The Artist’s Room
15 June – 18 December 2020
Mon – Fri: 10:00 – 18:00
Artists have always tried to escape from the chaos of life in order to create, from Henri Matisse at his home, Villa Le Rêve, in the sunny South of France, to Joan Miró in his dream studio in Palma de Mallorca and Frank Auerbach tucked away in a side alley in Camden Town.
The Artist’s Room invites you into the confines of an imagined artist’s personal space. Filled with drawings, etchings, photographs, furniture, plants and books, our exhibition conjures up an atmosphere of contemplation and creativity. It brings together a large selection of works by twelve celebrated modern and contemporary artists, spanning almost a century of art-making on paper, from a 1924 charcoal drawing by Henri Matisse to a 2019 series of etchings by Colombian artist José Antonio Suárez Londoño, and paying homage to a medium that has long been central to artistic experiments.
The Artist’s Room, installation view, photography by Andrew Smart
Image slide captions:
1. Frank Auerbach in his studio, photographed by Lord Snowdon, 1963
2. Eduardo Chillida’s studio, photographed by Ferdinando Scianna, Hernani, 2001
3. Eduardo Chillida and Joan Miró, 1963 / Correspondence between the two artists
4. David Dawson, The Painter’s Feet, 2010
5. Aleksandar Duravcevic’s studio (detail), New York, 2017
6. Lucian Freud working on The Painter’s Doctor in his studio with Michael Gormley, photographed by David Dawson, London, 2005-06 © David Dawson / Bridgeman Images
7. David Hockney making a print, photographed by Tony Evans, London, circa 1965
8. Interior of Henri Matisse’s Villa Le Rêve, photographed by Brassaï, Vence, 1946
9. Joan Miró’s studio, photographed by Miquel Julià, Palma de Mallorca © Fundació Joan Miró Mallorca / Successió Miró
10. Koushna Navabi’s studio, London, 2020 / Koushna Navabi, Persepolis / fragment, 2020 (detail)
11. Paula Rego’s studio, photographed by Louise Long, London, 2018 © Louise Long
12. David Smith, photographed by Dan Budnik, Bolton Landing, December 1962
13. José Antonio Suárez Londoño’s studio (detail), photographed by the artist, Medellín, 2020
About the Works
Frank Auerbach’s dedication to his work is renowned. Painting nearly every day of the year, he constantly returns to a narrow range of subjects: landscapes near his studio in North London and a relatively small number of sitters, whom he will paint and draw weekly.
The art critic and curator William Feaver has been sitting for Auerbach since 2003 when he was writing a book on him, but they have been connected since the 1970s, when Feaver wrote of his admiration for both Auerbach and Lucian Freud. Speaking in 2015 on the ritual of sitting, Feaver remarked: ‘One goes to his studio, at a fixed time, for a fixed period: I do Mondays, six till eight. There’s a chair we all sit in – a Windsor, not comfortable, no cushion… I’m given a cup of tea when I arrive – green tea at the moment, though sometimes he goes out and buys milk specially. We chat, and then there comes a point when we stop and Frank concentrates entirely on the painting. I can tell when this moment is coming, just from the sound of his breathing.’1
It would seem that Auerbach thrives on reiteration; possibilities are enhanced by this familiarity with the sitter. Until he believes a work is finished, he will scrape off everything from the previous session before starting again, and he has spoken of the complexities of producing a portrait: ‘If something looks like a ‘portrait’ it doesn’t look like a person. When the forms evoked by the marks seem coherent and alive and surprising, and when there are no dead areas, I think the painting might be finished.’2
Head of William Feaver from 2013-14 is an intriguing and characteristic example of Auerbach’s late drawings. As in his earlier work, Auerbach is still constructing the image over several sittings and through various rubbings out, but the figure is no longer defined by the rubbed-away markings, the head no longer emerging from the darkness of built-up charcoal and dense surface matter. The angles of Feaver’s head and torso are defined by the artist’s markings in graphite and chalk, while the rubbed-out elements become ghostly evidence of Auerbach’s reworking.
1 https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/sep/30/frank-auerbach-sitters-interviews-tate, accessed 3 April 2020
2 https://research.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=3540116&page=2247&partId=1&school=13279 , accessed 3 April 2020
Gravitación GT-1, 1988 by Eduardo Chillida features a small yet complex collage that captures the artist’s life-long exploration of space and materials. It is part of a series of ‘Gravitaciones’ – a major series of works that occupied him for nearly 15 years.1 Chillida created the present work in his sixties, when he was already an internationally acclaimed artist who had received numerous prestigious awards and had participated in many international exhibitions, including two Venice Biennales, in 1958 and 1988.
Gravitación GT-1 is created by superimposing separate sheets of painted black and white paper cut into different shapes. Chillida limits the colours to black and white, using juxtaposition and contrast to enhance the lines and geometric shapes of the work. Chillida seeks to explore the possibilities of materials, pushing the limits of paper, transforming it into a relief. These arrangements create different volumes, shades and spaces around them. In doing so, Gravitación GT-1 has a profound impact on the space that the viewer perceives. With this work, the artist continues his life-long exploration of the relationship between objects and the space they occupy, on a smaller scale.
A light brown string stitches the sheets of paper of Gravitación GT-1 and also forms a suspended structure above the main composition. This thin, delicate structure provides the work with a feeling of lightness that contrasts with the bold and compact composition underneath. Gravitación GT-1 is thus presented as an enigmatic, suspended, and almost sculptural relief. Chillida’s message is clear: even his smallest works have the power to redefine and make us think about the space around us.
1 S. Grillo, Nature, Vol. 428, London, 2004, p. 259
Eduardo Chillida’s Manos, 1984 embodies the artist’s long-standing fascination with the theme of the hand. For Chillida, hands were inextricably linked to space and as a former goalkeeper, he firmly believed that ‘the hand has the richest articulation of space’.1 Manos is an ink drawing on paper that represents a series of hands, articulated in different poses, moving and touching one another. The hands seem to be struggling and pushing against each another. They occupy the majority of the composition. The space is somehow compressed in a quasi-claustrophobic manner. Chillida enigmatically cuts the left angle, leaving an empty space.
Chillida made over three hundred drawings of hands as well as clay sculptures and paper collages representing this theme. The subject started to emerge in his works as early as 1945 and was present until the end of his life.2 Chillida’s Manos was made in his sixties when he was an internationally acclaimed artist in his mature style, already familiar with the theme.
Furthermore, Chillida believed that the hand represented a powerful symbol of intellect and artistic creation – it is what distinguishes us, as creative individuals, from other creatures.3 Chillida was particularly conscious of the importance of the hand in his artistic production process since he came from a long tradition of Spanish stone-carvers and metal workers. Human interaction through hands is essential to the artistic process and is also a way to experience it as viewers are often encouraged to touch his works.
1 M. Evans, Defining Moments in Art: Over a Century of the Greatest Artists, Exhibitions, People, Artworks, and Events that Rocked the Art World, New York: Cassell Illustrated, 2008, p. 47
2 L. A. Fernández, Eduardo Chillida, Palazzo dei Normanni, Palermo: Novecento, 1999, p. 36; Biblioteca y Centro de Documentación, Las Manos, available online: http://catalogo.artium.eus/dossieres/1/eduardo-chillida/obra/claves-de-su-obra/las-manos (last accessed: 3/4/2020)
3 L. A. Fernández, Eduardo Chillida, Palazzo dei Normanni, Palermo: Novecento 1999, p. 34
David Dawson is a painter and photographer who lives and works in London, Wales and New York. In the mid-1980s, while he was working part-time for Freud’s dealer James Kirkman, he met the artist and started working as his studio assistant. Over the next three decades he became not only Freud’s studio assistant but his model and friend. From this privileged position he began documenting life in the studio in a series of photographs, something Freud had previously allowed only Bruce Bernard to do. Through these photographs we see the works in progress and the inner life of the studio, in a way that only Freud’s sitters were able to see.
Freud was intensely private and painted just a small group of people besides family and friends. This was a one-to-one discipline, with the exception of some group paintings – and even for those, on many occasions individuals sat separately.
The Painter’s Feet from 2010 shows Lucian at his easel in his studio in his Kensington Church Street home; the windows we can just about see behind him show his garden. The plant in Lucian’s Buddleia, 2007 was to feature in several paintings of the artist’s garden. The buddleia died when Freud died. Freud left the house to Dawson and Home Grown Roses, 2016 shows it today. Dawson has transformed the wildness of the garden into a stunning English garden filled with, amongst other flowers, these beautiful roses.
Seeing these photographs of life in the studio transports me back to the house when Lucian was there. I can smell the mixture of paint, leather and soap that I experienced the first time I went, as I walked into the kitchen and up those stairs to be surprised with the work in progress on his easel – of course the best of all was him opening the door and looking at you with his piercing eyes.
Aleksandar Duravcevic is an artist whose multifaceted practice encompasses video, installation, painting and painstakingly executed drawing. His work examines themes of identity, memory and mortality, universal subjects that are, for Duravcevic, also intensely personal, having grown up in wartime Montenegro before fleeing to Italy as a refugee and later emigrating to the United States. Complex notions of identity were particularly important to the artist even before leaving his home country, as his mother was Montenegrin Orthodox and his father Albanian Catholic. His subsequent travels through the West only served to make him increasingly aware of the precarious nature of nationality and identity, and the complex ways in which they are enmeshed in questions of cultural history.
Repetition and serialisation serve as recurring techniques in Duravcevic’s work, forms of storytelling and recollection that seek to reconstruct a reality from the small fragments of imperfect, recovered memories. Repetition as a mnemonic exercise. Memories are, after all, the only things we take with us wherever we go. Repetition and remembrance become tools of retracing and remapping the artist’s own history and culture, but also strategies to dismantle false statements of identity, hierarchy and hegemony. Repetition marks the passing of time, as in 11 Days, 2016, in which eleven separate graphite drawings depict a series of pale grey clouds hovering over a black sky, each slightly different from the one before, and no two exactly alike.
In Electric Souls, 2015, shimmering electric candles glow against an indistinct, deep black, repeating one after another and stretching back infinitely into the recesses of the picture plane, perhaps a reminder of the light that exists even in the darkness of life, or solemn stand-ins for lives lost. Duravcevic’s use of soft black backgrounds gives his drawings the appearance of negatives, ghostly after-images that seem to float before our eyes, reminding us of the spectral elusiveness of memories past.
Duravcevic is based in Brooklyn and teaches at Hunter College, New York. In 2015, he was selected to represent Montenegro at the Venice Biennale. Duravcevic’s work is in numerous prominent public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Brooklyn Museum, New York and Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
This is a portrait of the artist’s doctor and friend Dr Gormley.
Freud worked on his etchings as he worked on his paintings – he required the presence of the sitters at all times even when he was working on the background as he believed the sitter affected everything around them. Sitting for Freud was a commitment; he was meticulous about timekeeping and the regularity of the sittings.
Freud learned the technique of etching in Paris in 1947, where he was taught by Picasso’s nephew the painter and printmaker Javier Vilató; in turn he passed on the skill to Eduardo Paolozzi in the summer of that year. Freud was not a traditional printmaker: he treated the metal plate as a canvas. The plate would be propped up on an easel and he would make his markings as if he were holding a brush or a pencil; he wore glasses for this process, as the lines and marking were so precise.
The hours of sittings and his choice of sitters, always people really close to his circle, resulted in incredibly powerful psychological portraits: sitting immersed in their thoughts, the personality of the sitter comes through.
Often associated with the London School of Art along with Auerbach, Bacon and Freud, David Hockney (b. 1937) moved to California in 1964, where he has lived on and off since. An important contributor to the Pop Art movement of the 1960s, Hockney is largely recognised as one of the master draughtsmen of our times. In spring 1969, having temporarily returned to the UK, he started working on ‘Illustrations for Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm’, a series of thirty-nine etchings that would become his most ambitious printmaking project.
The artist revelled in experimenting further with etching techniques, working directly on the copper plate, using wax and layers of cross-hatching on top of one another to create a richer and thicker layer of black ink. A Black Cat Leaping, 1969, is one of the eleven etchings illustrating the tale The Boy Who Left Home to Learn Fear, which form part of an editioned portfolio. The thirty-nine etchings were initially published by Oxford University Press in a miniature book bound in blue leather, entitled Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, which features other famous tales such as The Little Sea Hare and Rapunzel. Hockney’s visual interpretation of the Brothers Grimm’s stories is enchanting and strange at the same time and reminds us that, even though they might appeal to the young, fairy tales are not always written for children.
Henri Matisse’s Tête de femme, 1951 is an extraordinary charcoal drawing on paper, executed in Nice. During the final years of his life Matisse lived in Southern France, surrounded by a small circle of models and friends;1 here, too tired and old to paint, he dedicated himself to the medium of drawing.2 As Tête de femme exemplifies, Matisse’s drawings became progressively bolder and more economical of line. Painted just three years before his death, Tête de femme is a remarkable example of this late style. Though we cannot determine with certainty the identity of the portrait, it is possible that the sitter was his friend, the nun Monique Bourgeois. She shared many of the portrait’s facial features and looked after Matisse in his final years, becoming one of his favourite subjects.3
Matisse defines the face of Tête de femme with just a few black lines that outline the main features. The face is devoid of any details, yet somehow incredibly expressive. Matisse claimed that he ‘always considered drawing…’ as ‘a means deliberately simplified so as to give simplicity and spontaneity to the expression, which should speak without clumsiness, directly to the mind of the spectator’.4 The unpretentious, simple lines of Tête de femme speak ‘without clumsiness’; a certain elegance and expressiveness speak ‘directly to the mind of the spectator’.
With Tête de femme the eye is drawn immediately to her fleeting expression as she stares at the viewer with wide-open eyes and an enigmatic semi-smile, reminiscent of a modern Mona Lisa. Matisse portrays a woman whose spirit seems delightful yet equally mysterious and open to interpretation. His ability to capture this complex expression with just a few lines, shows the supreme skill and confidence of an artist who has reached maturity in his style. The radical approach is significant considering it was made as early as 1951, establishing Matisse as one of the great innovators of his time.
1 E. Sturm, Matisse, Oxford: Capstone Press, 2003, p. 19
3 C. Bock Weiss, Henri Matisse: A Guide to Research, London: Routledge, 1996, p. 340
4 H. Matisse quoted in J. Flam, Matisse on Art, California: University of California Press, 1995, p. 131
La Persane, 1929 by Henri Matisse is a pencil drawing depicting a Persian model sitting unclothed in an unbalanced pose, staring directly at the viewer. She moves forward with gesture of relaxation, perhaps suggestive of boredom. The model posed for Matisse several times: in 1928, 1929 and 1932, and was the subject of many of Matisse’s most celebrated paintings, drawings and lithographs of the period. These include: Femme Perse avec crois peintes, 1929, the lithograph Odalisque Seated in an Armchair and the drawing Odalisque and Tabouret, 1928, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Matisse is regarded as one of the Modernist artists that adhered most closely to the Orientalist tradition in French Art.1 Following a trip to Morocco in 1912, the artist had become fascinated by the country’s culture and during the 1920s he produced a series of sensual nudes in Nice that were linked to the Oriental tradition, including La Persane. Matisse spoke about his fascination with oriental colours, decorations and people.2 In particular he emphasised their sensuousness, vividly recalling ‘the sensuality of the heavy, slumbering flesh’.3 Referring to these images, John Elderfield claimed, ‘In these scintillating images, Matisse’s engrossment in carnal perfection is returned to its source in the East. This real creature from the East is treated as a slave of earthly delights. The dream, the fantasy, could not be more real’.4
Matisse was certainly fascinated by these ideas and the exotic nature of the model, whom he represented wearing traditional Persian headgear, with a traditional thick bracelet and bead necklace. Furthermore, she clearly possesses exotic, oriental features evident in her thick eyebrows and large, dark eyes. At the time, La Persane must have been perceived as a visually delightful and sensual image of an attractive young woman, fascinating Matisse who was well-known for painting female nudes. Matisse used delicate light smudging of his pencil to communicate the softness of her skin and to provide her body with corporeality and volume. The artist pays attention to every detail, vividly depicting her shoulder muscles and bones and the rolls of skin of her abdomen. Overall, La Persane is a complex drawing that had a strong impact on contemporary viewers, powerful enough to carry them away to a more delightful and far-away alternative reality.
1 J. Cowart, P. Schneide and J. Elderfield, Matisse in Morocco: The Paintings and Drawings, 1912–1913, Washington DC: National Gallery of Art, 1990
3 H. Matisse quoted in J. Flam, ed., op. cit., 1988, pp. 239-240
4 J. Elderfield, The Drawings of Henri Matisse, exh. cat., London: Hayward Gallery, 1985, p. 93
Though Miró is remembered primarily as a painter, his artistic curiosity wasn’t satisfied by oil on canvas alone. Over his seven-decade career, he also worked in sculpture, ceramics, tapestry and, most prolifically, prints. He was introduced to etching, an intaglio technique of incising a design onto a metal plate, by the master printer Louis Marcoussis in 1938 and from then on he had an unwavering commitment to the art form, creating more than 2,000 works in the medium.
Miró’s approach to making prints was playfully improvisational. He would cut up proofs and rearrange the elements, collating the pieces together in new patterns, adding daubs of colour in crayon, or glyph-like marks in Indian ink, and writing extensive instructions to his printer. It was a process of finding the image through experiment, embracing accident, but also controlled and methodical.
The artist’s early etchings, produced during the turmoil of the Spanish Civil War, often explored a tension between darkness and colour. L’Aveugle parmi les oiseaux, La Métamorphose, Pantagruel, all executed in 1978, and La Triple roue I, from Allegro vivace, executed in 1981, draw on the essential elements of Miró’s late style, which evolved from the tension between his fanciful, poetic impulse and his vision of the harshness of modern life.
Personnages et oiseau dans la nuit, a pencil drawing executed in Barcelona on 26 November 1942, is characteristic of Miró’s imagery of the time, infused with motifs of birds and divine messengers taking the form of gargantuan female forms and smaller male sorcerers with their arms raised to the stars in the sky.
In September 1941 Miró had just completed his celebrated series of Constellations, twenty-three gouaches in all, which transcend the antagonism and violence that characterise many of the works he painted during the previous decade. The anxiety and fear he had felt during the Spanish Civil War and at the onset of World War II gave way to a greater sense of joy, and signify the triumph of art over worldly cares and human strife.
This drawing, and others from late 1941-1942, are characterised by a freedom of invention and a marvellous effortlessness. With this work Miró moves away from the density that characterises the Constellations; nevertheless, he continues to draw on the essential elements of his personal mythology; perched on the female is a bird, a divine messenger and symbol of inspiration and creativity. Looking back on the period in 1948, Miró told an interviewer that in France in 1939 ‘a new stage in my work began which had its source in music and nature. It was about the time that the war broke out. I felt a deep desire to escape. I closed myself within myself purposely. The night, music, and the stars began to play a major role in suggesting my paintings.’1
1 Joan Miró quoted in J. Johnson Sweeney, ‘Joan Miró: Comment and Interview’, Partisan Review, no. 2, February 1948, p. 210
Koushna Navabi is an artist whose mixed media practice explores the constant rub of the familiar and the domestic against the surreal and the strange. Through sculptures, paintings, drawings and installations that are often playful and funny, Navabi explores themes of estrangement and alienation, and the dualities and conflicts that arise from an unstable balance of joy, horror and humour. With a strong emphasis on textiles, embroidery and knitted material, she alters, deforms, and transforms objects in ways that recall the comforting memories of home and childhood while negating the stability such memories seem to promise.
The series Fragments began with a collection of old coffee table books featuring photographs of Iran, where Navabi was born. These books, mostly printed in the 70s and 80s and gifted to her over the years by well-meaning friends, sparked a kind of anxiety, not only because of the past they recalled but because they seemed to impose a specific and limiting sense of origin and identity. Rather than dispose of the books, which still possessed an emotional pull, Navabi deconstructed them, carefully cutting out photographs of ancient Persian sites such as the rock reliefs of Taqh-e Bustan and the grand ruins of the Persepolis Apadana. Over these images she added drawings of reproductive organs, some recognisable as such, others manipulated in strange and alien ways, rendered in delicate black pen and colourful paint. A fragment of the body superimposed on a fragment of a book, which in turn depicts the fragments of a civilization long gone. The relationship between the two images is ambiguous. Though there is something menacing about the drawings – dark clouds hovering over the sunny photographs – there is also humour in their gently rounded forms and bright pops of pastel pink and mustard yellow. The thin black lines that build up the shapes are reminiscent of the finely executed stitches of Navabi’s textile-based works, recalling the time-consuming and repetitive motions that bring them to life.
Koushna Navabi currently lives and works in London. She left Iran after the revolution in 1979, and in 1995 completed an MA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Her work has been included in numerous international exhibitions, including The Spark is You, exhibited simultaneously in Venice during the 58th Venice Biennale and at Parasol Unit in London; In the Fields of Empty Days: The Intersection of Past and Present in Iranian Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham; Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge; the Percy Miller Gallery, London; and the Hiroshima Art Document.
Often drawing inspiration from the literature, nursery rhymes and folk tales she has treasured since her childhood, Paula Rego’s works invite you into a world characterised by a collision of innocence and harsh experience. The female figure dominates her imagery, creating narratives that are imbued with dark undertones and secrets.
Drawing is at the centre of all aspects of Rego’s working practice; it is where her imagination comes into play and the stories emerge. As she explains, ‘invention comes when you do a drawing. As you are drawing something, it very often turns into something else, and you can go with it. It develops in a completely different way, it’s organic and it’s done with the hand.’1
She began to experiment with pastels in 1994, seduced by the tactile quality of the material, which she described as ‘like painting with your fingers’. The intense physicality of her compositions are a product of her skilled practice and the malleable, immediate qualities of her materials, one enhancing the effect of the other: ‘when you draw you can push your pencil or your pastel — everything is much more violent… that’s why I took up pastel and haven’t given it up, though I use Conté now. And I draw.’2
Rego’s works often depict fantasised situations inspired by her own upper-middle-class childhood, the narratives unfolding with maids (perhaps her old servant Jacinta is featured here in this drawing), well-dressed, ageless women, and pretty little girls as protagonists. Like the majority of Rego’s works, a pervading feeling of unease and nostalgia clouds the mood of Girl Reading; the use of pastels intensifies the menacing corporeality of the three female figures dressed in period costume. The well-dressed figure at the forefront of the work, instead of attending to her lecture with quiet contemplation, wears a wicked expression that is the antithesis of the demureness and docility expected of her. Her face is perhaps animated by the thought of revenge, while her thrown-back head and parted legs might suggest sexual provocation. This exquisitely rendered drawing is typical of her later work, where a technique of layered application of each medium brings an extraordinary depth.
1 https://www.thewhitereview.org/feature/interview-with-paula-rego/. Accessed 21 April 2020
The pre-eminent Abstract Expressionist artist David Smith is primarily known for his ground-breaking sculptures, so much so that the significance of his sculptural achievements has largely overshadowed his work in other mediums. Smith, however, was also a fervent painter, draughtsman and printmaker, and saw these practices as integral to his artistic process and no different from his work in three dimensions. His works on paper served many purposes: as preparatory sketches, drawings after existing sculptures, independent works and exercises to keep his artistic skills honed. Indeed, Smith himself did not consider himself a sculptor, but rather, a painter: ‘I belong with painters in a sense, and all my early friends were painters … I never conceived of myself as anything other than a painter because my work came straight through the raised surface.’ The methods and materials that he brought to his two-dimensional works were no less innovative and significant than those of his sculptures, further evidence that he saw little distinction between them.
Smith was born in Decatur, Indiana, in 1906, and after developing an interest in art began taking a correspondence course in drawing from the Cleveland Art School in 1921. In 1925, he spent a summer working as a welder and riveter at a Studebaker automobile factory, which provided training in industrial materials and techniques that would later prove essential to his career. In 1926 Smith moved to New York and enrolled at the Art Students League. It is likely that his early exposure to expressive drawing techniques came from his classes there, where one instructor in particular demanded students draw every day, a practice Smith continued throughout his life. During this time Smith developed close friendships with other avant-garde artists, such as Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky and John Graham. It was the latter who introduced Smith to the welded sculptures of Julio González and Pablo Picasso, which became great sources of inspiration to the artist. Smith followed in the footsteps of these great European Modernists in developing a style of sculpture that was more akin to drawing in space. Indeed, the great modernist critic Clement Greenberg, a champion of Smith’s, once noted that: ‘It is obvious that Smith aims at effects closer to drawing than to sculpture.’
Drawing was an intimate activity for Smith that, after moving to the Adirondack town of Bolton Landing in 1940, largely took place in a separate drawing studio in his home after long days working on sculpture, and he would strive to complete at least one new drawing a day. Drawings were signed with the Greek letters ‘delta’ and ‘sigma’ as stand-ins for his own initials, along with the date. In 1950, Smith’s work in both drawing and sculpture underwent a transition, shedding the complex symbolism of his previous work in favour of a more linear, expressive style, both free and rhythmic, abstract and yet recognisable. He began to experiment more with new media, developing his own by mixing black Indian ink with egg yolk. The yolk added body and texture to the ink, and by varying the mixture he could create a range of surface qualities, from a thick, waxy quality to a thin, liquid wash, allowing him to achieve gestural effects in his drawing that previously could be done only with oil paint.
An early example of Smith’s work in this new medium, ΔΣ 10/5/4/53 demonstrates the artist’s exploration of drawing’s simplest element: the single line. The line, for him, was a personal choice, the first stroke of the pen or brush would demand a certain second one, and then a third, and so on. Here, a series of upright strokes in variegated black march across the page. Their undulations, though abstract, are also humanlike, and their similarity to the lean, elongated subjects of his contemporary Alberto Giacometti is unmistakable. The allusion to sculptural form in this work is emblematic of the ways in which drawing and sculpture were beginning to converge in Smith’s work, and the gestural, repeating figures in profile that make up ΔΣ 10/5/4/53 became a meditation on a theme, borne out in a series of increasingly abstract drawings over the next two years. In 1955, Smith began to translate the spontaneity of these brushed line drawings into three-dimensional forms in his groundbreaking Forgings series, where each single, flat, upright steel forms a manifestation of that meditative first brush stroke.
José Antonio Suárez Londoño
Colombian artist José Antonio Suárez Londoño (b. 1955), has devoted four decades to drawing. Through a disciplined, daily practice, the artist has developed a vast oeuvre of small-scale drawings and prints, each giving a glimpse into a highly detailed world of swirling figures, patterns, plants, and animals. One of Colombia’s most revered living artists, Suárez Londoño first studied biology at the Universidad de Antioquia, a pursuit that bestowed a certain scientific rigour on his artistic practice. During the 1990s, the artist developed the meticulous daily drawing practice he has tirelessly adhered to ever since, one in which the act of putting pencil to paper becomes something akin to a ritual, with its own rules and parameters. Fridays are reserved for drawing portraits of and with a group of colleagues in Medellín, and the 19th of every month is devoted to the drawings of Edgar Degas, one of his great heroes, in honour of the date of his birth, 19 July 1834. The rest of the week the artist fills his journals with drawings inspired by the world around him. These daily exercises form an ever-changing, highly subjective system by which Suárez Londoño can record, and thereby interpret, his own personal universe.
While each drawing is anchored to the precise moment of its making, a moment both historical and personal, it also becomes part of a seemingly boundless tide of creativity. The expansiveness of Suárez Londoño’s practice allows him to embrace the multitude of daily sources of inspiration, while the formal parameters he sets provide a rigorous framework in which to situate these disparate ideas, a fine net to catch the elusive ephemera of everyday life.
Suárez Londoño’s inspiration is born from the dazzling array of visual, textual and auditory sources with which he surrounds himself, ranging from illustrations, paper scraps and photographs (the artist is famously analogue, and does not own a computer), to classical texts and pop songs. These disparate elements are synthesised with a methodology perhaps equally influenced by his scientific training and his childhood obsession with an illustrated Larousse encyclopaedic dictionary. Delicate anatomical imagery and detailed botanical patterns are often labelled with letters or numbers as if they were specimens, illustrations for a text to which we are only occasionally given the key, at once a nod to his biology background and an exploration of the aesthetic properties of text itself. Suárez Londoño is highly attentive to the individual qualities of his materials, from the velvety softness of charcoal to the variegated blooms of watercolour and the delicate black of ink lines. He turns an equally discerning eye to the specific qualities of paper, turning raised watermarks into formal elements, celebrating the deckled edges of handmade papers, combining different sheets and layering translucent envelopes.
José Antonio Suárez Londoño was included in the 2013 Venice Biennale as part of the Giardini exhibition, The Encyclopedic Palace, curated by Massimiliano Gioni. His works have also been exhibited at the Museum Villa Stuck, Munich; the XXIV and XXXII Bienal São Paulo; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, among others. His works are held in numerous important public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Metropolitan Museum, New York; and the Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna.
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The Artist's Room, an ode to seclusion and creativity now online at Ordovas
07 MAY 2020
As a companion to The Artist’s Room we invite you to follow along with The Diary, a writing project by the team at Ordovas. Over the coming weeks it will take you into the homes and studios of the artists in our exhibition, exploring more deeply the things that have inspired them, from travel to architecture, literature to music. We hope that it will, in turn, provide you with a source of inspiration and contemplation.