One of our assessments in Drawing 1 was to present 30 discovery drawings of the same everyday object on a consistently sized and oriented ground (i.e. the material you draw on).
“Significantly, the task also facilitates the development of an expanded vocabulary of drawing, requiring the experimentation and exploration of new processes and materials, new informational systems and ways of creatively representing and interpreting forms.” – Assessment Brief, 2019
I chose to focus on a sinister Billabong thong (aka jandal/flip-flop) – left behind by Lukas when he moved away – because I thought it had an interesting shape and wouldn’t be too difficult to draw. Ahahaha.
It was such a simple shape that there were very few ways to present it that didn’t look just like every other way. On top of that, it kept looking like an icon of a thong rather than a drawing of a thong. Since I couldn’t see a way to explore it in depth I began thinking laterally. Then I woke up at 2 o’clock in the morning with ideas falling out of my head faster than I could write them down and ended up with 150 directions to go in but I could only do 90 drawings with “interpretative, stylistic, technical, and material diversity” before I had to hand the project in. Such is life.
Also, this is drawing in the expanded field – an outgrowth of the big mid-20th century contemporary art revolution – so the definition of drawing is pretty loose: “marks on a surface”. What marks? What surface? What technique? What materials? They’re all defined by the artist so you can draw with graphite pencils on paper, flame on baking paper, holes in cardboard, bumps on aluminium foil, bleach on a towel, coffee on a t-shirt, water on concrete, or light on a screen rendered in ink on paper and you’re still doing a drawing.
How did things get this way? There was a mindset in the post-war period that the old rules – which were part of the cause of WWII – shouldn’t be above interrogation. Not only that, they should be actively interrogated.
Once you let one question in, there’s no stopping them. And then you realise that the old definition of drawing was arbitrary, based on available materials, traditional methods, and what teachers could teach their students. There was a hierarchy that favoured the old ways and everyone followed it until someone didn’t and that was that.
If you make an accurate definition for drawing, you will always end up with “marks on a surface”. If you posit “pencil on paper” then you exclude ink as a material. If you include ink, then you have to include paint, which is just a thicker type of ink, so now you have now included painting as drawing.
If you’ve got painting as a drawing technique, then other forms of applying liquid to a surface are also included. Printing, digital printing, wet photography, dyeing, rubber stamps, and painting stained glass windows are now drawing.
If you make the definition “rubbing against a surface” then you include graphite pencils, coloured pencils, crayons, charcoal, and silverpoint… also beetroot, tea, blood, rocks, erasers, brass rubbings, and rubbings into aluminium foil.
Since we included charcoal, we have to include soot (they’re both the unburned by-product of fire), which means you can include flame as a material as it leaves soot on the paper.
And then you start getting abstract. “Using writing techniques to make a picture” includes pen on paper but also vellum (aka parchment, made from animal skin) which means that tattooing – ink on animal skin – is drawing, as is wearing make-up, body painting, dyeing your hair, and getting a piercing. If the concept makes the drawing, then a URL or QR code which links to a digital image is a drawing (get your phone out and try the one below).
The QR code links to a downloadable version of the digitised ink on paper drawing that I used for 71: Digital camouflage (see above). You can print it out and colour it in, which would mean that the virtual image on this website is also, simultaneously, an “ink on paper” drawing in your house. This is where Conceptual Art starts messing with your mind. 🙂
Remember “pencil on paper” as a definition? Well that paper surface includes baking paper, toilet paper, tissue paper, newspaper, cardboard, egg cartons, and cardboard boxes. As paper can be made from different plants, you have to timber, papyrus, leaves, canvas, cotton, and linen. Then you have to add artificial fibres like polyester, acrylic, acetate, nylon, and lycra. Paper can also be made from stone, which means all rocks and metals are in. Some printing techniques use wet paper, which means that you can now draw on water, which is made from gases hydrogen and oxygen so you can now draw on air. (Ever seen a skywriter?)
Is everything drawing? Of course not; sculpture isn’t drawing, it’s chipping away at marble, which is making marks on rocks… which we’ve learned is drawing. What about film? Film uses light to record an image on a piece of celluloid, and then we shine light through it again to project an image onto a screen. Is that a mark on a surface? Permanency isn’t required to make a drawing and if you leave a book on your newspaper in the sun, you’ll see the outline of the book bleached into the newspaper: marks on a surface. Video is just film by another technique, and TV is a projection onto a surface, as is a computer screen.
If putting liquid on plant material is drawing, then putting jam on toast is drawing. What about curry on naan? What about ice cream in a cone, or hundreds and thousands on chocolate on ice cream in a cone?
It’s at this point I realised that if I can make a reasoned argument for something being a drawing, then it is a drawing and I’ve discovered the answer to the question I didn’t know I was asking until I wrote this: What is Contemporary Art?
Contemporary Art is the process of liberating your creativity, freeing you to explore what interests you in whatever ways you can imagine. And that is the subject of my first solo exhibition, Stranger Thongs at AD Space, UNSW. It opened with 94 drawings just before the campus went into coronavirus lockdown. With the drawings locked in the building, my show has become the longest running in AD Space history!