This rather gorgeous book accompanied an exhibition at the British Museum exploring and celebrating the medium of drawing in contemporary art. All this is in the past tense as I seem to have managed to overlook it at the time (it was published in September 2019). Although it’s probably too late to see the original works, this record remains.
The death of different media, or even art itself has been declared or predicted since virtually the dawn of time. There was probably an old curmudgeon sitting at the back of the cave, watching the flickering firelight on the wall images and muttering darkly. Fox Talbot announced that, with the invention of photography, “from today, painting is dead”. How did that go, Bill?
Isabel Seligman feels it necessary to explain why drawing has endured as long as it has and I won’t insult any of us by summarising or simplifying; suffice it to say that it has a remarkable persistence and that every generation finds new ways of using it and making it relevant and contemporary. The important thing is that pretty much everything here feels innovative and presents a new way of looking at the world. The images are by turn informative and challenging. There are only so many ways you can put marks on paper, but the how, why and where are what make the difference and make art.
The period covered is 1970 to the present day. That’s not “contemporary” to everyone, of course, covering as it does the best part of fifty years, but it does provide a useful backdrop to the present and a history of a sort that doesn’t get all historical and academic.
Drawing is a medium that excites wherever it appears. It’s simple, or at least starts in simplicity and that, I think, is the basis of why it endures.
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