Review: Freehand : Recent Australian Drawing
Freehand: recent Australian drawing
25 November - 6 March 2011
Heide Museum of Modern Art
The title of this show set up certain expectations which were frustrated, for different reasons, for me and the people I saw it with. I think that people generally go into an exhibition of drawings hoping to feel they are closer to the artist, but I think that relies on a biographical reading of the art. It also relies on the idea that drawing is somehow a more unmediated form, whereas it can involve a variety of techniques and artifice, just as much as any other form and a biographical reading will not always be appropriate. Relying on the fact that you are looking at a drawing and biographical information to interpret a work can be misguided, in the same way, as if someone wants to see a bit of Sam Leach expressed through his brush strokes, but his intent is to explore 17thC Dutch capitalism by appropriating the techniques of the period, his brush strokes/biographical information are not really relevant.
Perhaps this is why the series of drawings by Del Kathryn Barton seem the most satisfying in this context. Firstly, there is no question that she can draw or that these are finished works. These works provide much to admire and abound in symbolism which could provoke any number of readings – particularly in relation to gender politics. Further to this though, the artist has separately given us a lot of information to help us to appreciate her work as an expression of her psyche and of her dream-life. Given how confronting this can sometimes be, I was personally relieved that there was not so much of the animal imagery in this group – not that these are toned down images, just images along different themes.
Having said that, the work of Marco Fusinato, Mass Black Implosion, is both visually arresting and rich with possible meaning, while seemingly hinting at no other biographical information than the fact that he is also a sound artist. In this work all the notes of a musical score are linked back to a common point – merging at infinity, perhaps. The title could suggest either the ultimate annihilation of all human endeavour, when our sun goes supernova, or alternatively a higher order in the universe which we can’t see from our microscopic view. That is, what we see as a black hole of nothingness could actually be part of an unimaginably huge cosmic symphony. The look of the works is also space like – it is reminiscent of science fiction cinematic depictions of the leap out of hyperspace. Equally though, it can put the viewer in mind of 70s graphics on record sleeves and Terry Gilliam animations for Monty Python. This is fantastic drawing, but not really a drawing in the Tucker and Hester sense – whose work you pass on the way to this show.
The fluid forms of Mira Gojak’s work also recalled 70s graphics for me. It is very pleasant to look at, but lacked the immediate impact and resonance of her sculptural work.
One of the artists who comes closer to the traditional notion of a drawing, if an abstract one, is Aida Tomescu. Her work could almost be an isolated section from an impressionist pastel, removed from any readily apparent representation.
The other aspect which predominates in many of the works is text. Is writing drawing? In many of the works the visual impact is clearly as important, if not more so, than the content of the text. However, in others, the text suggests more that we are looking at notes for a work yet to come or that the artist is directly expressing ideas or experiences in writing. I’m not saying it can’t be art, just that it jars in an exhibition presented as one of drawing.
Similarly, the project by Richard Lewer seemed much more aligned with a sculptural space, (or, dare I say, with interior design), than with drawing. Leaving that aside, it was certainly a space which seemed to invite people into it and which children, in particular, felt comfortable in.
The work of eX de Medici was a bit heavy handed in its symbolism for me. Again, perhaps this is a problem of isolating one aspect of the work from others which it is usually juxtaposed against.
There seems to be a popular idea that drawing is somehow more real than other forms of art. Perhaps analogous to the MTV unplugged concept. As one can see from the MTV series, unmediated is not necessarily better. In the same way, drawing is not an inherently superior mode of expression. To labour the MTV comparison, if you are not communicating through traditional chord progressions and story-telling lyrics, (but rather sampling or experimenting with feedback etc.), then it is pointless to try and convey your art through traditional media.
Another aspect of this view, expressed by some in my party, is that an artist isn't a proper artist if they can't draw, (ie. can't represent a recognizable real figure). The logical conclusion of this view is that, if an artist uses electronic media or collects ready made things together etc. then they are a sham and are hoodwinking the public.
I can understand this skeptical approach from Joe Public who is generally afraid of being hoodwinked because they have no way of judging conceptual art, but it seems like a very outdated way for Heide to present contemporary work. Presumably, though, it is designed to provide a contrast with the exhibition of drawings by Albert Tucker and Joy Hester from 1938-1947 which is also on show in Heide III. The impression with much of the work is that it was not intended to be shown as a completed “drawing”, but rather that it is the “sketch book” where conceptual work is being planned, or preliminary sketches are made for another work. (If this was not the artist’s intent I apologise. I blame it on the title.)