Sluggett’s drawings read as whole images, but in sections, at a closer viewing, they are abstracted into lines, marks and patterns that hold their weight at a more intimate distance. Each of the three works contains two figures who sit next to each other. The couples are not looking at one another and are absorbed in something that occurs out of the picture frame. They are together but are also unconnected. Their gazes keep them apart, separated into individual figures isolated from each other and, with distance, break further apart into shapes, disintegrating into forms. As subjects the figures are both stable and unstable. Reading the image as an image is in discord with the separate marks that make it a whole. This dissonance is part of Sluggett’s stylistic fluency, which uses drawing to mash subject matter into a range of lines, strokes, colours, shapes and fields.
There is a similarity between Luanne Martineau’s dense drawings and Sluggett’s process of layering colour and style. Martineau’s works are also constructed through a tension between line and texture and the depiction of coherent images. For the artist the image begins with the line, but for the viewer it starts with the image. In both Sluggett and Martineau’s work there is a building of depth by overlaying colour and lines that causes a vibration between figure and field. But where Sluggett has a gestural lightness that seems more immediate, Martineau seems infinitely controlled. Like Sluggett, she begins with the figure, but her figurative works are caricatures built more from her own musings than real scenarios. With the precision of each separate line she crosses over into fantasy. She uses this control to develop personalities, creating characters, as well as character that is built over time. As lines cross so does time. As the colours blend so does the figure morph. Left and right profiles and frontal stances are woven on top of each other like the figure in Big Lady who seems to be shaking her head. This huge woman with her legs splayed is a character who in part represents a process of seeing and understanding. She is exposed, but also exposes the artist. Martineau engages in the process of drawing by trying to reconstruct the way personalities unravel or how they are constructed. Like each of her drawings they are both simple and complex. The compositions are usually of one figure or a portion of the body floating in a center composition, but within that there is a concentrated site where each mark, each layer, is harder to read and where the figure can become any number of things, thoughts, objects, forms or personality. The entry point is familiar, a single figure or a body part, but as the layers unfold a deeper introspection is required in the process of looking and reading.
There are those artists who draw, and more importantly there are those reasons to draw. Drawing has its multifaceted functions, but for the works in this exhibition we find a pointed link. There is a working out both conceptually and formally that happens on the paper, so much so that at times it becomes the subject matter. Intermingling amongst individual topics, subjects, scenes, shapes and lines is an effort to bring a process of understanding forward that moves outside of conventional modes of learning. The works are beyond knowing in the sense that they are made with a method that is traditionally used to rehearse, but are also used to produce an abstract knowing through a material process.