Leonard Brown

Drawing in the 90s
Caffe Tempo, Brisbane

What is a line and what might it mean? These questions are intrinsic to the eleven drawings exhibited recently by Leonard Brown. Although depicting basic geometric designs and structures, the primary purpose of line in these uniformly-sized drawings is to explore the dimensions and surface (as both plane and texture) of each sheet of rag paper and through this exploration to transform and animate the paper's initial blank neutrality into a dynamic field of interactive elements. Yet while the deployment of line is largely a function of the paper's shape and framing, the relation between line and edge is far from being a mechanical one. For in these drawings line does not entail the connecting of various points in space nor does it merely indicate the distance between prior spatial coordinates. Instead, Brown creates a subtle morphology of line, shape and structure by echoing, mirroring and at times reversing the relations between line and boundary edge. Through this interplay of line and border a series of structuring repetitions and regularities is established both within each drawing and across the series which, although partly determined by ratio and symmetry, never becomes reductively schematic or predictable. Rather, the use of line both to describe and to create shape produces a series of kinetic structures which not only induce various effects of movement within themselves but which also oscillate between lying flat upon the surface, congruent with the paper itself, and floating as if detached from it. Similar ambiguities are evident too in the ways in which line and shape hint at (but never achieve) an ideal, transcendent spatiality (perhaps more through art-historical association than deliberate reference) yet remain emphatically and empirically literal.

What most obviously precludes the reduction of line here to a set of excessively controlled geometrical schema or pseudo-metaphysical diagrams is the quality and character of the marks themselves. Using brush and watercolour, Brown allows the track of the brush to record its particular nuanced movement across the paper. This not only maintains a translucence whereby the paper becomes part of line itself, rather than being its empty and external support or backdrop, but the use of a brush, and not for example a pencil or pen nib, sets up greater possibilities for a delicate play of arbitrary effects within the medium. Thus, by recording the varying pressures and velocities of the brush's encounter with the paper as well as the chance fluctuations within the pigment itself (smudges and watermarks; the distinct tones, opacities and drying speeds of the wash; smooth and interrupted strokes and their varying breadths) each line asserts but also somewhat undermines its own structurality while simultaneously existing as a mnemonic trace of its unique constitution.

By establishing an identity for line as a trace or imprint of a specific action and temporality, Brown also blurs the distinction not only between painting and drawing but between drawing and a kind of writing. Yet while these calligraphic strokes have echoes of a tachiste gesturality, the drawings avoid the overtly bombastic and artist-centered rhetoric often associated (in the European tradition at least) with the gestural mark. This turning away from an intrusively solipsistic display of subjectivity through gestural form is paralleled by the purging of any referential function to line, just as it is also denied any obviously analogic or metaphorical status or interpretation. Instead, an altogether different rhetoric (which is perhaps too loaded a term even to use here) is at work in these drawings. For, due to their organizing principles of proportion and symmetry and their sense of restrained agency, these images have a classicizing quality combined with a pervasive tone of quietude and understatement.

But more significantly, perhaps, while the terms of meaning (again, possibly too weighted a term in this context) for these drawings can be heuristically represented by means of a schematic set of oppositions-for example, between expansively open forms and tightly closed hieroglyphs, tension and poise, the graphic and the painterly, potentially meaning-laden notations and the blank page, order and chance, deliberation and accident-these images in fact generate their affect through the effacement of these oppositions, an effacement which does not, however, entail the destruction of these supposed opposites. Rather, it involves their synthesis-albeit one which lacks an inevitable resolution. But while we might refrain from grandly referring to a dialectical relation here (or, alternatively and more fashionably, to a relation of differance), what these drawings nonetheless so eloquently yet unassumingly demonstrate is that the activity of drawing-or of mark-making, of tracing and spacing, or however else we might choose to describe it-is most richly pursued through recognizing and exploring the mutual dependence and necessary integrity of these oppositions. Indeed, integrity is an entirely apposite term to describe the subtle tenor of these works. For while these drawings might appear overly frugal or rudimentary to the merely casual glance, sustained attention to them reveals a powerful, and apparently inverse, relation between their graphic economy and their enduring semantic and affective resonances.