Jerwood Drawing Prize 2017 – things that blend

Every year I go out of my way to visit the Jerwood Drawing Prize exhibition. My first love is drawing. I don’t draw as much as I’d like to. I spent a lot of my final year on the BA in Fine Art drawing but before, and since, I haven’t done nearly as much as I’d like. I love to draw. Drawing is part of my nature. Drawing, to me, is the most intimate, basic, way I can express my creativity. It is simple, all I need is something which makes a mark or a dent, or just a line. I can draw with my finger, I can draw with my dinner, I can draw with almost anything.

Every year the same question is posed by the Jerwood Drawing Prize: what is drawing today? I find this a strange question. Why do they like to include ‘today’? Drawing hasn’t changed since, for ever. The tools may have changed but the verb hasn’t. Drawing is what it is. It is drawing. It is creating a line on a surface along a finite plane. It can be either a introspective, personal activity or it can be a communal, noisy activity. It is a pull of or on something. It can be a taking away of something. It is creating a presence or creating an absence. Stories draw. It it intimacy, authenticity, nakedness and rawness. It can happen in this universe. It can happen on a flat surface, a bumpy one, in two-dimensions, in three-dimensions, in a virtual reality universe and even, via text, speech, video, collage or three-dimensional materials. These ideas are not new and contemporary. Drawing hasn’t changed at all.

There were a number of highlights for me to this year’s exhibition. There always are. I find it hard to pick a few to discuss. Every time I leave the exhibition, I feel energised and creative, desperate to draw. This time was no exception. I feel that I am open to the stretching of the outer limits of the definition of drawing but each time there is something new which makes me stretch even further my idea of what exactly drawing can be, or what tools can be used, new tools and existing tools.

Two video pieces stand out as interesting to me. The first, by Elisa Allaluusa, called ‘The Arctic Circle (Part II)’ was a simple, parallel (seemingly, apparently it took of manpower a lot to create) shot of someone walking in snow from the point of view of looking down at their feet and from a distance. It was hypnotic. The sound of the crunch of the snow was comforting. It was a quiet meditation on line. I found it absorbing. It was a drawing in snow.

It inspired me to make this video on the next day: me walking around Bath.

The other video piece that caught my attention was called ‘On Drawing’ by Ana Mendes. This video showed an elderly lady, speaking in French (with subtitles in English), talking through her system of how she remembers phone numbers. She is unable to read, so in order to located phone numbers she draws pictures adjacent to each number that remind her of each person. In the video, we see her elderly hands flicking through the note books, stopping at various places to explain the drawings and the characters of the people. I thought this was such a simple concept, yet so engaging. There was nothing complicated about the video and the narrative takes the viewer into the personal history of the subject and her relations with various people she keeps phone numbers of. This video is about drawing but is also a sort of drawing as well. The narration draws the story of the elderly lady’s life history.

On Drawing by Ana Mendes

I also liked a piece called ‘Eighteen Occasions’ by Rebecca Swindell. This, again, wasn’t a conventional ‘drawing’ as such. The piece consists of a box containing eighteen corks, all with text written on them to describe the occasion that the wine was drunk. Any ‘art of the object’ is going to appeal to me and I loved this for its quirkiness and cheeky take on the concept of drawing. Objects can be used to reflect our life’s narrative, as with the phone number drawings above, and this I find fascinating. 

Eighteen Occasions by Rebecca Swindell

Some of the pieces in the exhibition seemed aimed at blending the boundaries between the categories of creativity. One such piece, ‘Borderlines’ by Lucinda Burgess, using drawing to create a sculpture-like structure. This work was vast and very impressive, given the labour that must have gone into it, the sheer amount of raw material and the final effect, which is completely sculptural, yet it is still a drawing.

Borderlines by Lucinda Burgess

What this year’s exhibition has successfully shown, with these works and many others, is that the line between ‘drawings’ and other manifestations of objects, real or surreal, can be crossed, objects really do blend and blur. Perhaps they always have, we just haven’t noticed.

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