25 Jun 2021
Contemporary Drawing | Making a mark
We delve into the world of contemporary drawing, exploring the work of artists who push the boundaries of the medium.
Up until the 1960s, drawing as a medium was seen as a lesser form by many. Within the process of art-making, drawing was placed in the category of secondary art. However, now a new generation of artists strive to push the limits of drawing. Artists are constantly redefining how the medium is seen and experienced by the contemporary art world. In recent years, artists have begun to push the boundaries of the meaning and ethos of contemporary drawing. Many artists continue to use traditional tools and techniques, including pens, pencils or brushes. However, a plethora of different techniques are now used to create exciting and radicalised forms of drawing. These include processes such as scratching, cutting, burning, sticking, sewing and writing. As well as this, for many artists performance is now involved in the drawing process.
For this article, we delve into the world of contemporary drawing and explore the intriguing work of artist Vija Celmins, David Musgrave, Marcia Kure and Unframe artist Rachel Duckhouse, to name just a few.
Contemporary drawing most often blurs the line between itself and other mediums such as land art, sculpture and performance. With this purpose in mind, contemporary artists have often used drawing to think through questions of identity, place, time, memory, power and protest, to name just a few. Drawing is used by many to reinvigorate and re-think the realm of image-making. We look at a selection of artists who produce finished and carefully formed contemporary drawings. A disregard for cliché ideas is often present in the work of contemporary artists who draw. Without a doubt, there is a shared passion for tentative gestures, as well as time and skill invested in each drawing.
British artist Peter Peri works across painting, drawing and sculpting. Most often, his work deals with direction and accumulation in relation to line. Although the subject of his work is thought to focus on dissolution and in particular, the fetishisation of this within the modern world. His contemporary drawing seems to inhabit an entirely different era to when they are made. Peri illustrates the emergence of the modern world in his alluring drawn works, capturing one which is radical and glamorous. He works with dense and bold lines, subsequently creating a powerful and physical presence on the paper.
Initially, Peri’s paintings suggest different arrangements of shapes and forms, colour and texture which represent figurative objects. Peri depicts space as having a seemingly never-ending dimension, whilst also being textural on the surface. His precise drawings are deeply imaginative and allow viewers to delve into a world of considered, soft shapes.
For British artist Lucy Skaer, her work is both material based and conceptual. Within her practice, she draws inspiration from a backdrop of socially engaged art as well as environmental and land art. Primarily, she works in film, printmaking and sculpture as well as complex installation work. For her drawings, Skaer takes reference from her contemporaries and artist predecessors. She also explores the history of objects and historical events, focusing on how our reading of them changes over time. Additionally, she intends to re-animate the significance of imagery within the collective consciousness. And most often, she implies rituals and material history alongside her relationship to the landscape.
Throughout her ever-changing drawing sources, Skaer keeps a reoccurring concern with landscapes and our relationship to them. In her drawing, she refers to the meaning of her work as being abstract and constantly evolving. In composition, her contemporary drawing is meticulous made and intricate it its outcome. Skaer transforms materials and ideas in her exploration of transitory states, the present and past.
Latvian American artist Vija Celmins predominantly creates photo-realistic drawings of phenomena including the ocean, rocks, spider webs and stars fields. Above all, Celmins is interested in images and this began through her use of magazines and books as a source of inspiration during the 1960s. At the time, she was making sculptures based on everyday objects alongside artists such as Andy Warhol and Richard Hamilton. Both of these artists who were known as pop artists used these sources to comment on popular culture and consumerism. However, Celmins chose to focus on the experimentation with object scale and size. In this case, she would often warp depictions of objects, detaching them from their original function.
She was led to making her drawings of seas, night skies and deserts by her early object paintings. These first drawings most often featured planets and the surface of the moon. Celmins was inspired in this case by the landing on the moon in 1969. The late 1960s saw the ‘space race’ between the Soviet Union and the USA. On 20 July in 1969, the spaceflight Apollo 11 landed on the moon bringing with it dramatic and radical imagery of the moon in the media.
British artist David Musgrave creates evocative drawings which are often seen as being copies without an original. He works to make poignant yet understated drawings which evoke a sense of intellectual engagement. Musgrave creates drawings which evokes ideas of detailed surface rubbings. In his piece ‘Folded Stone Plane’, Musgrave eludes to graffiti-marked stone surfaces, making it easy to fantasise a back-story. However, Musgrave does not attach weighty concepts behind his drawings. They depict iconographic playfulness through a process of deciphering an image and its limitations. Although, he does elude to meaning in his contemporary drawing hidden behind a mute, safe world.
Musgrave explains, “I think I’m always trying to embody the conditions that enabled that making to happen. You never make the first mark; there is always an archaeology or a history you can open up to a greater or lesser extent – sometimes a very specific history and sometimes a more general one.” In his practice,Musgrave believes that abstract artworks most often struggle to communicate with the viewer on an emotional plane. His drawings elude to abstraction but remain observational of his chosen subjects.
Many contemporary artists make drawings using unusual materials like hair, coffee, natural pigments and blood. Nigerian American artist Marcia Kure most often uses traditional pigments such as kola nut and coffee. As well as this, she uses parts of traditional Nigerian Uli art, made by Igbo women to decorate bodies and textiles. These artworks in particuclar draw attention to negative space and lines. Kure uses colour, form and patterns to suggest social and political history and an evergrowing culture’s influence on humanity. Within her practice, Kure describes her work as “an argument for people who do not have a defined place”.
In many ways, despite the humble appearances of Kure’s drawings, her work is extensive. In her work, she bases her drawings on a vast array of human social dynamics. As a result, her drawings are fluid and playfully abstract.
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What most often drives artist Rachel Duckhouse’s work is the drawing of repeated shapes or lines as well as the themes of repetition, layering, architectural structure and patterning. In a similar vein, as she develops her practice, these themes evolve into the starting point for several research based projects. These explore patterns, structures and repeated rhythms and flows. In this case, she finds these in all sorts of contexts, including architecture, landscape, water and biological systems. However, in between these research based projects, she continues developing series of intuitively drawn pen and ink works. Her wider research based practice loosely informs these drawings, such as ‘Capillacea’, but she drives them more by instinct than research.
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In this case, Duckhouse’s ‘Corallinae series’ is a series of intuitive, process led, studio based drawings. Each work therefore derives from a set of rules the artist follows loosely. Duckhouse’s series consists of five abstract drawings in total. The portrayal of floating layers unite all of the works. Another work from the series, ‘Corallinae’, is in the collection of the British Museum. All in all, Duckhouse exhibited this work in their exhibition ‘Pushing Paper: Contemporary drawing from 1970 to now’ showcasing contemporary drawing from their collection.
Acrylic ink and marker pen on canvas, 2018
165 x 180 cm
For artist Janet Currier, the use of the paper reflects her concerns with containment and non-containment. In her paintings on paper there is always a feeling that there is something outside the space. You are just seeing a part of something. There is psychological pressure and also a tension between containment and non-containment.
Acrylic ink and pencil on paper, 2020
171 x 113 cm
The hospital is an underlying presence in her 2020 work ‘Cubicle’. The organic forms at the forefront of the work slowly emerge as being the form of a hospital curtain. At the bottom of the work, the legs of the IV stand emerge. The body is a crucial element to this work. Currier thinks of the body as a multi-verse, a host for other organisms, which are now inside the body, like inner space. For her, this series of work has morphed into being about the lymphatic system.
For Currier, this becomes an important metaphor. The lymphatic system acts as our body’s ‘sewerage system’. Currier sees the strange nodes that evolve in the drawings as organisms coming from the mothership. Her title and subject all allude to a hospital painting that relates back to the maternal subject.
Joonhong Min is a visual artist based in London and Seoul. For his contemporary drawing, he explores the competitive nature of major cities and urban living. Min captures chronic feelings of anxiety and living with people obsessed with success. As well as this, he explores ideas of falling behind in the competition and alienation from others. Min deals with this urban life that elevates the chronic anxiety as a main theme in his work.
On the surfaces of his contemporary drawing, he unfolds his impression of cities with ink pen. The consistent thickness of the line, tightly drawn into hatches with ink pen, fills the surface in an even manner particular to this medium. Min creates these monochromatic pen drawings with various thicknesses of pencil and infinite colours of painting pigments. He expresses these by methodic composition of lines. He creates his final outputs which are arranged in installations, they are responding to real space.
What’s more, much like the work of Marcia Kure, Min uses a number of different techniques within his drawing practice. These techniques include the use of disused wrapping paper and building materials which he draws on. He dissects the original form of these collected materials in order to function and reassemble them in his own way.