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D is for Drawing

… is for Drawing.

Drawing is such a commonplace activity in our daily lives that, most of the time, we hardly even notice ourselves doing it. We doodle idly while at a boring lecture or roughly sketch a map as a visual aid when giving directions on how to get to a place.  A toddler creates her first drawing as soon as she has sufficient fine motor control to curl her fingers around a crayon and make some tentative marks on paper. Curator Emma Dexter, in her introductory essay for Phaidon Press’ 2005 global survey of contemporary drawing practice, Vitamin D, emphasised drawing’s ubiquity,  defining it as a universal human endeavour, a shared visual language of expression:

” … drawing is part of life and life is an occasion to draw.”

Inasmuch as drawing is a part of everyday life, it is also possibly one of the most universal and frequent pursuits among artists, albeit for a variety of purposes and in diverse contexts.  Traditionally and historically, drawing was used as preparation for final works in other mediums, whether it be painting, sculpture or architecture.

Liu Kang, Siesta in Bali (Sketch 1), 1952. Image credit: National Gallery Singapore
Liu Kang, Siesta in Bali, 1957. Collection of Liu Liang. Image credit: National Gallery Singapore

In Renaissance Europe, when many large-scale paintings were produced to decorate the interiors of churches and palaces, extensive and detailed preparatory drawings were a crucial step in creating the finished work. Great artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci were among the most celebrated draftsmen (masters of drawing) of their time. Drawing came to be considered the essential foundation for academic training in all of the arts, and life drawing – the study and representation of the human anatomy through careful observation of live models – was considered the pinnacle of classical artistic training.

Though drawing’s traditional, historical identity was as part of an artist’s foundational training or as preparatory sketch or working draft for a final work in another medium, contemporary practice has seen drawings gain increasing significance as works of art in their own right.

Eminent Singapore contemporary artist Jimmy Ong is noted for his figurative charcoal works on paper. This is a 2009 work by the artist, Forbidden Spring, A Dream of Parameswara. Image courtesy of Jimmy Ong.

Throughout the twentieth century, drawing’s possibilities were radically expanded. In tandem with the liberation of modern and contemporary art from the traditions of the past, drawing opened up to encompass a wide range of alternative visual registers, embracing abstraction, material experimentation, technical and diagrammatic drawing, minimalisim and conceptual art.

Sol LeWitt, Wall drawing #338: Two part drawing. The wall is divided vertically into two parts. Each part is divided horizontally and vertically into four equal parts. 1st part: Lines in four directions, one direction in each quarter. 2nd part: Lines in four directions, superimposed progressively, 1971. The work is currently on display at the National Gallery Singapore’s Minimalism exhibition.
Detailed close-up of the above work. Artists like Le Witt introduced a more procedural approach to mark-making, derived from the application of systematic processes and the medium’s material qualities. The actual work is executed by professional draughtsmen following a premeditated set of instructions.

Christian Rattemeyer, writing the introductory essay in Vitamin D2: New Perspectives in Drawing, the 2013 sequel to Vitamin D, notes that while material experimentation and gestural mark-making continue to occupy a place in contemporary drawing practice, much of the discipline’s efforts in more recent times appear to centre on a reversal of these tendencies and a return to figuration and narrative. A case in point? Filipino artist Jose (Jojo) Legaspi, one of the artists featured in the book, whose drawings in pastel on paper explore the darker sides of the human psyche and are executed in meticulous attention to anatomical detail, revealing the artist’s training in biology and zoology.

Jose Legaspi, Untitled, 2009. Image credit: Singapore Art Museum

Figurative or abstract, intricate and detailed or minimalist, it is clear that drawing remains as dynamic a medium as ever and, revitalised and emboldened, artists continue to consider drawing an essential vehicle for addressing and interacting with the world today.

Illustration of the letter ‘D’ by Nadra Ahmad

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