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Contemporary drawing research

A quick look at Vitamin D2 – New Perspectives in Drawing

We often suggest students read a copy of books like Vitamin D as part of their research for Drawing Fine Art and Illustration, but we are also mindful of the fact that for many students, getting hold of a copy of this or other contemporary drawing books can be a challenge.
So I wanted to bring together a short summary of the most recent book in the Drawing series – Vitamin D2, focusing particularly on some of the artists featured whose drawing practices it might be interesting and useful for students to look at (potentially Drawing students – but this will be of interest to any students who use drawing to develop their work).
All books take a snapshot of contemporary drawing practices, and what will be interesting to students is how broad the ideas of ‘drawing’ can be, stemming from more traditional representational styles, through to work that really pushes the boundaries of what materials can do and what drawing can be; combining elements of sculpture, painting, photography and installation. For students who find it hard to get hold of a copy of either Vitamin D or Vitamin D2 (the most recent book in an ongoing series), I have picked out a few artists from the 115 featured in Vitamin D2 with links to websites to help students research them – and also to give an idea of the real breadth and depth that contemporary drawing encompasses.
Looking first at Iris Van Dongen’s representational drawings in charcoal, pastel and watercolour on paper. The way she handles her materials is particularly interesting – and unexpected when you look at her detailed portraits; ‘She works primarily in pastels and charcoal – applying the medium to her fingers and then tapping it on to the paper.’ (Marina Cashdan, Vitamin D2, New Perspectives in Drawing, p. 302). Her work is at the edge of Drawing / Painting and is described as either or both interchangeably. It would be interesting to look at her portraits and ask the questions – why are these drawings and not paintings? Is it the medium, the technique or how the artist categorises them? How can I test and push the way I use materials to apply them in different ways – and what are the results of this?
As students on Drawing One are encouraged to explore a range of media and work with collage, I thought the work of Antonis Donef would be interesting to look at. His large scale drawings in ink on paper mounted onto canvas are incredibly detailed, the paper he works on is taken from collected books bought from antique and second hand book shops. The pages are layered and positioned to make new connections that are joined by his ink drawings as the final layer. In these dense and detailed ink drawings, he develops a new kind of image and world of information that renders the books useless but instead makes ‘almost endless dream-like connections, with scientific knowledge serving not as an end in itself…but as a protean point of departure for the viewer’s imagination.’ (Dushko Petrovich, Vitamin D2, New Perspectives in Drawing, p. 88).
Next, looking at what happens to drawing when the artist tries to remove his or her hand from the making process, artist Cameron Robbins uses drawing machines to set up scientific experiments to measure things like the weather conditions in a place, for example in his Wind Drawings, creating ink drawings from drawing machines he makes and installs in particular locations to ‘receive weather energy and translate it into an abstract format of ink drawings on paper.’ (http://cameronrobbins.com/wind-drawings/). The energy and time evident in these drawings translates the scientific data and the method of capturing and conveying this data into the medium of ink drawings (in these drawings the data being the wind measured through his machines). The energy and time is self-evident in the drawings, mark upon mark layered to create dense strands of measurements that illustrate the experiments but at the same time become so much more than the sum of their parts. For students it would be interesting to look at this work and think about the control the artist has over the outcomes – he decides what to measure, where and how, but the end result is left to the machines and weather conditions to dictate.
Finally looking at the point when drawing and installation meet, Kira Lynn Harris’s work plays with perspective and simple line drawings ‘consisting of white pastel on matte black paint, not only do Harris’s wall drawings resemble chalk on blackboard, but are created with eventual erasure in mind.’ (Nicole J. Caruth, Vitamin D2, New Perspectives in Drawing, p. 122). For students, working up to a larger scale can often be challenging, so these enormous wall drawings, some measuring over 18 metres in length, demonstrate the real ambition drawing can offer – and the immersive experience it can bring to the viewer; ‘her use of multipoint perspective makes it seem possible, if only for a moment, to walk and sit in the interior or exterior spaces she renders.’ (Nicole J. Caruth, Vitamin D2, New Perspectives in Drawing, p. 122). The fact that the drawings will be painted over once the exhibition is over, so that all that remains is a photographic record of the installation is interesting to think about. Temporary drawings form part of the Drawing One course and students often create brave and exciting work that exists only for a short time. Many of us work in small spaces making larger scale work a real challenge to produce – but most of us have access to some kind of outdoor space and can draw with found materials like leaves, twigs, earth. Provided a good photographic record is kept and students reflect on this in their log – these can bring in challenging and exciting ways to work.    
The Vitamin series extends beyond a focus on drawing to other books looking at contemporary painting, ceramics, sculpture and installation – all give a sense of the range of work being made by contemporary artists globally. The publishers web page gives a summary of some of the artists included in each book, so if students are struggling to get hold of a copy, researching some of the artists listed is a good place to start – https://uk.phaidon.com/store/art/vitamin-d2-9780714876443/ but nothing beats getting out to see artists exhibiting in your area, asking questions about how and why they are making their work – all the time reflecting on this and keeping a detailed record in your learning log!
If you have access to a library with a good collection of drawing books, then the Vitamin D series sits alongside other books that also survey contemporary drawing practice and I’d really recommend reading some or all of these:
Vitamin D and Vitamin D2, New Perspectives in Drawing (Garrett, 2013, Phaidon)
Drawing Now 2015 (Editors Schroder and Lahner, 2015, Hirmer)
Drawing Projects, an exploration of the language of drawing (Maslen and Southern, 2011, Black Dog)
Image Credit: OCA student Kim De Paolis

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Posted by author: Lydia Halcrow
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2 thoughts on “Contemporary drawing research

  • Thanks for your interesting choice of artists Lydia. Very stimulating approaches. Must get my book off the shelf and browse through it.

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