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Apocryphal or not, there is an anecdote about Picasso throwing his hands up in despair over the success of a young parvenu artist by the name of Marcel Duchamp, who had begun to exceed the older master’s influence. ‘And he has produced hardly anything’, said Picasso in exasperation. In the wake of Duchamp, an artist did not need to draw. Picasso, one of he greatest draftsmen in the history of art, knew that art had shifted away from its zero degree registers, for drawing had for centuries been the essential rite of passage for any artist worth his/her salt. It was typical for academic training to begin with several years of drawing before a student was ever permitted to lift a brush. However the displacement of drawing, from the beginning of the twentieth century onward, in no way diminished its importance. On the contrary; it was no longer taken for granted, and it assumed a more polyvalent position in art production, where the modern artist was highly self-conscious of gesture and mark-making and where the postmodern artist had an increasingly fluid relationship to technology, which could do the drawing for him/her.
Special Moves brought together six artists who share a common interest in the value of drawing. Its rationale, defined eloquently in the catalogue essay written by Jonathan McBurnie, was in no way to reinstate drawing or to suggest that they were doing anything new, but, more simply, to celebrate the importance of a fundament to art that, on occasion, falls from view. In McBurnie’s words, ‘Consider the strengths of drawing: intuition, improvisation, gesture. These qualities are growing more essential in response to the slick disembodied experience of the techno-capital image bank’. But it is also as a result of digital intervention that the line dividing drawing and painting has become even more blurred than previously.
This was evident in the abstract works by Miles Hall, in which there was an interplay between hard-edged surfaces and others that were rubbed and spread. While ostensibly modernist, these works drew strongly from the language of digital effects. Hall’s work seemed to be playing a game between authentic and simulated gesture. Just as indebted to digital mediation were the small, embroidered pieces, by Leah Emery, of a woman fellating, but only barely discernible, the surface had been degraded into thick units, where the stiches emulated pixels. In terms of the theme of the exhibition, we were reminded that digital information is simply a dense algorithm. As suggested in Emery’s title, In Between (2012), this algorithm sits between us and the information of the image, except Emery has used the painstaking act of touch, depicting a pornographic photograph, to convey this.
The three video works by Arryn Snowball, Slow Dance I – III, were of black abstract shapes contorting and dancing hypnotically against a white ground. These harkened back to the earliest sculptural film experiments of László Moholy-Nagy, as well as to the more recent 3-D modeling technology which effectively makes drawing and the realisation into an object, seamless. These were complemented by a beautiful abstract painting (Untitled No 17) of a large, mildly oblong form repeated in staggered layers and semi-translucent, like several sheets of splayed tissue paper. The relationship of this work to drawing was perhaps the most tenuous, despite its captivating aesthetic qualities.
With their enigmatic titles, Christian Flynn’s paintings were a strong complement to Snowball’s work, which is intensely silent. Instead, Flynn’s paintings are vibrantly voluble; a riot of high-key psychedelic forms. Flynn is evidently an artist who experiments energetically with the broad spectrum of registrations: dragging, splashing, dipping, jabbing.
Haunting and resonant, Julie Fragar’s series of paintings continued her project of taking family photographs and refiguring them so as to create a curious oscillation between interest and indifference. These were all painted in dark grisaille, which in seventeenth and eighteenth century painting was the layer between the sketch or cartoon and the chromatic layer. The white oblongs placed over the images not only reconstitute the flat surface but act as visual buffers suggesting omission, or misprision.
Keeping less metaphorically or conceptually to the theme of drawing were McBurnie’s series of eight large ink works. In black and white, McBurnie’s worlds are technologised dreamscapes, like the artwork from computer games but gone slightly mad and down-graded through the error of the hand, as opposed to the flawless iterability of the machine. The inclusion of correction fluid not only adds to the physical tension of the surface, but is a reminder of the presence of the mistake in drawing, whether from Matisse who purposely let many of his errors show, to the many corrections in the blue-prints for comics. Here porn stars with bare FF-cups consort with perverted Batman clones, body builders rub shoulders with Disney characters. These works were visually stimulating, humorous and consummately rendered. In these anthologised medleys from the dross and hypertrophy of popular culture, there is a curious modulation of skill, which is reminiscent of the New York painter David Salle, whose technical inconsistencies allow his juxtapositions to be more intriguing and cryptic. McBurnie’s works are affirmations of the porosity of popular culture and its diffuseness, reminding us that this is as liberating as it is grotesquely oppressive. These works were doomscapes without the pain—just one big endless party at the horizon of plausibility.
Miles Hall, Splice (Sibelius Blue). Courtesy the artist.
Jonathan McBurnie, The Scene is Set for Triumph (Our State of Ruin). Courtesy the artist.
Arryn Snowball, Slow Dance. Screen Shot. Courtesy the artist.
Christian Flynn, Unification Theory I. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy the artist.