Drawing used to play a central role in any self respecting artist’s practice…I say ‘used to’ as it seems nowadays that much contemporary work makes very different kinds of statements about, and defines our relationships to the self and the world around us by other means, so that we certainly see less of it regardless of whether it goes on or not. Of course now we have a battery of other ways of recording or replicating our observations of the external worth or the interior worlds of our imaginations, and the advent of the digital age has exploded and befuddled our grasp on where those boundaries we thought existed. But drawing, on this evidence certainly does ‘go on’.
In the context of this relative ‘hidden’ life of drawing, the idea of what drawing is or can be has been mined in very novel ways several times over recent years, we have of course the Jerwood prize, the fascinating Rabley sketchbook competition, the utterly marvellous ’43 Uses’ show curated by Paul Curaton & Craig Staff back in 2011 that ought to have been seen and discussed by many more than it was, and in its modest way, we can now add this outing.
Stimulated by a conversation a year or so back at Backlit Studios between HMS’s Jackie Berridge, Rob Van Beek and Martin Lewis the idea of the MELA came up as a means to explore aspects of drawing in the region. One of the key notions behind the show was to bring in new artists to the venue alongside those above and others who have shown here before. Hence the first appearances at HMS of quite a few whom I am unfamiliar with as well as others I know quite well but have previously not shown here. The idea of the MELA is spelt out by the organisers here.
The illustrator Stephen Waterhouse is one of the new names to me. Stephen’s topographical study of Manhattan stretching northwards from the Twin Towers is both lyrical and poignant – he revealed, during a short ‘show and tell’ session that was a rewarding feature of the opening, that he had begun the work on site before returning home where, whilst continuing to develop it he heard the news of the 9/11 attack, whereupon he ceased working it up. Like much of the work on show there is considerable delicacy and deftness of touch at work here…and then passages that remain tentative or wholly undeveloped – a reminder of the horror of the event.
A quite other demonstration of this deft and delicate approach to the idea of a drawing comes in the form of a lovely abstraction by Sardul Gill. Sardul is an artist I’ve known for many years but whose work is much less frequently seen out and about than it ought to be (he isn’t the only one represented in this show). Sardul’s piece is playful, relying upon collage and accidental elements that he then riffs off of, and has a sense of balance and ‘thusness‘ (that Buddhist term beloved of Bernard Leach in describing ceramics of real quality).
Amongst the other ‘newcomers’ to the Mill is Gabriel Tejada who hails from Peru by way of the Royal College and, nowadays, Repton in South Derbyshire. There’s three smallish drawings here with considerable finesse – a lightness of touch that builds into dense, intense and atmospheric space within which curious figures are partially submerged. These figures have something of the bulbous quality one might find in the great Columbian master Botero, though there the comparison ends as these characters are dark, mysterious and somewhat threatening. If any other artist is called to mind its the feverish imaginings of Odilon Redon but here too the comparison doesn’t hold, if anything these are simply Tejada’s people coming at us tentatively, almost liminally, off of the page.
Facing across from Tejada is another artist whose drawings are worked up very sensitively indeed. perhaps not surprisingly as David Willetts is both one of the region’s most talented and most experienced artists with a reputation for impeccable draughtsmanship. Here he shows a small group of drawings of a plant to which he returns again and again discovering more about both the subject and the object, exuberant and luminous pastel and pencil pieces, and in the process, more about himself. Willetts is one of our best artists hereabouts and deserves to been seen more often. When his work has been shown in the past few decades it has often been in the company of Peter Cartwright. Cartwright is another of the more senior artists in Notts and has been painting and drawing fabulously strong work for many years. He says of his approach that “I make intense unpremeditated responses through drawing, to fragments, objects and situations, creating a stock of images that feed the working process.” Here he brings a counterpoint to much of the work around him in that there’s a raw energy to his drawing that contrasts with many of the other works on show.
There are strong offerings, in quite different ways, from each of the show’s progenitors. Martin Lewis shows two small conceptually driven pieces…one a thousand white lines, that the artist rightly insisted were all there! Jackie shows a lovely piece that opens the show with a strong narrative element whilst Rob assembles a fine array of curious small plastic frames in which his equally oddball pictographic drawings sit on a shelf. I’ve not mentioned quite a few of the other artists here but suffice to say there’s a delicate and, simply lovely, work by Gurminder Sikand, a strong iPad drawing from Mik Godley and two especially fine observational drawings from Ian Whitfield, who is also from Repton by way of the Royal College. With another dozen or so equally strong offerings from other artists this show is well worth a visit.
Saturday 23rd, April 1-3pm Sunday 24th, April 1-3pm
‘Measurement and Anti-Measurement in Drawing’ Sunday 24th April, 2-3pm Talk and discussion introduced by Rob Van Beek
Grateful thanks to Maggy Milner for use of her photos of the show.