My Debt to John Berger – Part 2


This drawing, (1988) in charcoal & pastel, by Leon Kossoff,  was shown in ‘Drawing Inspiration’ in 2006, an excellent exhibition at the never less than interesting Abbott Hall gallery, Kendal. It is a companion piece/working drawing to his painting of the same year ‘Here Comes the Diesel’. I don’t want to tell you what you’re looking at but enough to say this feels like a memory drawing, something that encompasses not only the visual space of the Willesden railway cutting but also the child-like expectation of this grumbling monster exploding into momentary view; the vertiginous slope of the bank and the concrete steps  leading enticingly down to the tracks. We seem to float uncertainly,  dangerously, over this scene of speed and  space; vivid, energetic movement and noise.

In John Berger’s book of essays ‘The Shape of a Pocket’ (Bloomsbury, 2001) there is an interchange of letters between Berger & Kossoff. In one Berger says something I keep returning to, over and over.

So called “good” draughtsmanship always supplies an answer. It may be a brilliant answer (Picasso sometimes) or it may be a dull one (any number of  academics). Real drawing is a constant question, is a clumsiness, which is a form of hospitality towards what is being drawn. And such hospitality once offered, the collaboration may sometimes begin.

‘When you say “I need to teach myself to draw” I think I can recognise the obstinacy and doubt from which that comes. But the only reply I can give is: I hope you never learn to draw! (There would be no more collaboration. There would only be an answer)’

Time and again Berger returns to the theme of the act of drawing being that of collaboration, of accommodation, of generosity. He does not see drawing as something to be done well, as something to be pleased with, as an exercise in expertise. These are all shallow, egotistical. immature concerns. Drawing is an act of exploration, of feeling our way through a world that is constantly renewing, always unknown. It is finding out what it is to be alive in front of something or someone.

I hope you never learn to draw!


(if you have any copyright issues with anything on this page- let know!)



Filed under Art, Books, Drawing

2 responses to “My Debt to John Berger – Part 2

  1. Nancy Stedman

    Hi David
    I’ve only just come across your blog, so I am really pleased to have found it – especially with the comments from Berger, which has given me lots to think about and a very good impetus with a drawing project that I have set myself – exploring Farnhill Wood (visually that is) over the next year. But I also love your comment about Chris Murray’s painting, which made me look at it again, anew.
    So thank you for stimulating my thoughts and my art! will look forward to seeing more, Nancy

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