The best drawing in the world


Sol LeWitt Ten Thousand Lines, 5″ long, Within a 7″ square  1971  Pencil on paper (28.5 x 28.5cm)

I saw this at an exhibition of Sol LeWitt’s drawings at Leeds city art gallery in 1991 and have been captivated by it ever since. I can’t get over how an artist can get so much information and reference within something so visually simple. In part it is a commentary on all drawing, the endless process of defining space by grubby marks on processed wood pulp. But there’s an image here, of a man sitting at a desk repeating the same action over and over, not as obsession but as an act of discipline. There’s reference to Malevich’s Black Square on a White Ground but this time alluding  to its own making. Or perhaps LeWitt’s drawing represents only itself, where Black Square was a image of spiritual truth. There is also something of action art, in our being presented with the result of a such an obviously long, repetitive and arduous process, but pared down, without the histrionics of the abstract expressionists.

I sometimes think of Sol LeWitt’s process as over clever and emotionally cold but I’m also surprised at how often I’m encouraged while drawing by the obstinacy of this piece  and I’m reminded of the physicality and materiality of all  actions.


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There is always too much information

I love a good aphorism, the quick hit of a haiku (I have a poor attention span and worse memory) and there are a couple that are constant companions whether in the studio or out drawing. Here’s one by Scots poet and artist Thomas A Clark:

“Nothing coincides with its representation/ Stop, look, wait”

And here’s one from William James, psychologist and brother of Henry: “The world comes at you as if fired from the barrel of a revolver”

These are both relevant to the process of drawing. Every time attention is paid to the world we are overwhelmed by sense data, an infinity of tiny differences.

It would be pointless to attempt to revisit the theories of how we might systematise  this hurricane of information, partly because it would take too long and partly because I cannot even pretend to know much about it.

Enough to say, in the present context, that the process of drawing is just one way of describing what we believe to perceive. And as such is only going to be partial and doomed to be always a fiction. So, should that fiction be judged on its elegance,  its conformity to commonly accepted standards of quality or skill? Or through a notion of authenticity, by manifesting an internal truthfulness?  That maintains something of the crude, stuttering honesty of the “real”?  I suppose what I am asking is – just what makes a good drawing? Is all representation inadequate in the presence of reality?


Walter Sickert (1860-1942) He Killed his Father in a Fight  Pencil, 24 x 30 cm, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester This featured in the wonderful exhibition The Primacy of Drawing curated by Deanna Petherbridge, in 1991, when she was professor of drawing at the Royal College.There is a much larger and deeper study of drawing by her and of the same title, published by Yale in 2010

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Playfully Serious or Seriously Playful- conversation 3

Just returned from a period of snow on the beach (not a cocktail) and leaking roofs in Devon and have much to do. But there was an interesting e-mail when we we got back. I had sent one of the albums to David Cook  (he of Airton, fine etchings, Rembrandt-esque drawings and slowly revealed space- see link) and this found it’s way back to Carine Brosse (see previous post). I started this one off with a very anodyne still-life and David has taken the theme and wittily, playfully, torn it up and turned it around and sent it off in a totally unexpected direction which Carine has run with & put another unexpected spin on. (Sounds a bit like a drawing/ 5 Nations final) All this seems to me to release a whole shower of unexpected meanings.

Whatever… I’ll just have to let the images speak for themselves…

3. David Cook  David Thomas

DCookEvoRevoDavid Cook

CarBrosseEvoRevo2  Carine Brosse

Despite what Paul Valery said about words  being only as a thin plank to cross a crevasse, not to be lingered on, I’ve increased the size of David Cook’s collage/ drawing so that the fragment of  crossword can be read better. But words isolated in drawings draw your attention to the manifold meanings packed  tightly within a small group of  letters. “Words are little winged fortresses”- Osip Mandlestam

Oh, and congratulations to Carine for having done a faster time than David Ashby in the Paris marathon!

I’m updating this on 8th May because I’m really pleased to have  received an addition to this conversation from Kim Edwards, all the way away in Saxmundham

Kim Edwards:con3

which is taking it further.From the distant echoes of sea in landlocked Grassington to the geographical reality of coastal Suffolk.

This is (for some strange reason) the only book where folk’s have consistently sent in images. Which is nice. But means that I just have to believe that the others are still out there, like William Franklin or Elvis.

But this delightful drawing by Ruth McCabe fell into my in-box last week-

conversation 3 ruthmccabe

I’d love to have an interactive map showing where all these come from but pencil on paper’s about as interactive as I can do. But it seems that there are areas in the country (and, despite not knowing the place, I do know of many of the artists) such as Suffolk where representation takes a more felt or sensed path rather than the way visual correctness is prized in Yorkshire. I over simplify, but there seems to be a more relaxed attitude in artists in East Anglia.


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Easter Day on Farnhill Moor

Another freezing day and too cold to do much considered drawing on top of a moor but I was thinking about what Chris Murray commented on a previous post: “the profound reverence of concentrated drawing”.


This is surely not the same as piety or holiness? Isn’t it more about allowing yourself to be  receptive and open to the world through drawing? Allowing the circumstances in which the drawing is made to determine the outcome, rather than some received or constructed notion of how you would like it to be or an exterior notion of what constitutes a “good” drawing?

Or am I just rehearsing a justification for bad drawing? I don’t know.

Not that any form is less valid than any other but this seems a very different approach to drawing that is intended for an audience or even for their approval; it is more in the nature of traces left by an event, as if the ‘me’ that made the drawing is no longer there. Which, in a sense, is true.


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A Message from Carine Brosse

A (slightly hustly) message had just been placed on Facebook to Carine when an email popped up with this:


I had no idea how Carine would start off one of these conversations but this is staggering. Lucky person who will have to respond to this!

Carine Brosse is a sculptor, painter, installation builder and all round artist who, unlike many, has a great deal to say in her work and has the language and ability with which to say it. Her imagery is highly personal, usually disturbing and I’m often at a loss to know what it means or where it’s coming from. But it always demands a response.

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A Drawing from Chris Murray!

At last! Some feedback.

I’m so pleased Chris Murray has sent one of his intensely observed and constructed dawings and I’ll leave it to speak for itself.

                                                                        OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And while we’re at it here’s another of his “A House Someplace” that I was given on my 60th birthday. It gives up its information in the same way that it was made: slowly and densely.


Chris Murray lives and works in North Yorkshire and produces, with real passion, objective paintings and drawings of great intensity.


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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!


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