Friday, February 24, 2012

What Is A Drawing?

Thursday of this week I went into Manhattan to visit a number of galleries in Chelsea. One of my first stops was at Matthew Marks Gallery to see a survey of "drawings" by Anne Truitt. If you follow the link, you will see the works, and perhaps understand why I questioned that designation. The person at the desk explained that Anne Truitt calls any work on paper a drawing, although the gallery press release does simply call them "works on paper," as I would do.

One wall at Matthew Marks Gallery installation of Anne Truitt's "drawings."

The other side of the gallery surveying Anne Truitt's work at Matthew Marks Gallery

I can remember a time when I would call any work on paper a drawing. The piece below, for example, was part of a series I made in 1997, growing from a fascination with Indian miniatures (which were being exhibited a lot at that time, for the 50th anniversary of independence). I called it a drawing then, but I would call it a painting now:

Ravenna Taylor, "Polyphony," 1997, watercolor and gouache, 22 x 20 inches

You can see more from that series, some of them I might call drawings, in the section of my website for "Work On Paper," here.

Now my thinking is that to be called a drawing, the work is not necessarily a dry medium, or one which exposes the paper, but one in which the paper is something more than a surface or substrate for the work. I still have some doubts about some of the work Anne Truitt calls drawings, because although the paper may be unprepared, and might be exposed at the edge, it doesn't contribute to the aesthetic or conceptual experience of the painted image; it is there for the acrylic paint, not for my eye.

Here are a couple drawings I made, on a beautiful handmade paper which is decidedly functioning as a part of the image and the viewer's experience:

Ravenna Taylor, "Susurrus 2," 2010, sumi ink, 11 x 14 inches

Ravenna Taylor, "Susurrus," 2010, sumi ink, 11 x 14 inches

I also do a lot of work in collage, using fragments of my own discarded work on paper, along with other materials, including photos I've taken and objects I find. Years ago I was more purist about them, but over the years I've used the collages as surfaces upon which to draw or paint; these I call "collaged drawings," or "painted collage," accordingly. The piece below I would call a collaged drawing. There a quite a few things in this category to be seen on my website.

Ravenna Taylor, "Parantrophic 1," 2000, watercolor and charcoal, 17 x 15 inches

Here is another, more recent collage (2011), which incorporates drawing, but I wouldn't call it a drawing; the piece also employs a photograph, stitching, fabric, an old postcard from the flea market, some monotyped paper from artist friend Pam Farrell - whatever I could find to make it work! This is one of those cases where one can only say "mixed media," as unhelpful as that is. (The photo fragment, incidentally, is of the surface of the sea from a water taxi in Venice: fond thoughts inserted here.) The lace fragments came from another artist friend, Francesca Pastine. The bit of red paper was another gift, from my friend, artist Nancy White.

Ravenna Taylor, "PM," 2011, collage/assemblage, 15 x 12 inches

Below, a piece I made in 2010, one in a series of work on paper in watercolor and gouache, like the earlier series, this time using the history of game boards as a source for the imagery; you can see a dozen of these in my "Game Change" album, if you are a F.a.c.e.b.o.o.k user, HERE. I don't think of these as drawings, but as paintings, even though the paper is visible and figures strongly in the impact of the piece.

Ravenna Taylor, "Reward of Merit," 2010, watercolor, 11 x 11 inches

I once saw some text on a gallery wall, from a typewriter, framed and presented as a drawing; I was not persuaded. This is the statement I wrote in 2009 for my Game Change series, which employed shapes derived from study of hourglasses and a preoccupation with time. I composed the text of my statement in the form of a concrete poem, so each stanza would ebb and flow like time, like the shape of an hourglass. Yet I would not call this a drawing. The first quality of a drawing, in my mind, has to involve a hand. If I'd written the poem/statement out on paper, in this form, that might stand on the threshold of a drawing, to my way of thinking; but I still wouldn't call it a drawing.

2009 Statement written to give each stanza a shape like an hourglass

And these pieces in embroidery thread on fabric, of which I made about 10 back in the 1990's -- I would argue that these are more like drawings than some of the work on paper I have made, and more than some of the work on paper in the Matthew Marks gallery, which are being presented as drawings. The exhibition is, as always is the case with Matthew Marks Gallery, perfectly installed, and Anne Truitt's pieces are perfectly beautiful, whatever they might be called. The show remains on view into April.

I might carry on with this unfolding thought about what a drawing is in my next post, with work by other artists. It's not that it matters at all; but since we can suppose that the activity of drawing might be the earliest form of artistic expression in our history as a species, it's interesting, to me, to think about what is a drawing.

Ravenna Taylor, Embroidery, 199?, thread, fabric, about 6 x 7 inches

Ravenna Taylor, Embroidery, 199?, thread, fabric, about 7 inches square

More "painted collages" are included, along with 7 new oil paintings, in my online-only exhibition, "Re:Vision," commencing February 27, 2012, at Galerie Cerulean Currently, the Galerie website has an archive of my show of last year, "Song Cycle," a series of photo collages.


  1. Deleted by mistake. Twice. Not meant to be, I guess. Draw your own conclusions.

  2. I saw the version with the text, and I think you ask an interesting question. Thanks for the link to the Truitt show (no longer here); I see your point on some of those works seeming to be paintings rather than drawings. The whole categories issue often turns on marketing: a work on paper is just not worth as much as a work on canvas or wood etc. Then there is what the artist chooses to call the work. If you assigned that richly worded and inventively written artist statement to the category of drawing, then drawing it is. Ultimately, the categories don't mean much anyway, do they?

  3. I agree with Altoon. The same problem of categories exists in the book world. You will have a difficult time getting an "experimental" or multi-genre manuscript published in the main stream market, at least. It should be clearly "memoir", "fiction", etc..

    I am drawn to these sewn/fabric/embroidery works. They have a drawn quality in that they are dealing with line and dot.

    But what really startled me is the reference to Anne Truitt. I kept her "Day Books" (I think that's the name of her first diary) on my bookshelf for years. I read that book so long ago, and I only ever read descriptions of her work, which didn't actually grab my attention as much as her writing, at the time, but, that she is showing work today was surprising. She was primarily a sculptor back in the 70's. Were the "drawings" reminicent of her sculpture (tall boxes with layers of paint, as I recall)?

    ok. enough of this trying to text on my phone.

  4. Hi Centa, thanks for your comment -- finally my cookies are fixed and I can reply!

    Thank you for the comment on the embroidered pieces. I would like to start some new ones soon.

    The "drawings" are very much of a piece with Anne Truitt's sculpture, in answer to your question. I have a post in January, here, that features photos of a show of her sculpture at Matthew Marks Gallery last year, not sure if you saw that. It was wonderful. And you can see some good photos of the current show of work on paper on the gallery's website.


Please help the spam filter, by confirming word verification. Thank you!