The End of the Line: Attitudes in Drawing
As a major new touring exhibition assessing the importance of drawing arrives in the capital Neil Cooper talks to some of the participants
Time was when the only thing artists drew was the dole. With a return to the dark ages of Tory government imminent, the halcyon days of the unofficial fortnightly grant that allowed an entire generation of Thatcher’s children to explore their creativity are unlikely to accompany the new regime. Nevertheless, artists have been looking to more immediate grass roots forms of expression for some time now. When more formal institutions get hip to DIY grenade lobbing, however, it can too often look like bandwagon jumping.
Attitudes in Drawing, the subtitle of the Hayward Gallery’s touring exhibition, The End of the Line, is telling. Attitude, after all, is a key component to any provocation, be it through graffiti, zines, comics, cartoons or poster art. Take a line for a walk, as the 11 international artists featured in ‘The End of the Line’ do, and it can be anything it likes.
The Hayward’s Isobel Harbison is at pains to point out the importance of drawing on the eve of the show’s arrival at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery following stints at MIMA in Middlesbrough and The Bluecoat, Liverpool in association with The Drawing Room in London. ‘From cave drawings to renaissance drawings this form is historically the backbone of visual art, and artists are really coming back to it to look at the things that are going on around them now,’ she says. ‘Drawing is very immediate and very democratic. Once you’ve seen an exhibition like this one, it’s easy to go home and pick up a pencil and just do it. You also realise how experimental drawing can be. You’ve not only got soundscapes and animation here, but huge installations as well.’
The intention of The End of the Line, then, is ‘Taking drawing off the page,’ as Harbison puts it. Sure enough, the 50 works on display will include Polish/German artist Monika Grzymala’s large-scale work with masking tape, and an installation by Ireland’s Garrett Phelan, which can feature as many as 80 component parts.
‘“Battle For The Birds” looks at the emotional relationship between man and nature,’ Phelan says of a work that sounds a long way from his agitational radio pieces, though more in keeping with ‘God Only Knows’, in which he drew all over the windows of Dublin’s City Council building.
He continues: ‘Drawing is too often seen as something secondary, but for me is actually primary. It’s an essential part of my practice, and it’s important to recognise that and give the same commitment to it.’
That sense of commitment, combined with attitude, chimes with Fruitmarket director Fiona Bradley’s observation that, ‘all the artists on show have an indexical urge to leave their mark, using drawing as a way of communicating something. It’s quite subtle, but quite political too. All of the artists have something to say, and they’ve found a more urgent and immediate way of doing it.
‘None of them are in any way using precious materials. It’s just one man and his spray can, or one gal and her pencil. I think the recession has a lot to do with that. It’s not easy to make big production numbers at the moment, but with drawing it’s always possible to do something.’
The End of the Line, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, Sat 14 Nov–Sun 10 Jan.