DRAW: Attending to the World Through Mark-Making

A new exhibition at Alexandra Sasse Gallery calls together seven artists whose practices are taken to orbit around 'observational drawing.' 'DRAW: Attending to the World Through Mark-Making' traces along the boundaries of the 'observational' in this descriptor, and presses on its fault lines, too. The work of Elizabeth Cross, Hendrik Kolenberg, John Scurry, Evan Salmon, Rachel Ellis, Sallie Moffatt, and Alexandra Sasse asks us to consider notions of both presence and the present through a technology - drawing - which becomes only more radical as our lives within and outside of the art world drift into the digital.

The catalogue essay for this exhibition opens with the claim that drawing – and, especially, ‘observational’ drawing – emerges from a practice of sustained attention. The artist, that is, is supposed to spend open stretches of time taking in, through the special osmosis of the eyes, the world that they render over again in their work. In this sense, we might infer, the slow practice of drawing might become a radical one for the artist: one in which they can refuse the imperative of digitised, globalised, consumer-ised present to be always faster, getting everywhere at once, and producing ‘content’ at pace. We might also consider, though, that the works in this show provide equally a field in which the audience can practice this kind of attentiveness, this drawing back of the mind’s bow, and this focus on what is in front of us, now.

Many of the drawings in this show clearly picture not just the objective world, but the artist’s relationship to that world, and their ways of understanding it. In this sense, the show’s focus on slow attention is not, in all senses, an anti-technological stance. Rather, what we might consider is the way in which drawing itself can become a technology for remaking the world according to the vision of the artist. Hendrik Kolenberg’s Delft, 2007, for instance, frames the view tightly, with slim buildings gathered around the viewer, as if to converse secretively. Concerned with urban and industrial experience, and the relationship between working people and the cities they live in, Kolenberg uses drawing not simply to observe the world in some plainly ‘realist’ framework, but rather to shift it, seismically, so that it structured around his experience and concerns.

‘DRAW’s catalogue essay also proposes that ‘all drawing has pace. It is not simultaneous as a photo must be.’ This analysis implies a particular relationship between the drawing and time – one in which, perhaps, the past (as well as futures supposed, imagined, or foretold) is braided tightly into the present moment. In Elizabeth Cross’s Ancient Prunus, Jardin des Plantes, a particular temporal rhythm is drawn into the tree that the artist renders. Alone on the page, the broad trunk of the tree swells out towards us, deceptively forward-moving in space. I also want to suggest, however, that this tree pulses forward and backward in time: while the trunk grows and grows in presence through its detailed, cleaved surface, its branches recede back into the white page, on the off beat; it is as if the tree pulses in and out of the present instant.

Other works in the show call to attention not just the relationship of drawing to the present, but to presence, as well. In John Scurry’s Armchair, the eponymous chair, covered in a white cloth, insists upon itself, at the centre of the picture. Perched on top of a board, and set within a corner of a room that has the makeshift, thrown-together feel of a studio, the chair is emphatically still, and draws the viewer into a sensory experience that cannot sensibly be considered ‘secondary.’ We may have long registered that ‘this is not a pipe,’ but this, Scurry’s work seems to argue, really is a chair: a chair that we actually can experience visually, texturally, and which can insist that we pay adequate attention to it.

Insisting upon the radical nature of a drawing practice which, in a modernist and a contemporary context, ‘did not sit well with strategies that sought to abolish hierarchies,’ this show takes seriously a mode of art making that calls for slow, quiet attention.

DRAW: Attending to the World Through Mark-Making
13 May – 5 June 2021
Alexandra Sasse Gallery, Melbourne

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