Loosey Goosey

Uncategorized Aug 25, 2005 No Comments

Imagine someone asked you to judge the Dobell Prize for Drawing. You sit in a chair with a cup of tea and, as the assistants bring the entries past one by one, it quickly becomes apparent that some artists know what they are doing while others do not. Some are obvious finalists, others are obvious rejects while the rest are just border line – so what are you to do? Do you just choose the works you like the best from what’s available? Do you do a “Mike Parr” and throw caution to the wind? We imagine these are exactly the problems that faced Elizabeth Cross, the judge of this year’s prize.

Cross turns out to have erred on the side of caution. Like John Olsen’s selection for 2004, Cross has selected works by artists who seem to turn up every year, a few who have even won the prize in the past – Wendy Sharpe is back again, so are Daniel Moynihan, Graham Fransella, David Fairbairn, Tim Courtney and Gosia Wlodarczak, among others. Drawing styles and approaches among the finalists are highly orthodox – botanical studies, portrait sketches, still lives, abstract works and a nude or two. Most works are beautifully framed, which is a nice bonus for people who like their drawings the way they like their trousers, which is long and straight with a razor sharp crease down the middle. Some works have been done on canvas, tracing paper and other “unusual” surfaces but nothing to get alarmed about. The only thing that’s missing from the Fairfax Galleries where the DPD is hung is some nice classical music humming away in the background. It’s all very, very nice.

Kevin Conner, Le Grand Palais, Clemenceau, de Gaulle and me.
Courtesy Art Gallery of NSW

We have seen some very energetic and exciting drawing in the last two years but you’d be hard pressed to believe it was taking place in the same art world as the DPD. Perhaps it’s a case that artists who exhibit in marginal and artist run spaces think their work won’t get in and so don’t bother entering or perhaps they do enter and get mistaken for works that are ‘rejects’, it’s hard to say, but the DPD is a very conservative and not very exciting place to be. This year’s very tasty $20,000 cheque found a happy home with Kevin Conner for his work Le Grand Palais, Clémenceau, de Gaulle and me. It’s a fine drawing and as loose as a long necked goose; the storm of vertical marks and the swirling lines that create the statue on the right hand side of the picture so pungent of Paris au printemps we were instantly transported back to the Tuileries and that afternoon with a bottle of absinthe. Oh yes, it’s Henry Miller meets the art life.

At the other end of the spectrum, the DPD has room for some really terrible works. Like painters, artists who spend most of their time drawing see all these kids with their video cameras and capoeria dancers getting fame and fortune while they’re thinking, I’m just as conceptual as you are – take a look at this! Then they do something that is demonstrably ‘conceptual’ and it’s just… wrong. William Sykes has done a work that is a drawing called Sniper, a military guy in uniform, helmet and rifle striding towards the viewer except – and get ready for this – the military guy doesn’t have any eyes. It’s just blank. Paul Jackson has a multi sheet drawing called 21 Phases of The Loon which is 21 drawings of someone being loony. You see how wrong this is? No matter how boring a nude study is, or a drawing of a flower or a tree in the Botanical Gardens, we think, yeah, this is what drawing is supposed to be. There’s no reason to go all conceptual ‘n’ shit – it never works and ends up looking silly.

We’re kidding, by the way. You can be ‘conceptual’ by using medium so well that with the combination of an idea you couldn’t have achieved the end result any other way. Jennifer Keeler-Milne’s State of Flowering is a semi abstract blur of white spots on black that, when you take a step back, coalesces into something suggestive of flowering tree. Nicola Hensel’s work From the Sad Morning to Now – which is hung right next to Keeler-Milne’s – does a similar thing, edging along the line between abstraction and figuration but does it in a completely different way. Using finely drawn lines on what appears to be tracing paper [the wall notes are just name and title] the form of a plant emerges from what could easily be a circuit diagram.

Aida Tomescu’s work is called Marguerite and is representative of a traditional kind of abstract drawing that uses solid blocks of colour – in this case black and grey – to form a base over which she has drawn white sketchy lines. Graham Fransella is another artist who does a similar thing and there are various other examples in the show, but Tomescu’s is probably the best. It’s not very exciting, to be sure, but it is good. Another tendency within drawing practice is to go the classical route of complete abstraction with radically minimal lines on a white background. Sometimes the works can suggest elements of representation and Kurt Schranzer is an artist whose show at Esa Jaske Gallery earlier this year did just that. However, his DPD work is called The Sailor still cast his tangled net out, night after night, but does not have the suggestion of an anus. For that we can all be thankful.

Gosia Wlodarczak’s work is out all on its own. We had never seen her work before last year’s DPD, but as we have come to know it better, we are constantly amazed that this Western Australian artist does not have representation in Sydney. Wlodarczak’s densely layered abstract drawings are part performance, part sculpture, part doodle where she sets up situations where – for example –she might have an object placed on a canvas and then she draws around it, leaving a void on the canvas where the object has been. She also layers her automatic drawings to varying degrees so you get what appears to be a virtual three dimensional space demarcated by different colours. The work in this show Personal Space/safety zone 7 is a richly and densely layered drawing of black, red, grey and white lines on a burgundy coloured canvas. Less constricted by its idea than her work from last year, it can only be a matter of time before she gets the $20k.

Artists such as Fairbairn who again mines Francis Bacon and John Fitzgibbon’s unblushing tribute to Lucien Freud are worthy space fillers who take up enormous tracts of wall space with drawings of such obvious ordinariness you have to wonder just what else got entered next to the other 550 hopefuls. Sharpe is a great artist, there can be no doubt, and Moynihan’s man being leg humped by a Tassie Tiger is quirky in the right way. These are all fine artists with reasonable works but you wonder where the rude and unkempt drawings are – the sort of works that are using pop culture imagery redolent of the fetid imagination of the kid who has gone over the drawing on their school folder one too many times. It’s everywhere but here. Next year. Maybe.

The Art Life

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