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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Jerwood Drawing Prize 2009-Last chance to see drawing’s finest

Jerwood Space, London

Written by Jessica Stokes

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The Jerwood Drawing Prize is back again for another year and 2009’s hopefuls won’t disappoint. The longest running annual exhibition has been going since 1994 and is dedicated to promoting and rewarding excellence in contemporary drawing in the United Kingdom.

kate russo

Spaced over two rooms, the first piece I come to is by artist Kate Russo, whose two works sit on top of one another. The first, “Dissolving Symmetrically” and the second, “The Key Is Repetition”. Both pieces are done on graph paper, working in the confines of grids. Amongst the mass of verticals and horizontals, Russo has rendered an extremely intricate network of minute coloured squares. Using coloured pencil and graphite she has systematically filled in alternate boxes to eventually build up a repeat pattern that you can only distinguish from a distance. It is clear that time and dedication has been taken to carry through this task she has given herself. It is interesting because the outcome of this drawing was predetermined by the system she chose to follow to colour in the squares. As I look closer the tiny dots almost look as if they’re vibrating, bouncing off one another like molecules in an atom. Or perhaps they even appear to be working ants, busying themselves around a nest. This is quite a satisfying piece of art to study, especially if you have a thing for mathematics, rules or systems.

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The work of Catherine Nicholson is quite arresting as my gaze moves over to the next piece. “After The Storm” is in pen and ink on a large canvas. It is the most intrinsically rendered drawing of a collection of apparently decomposing branches, leaves and foliage. On closer inspection you see that Nicholson must have used an extremely fine nibbed pen to achieve the level detail, from the veins of the fern leaves, the cracking of the bark on the branches to the areas where the leaves are starting to decompose. At first this may appear to be a very well executed study of nature but the title makes it take on a new meaning. “After The Storm” makes you think that these are the debris of a natural disaster maybe. Where they all once growing peacefully somewhere in an undisturbed habitat? Perhaps now ripped from their surroundings and discarded in the dirt by the storm.

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Another two drawings by Japanese artist, Yumi Shimada are displayed to my far left. One sitting on top of the other, “Self Portrait 2008” is drawn in black ink on paper, showing an unknown formless being in the centre of each frame. The undeterminable origin of this creature, no visible facial features and its forthright position on the page is quite confrontational. The surface is made up of dark, black cross-hatching to give a sense of a thick, dense mass. The first drawing shows it slumped over the length of a small table, almost as if it can longer take it’s own weight. The second is far more disturbing, depicting the creature sending itself through a mangle and turning itself into a black, viscous liquid on the other side. The scene described is actually quite disturbing. It appears that it is performing this act of it’s own will. I am brought to mind the ‘stink-spirit’ character, Okusare, in Spirited Away – a sloth-like, sluggish being. I try to work out the connection between the two pictures. There is perhaps a sense of despair in the first, which may consequently lead to the macabre finality of the second. Shimada says that the portrait shows her squeezing negative thoughts through the mangle, somehow disposing of them. The world that this creature inhabits is not one I recognise. The influence from Japan and the Japanese fantasy genre is apparent. The ominous nature of it and connotations of the dark under-belly of somebody else’s imagination does not make for particularly comfortable viewing. At the same time, I have conflicting feelings that it is strangely compelling. A morbid curiosity to look at something you know will scare you.

jerwood drawing prize

The final artwork that I come to is also my favourite. The most reserved of all the pieces on show in size and yet the most monumental in its stature, Samuel Kelly’s “Tokyo Aero-abstraction 7” is quite awe-inspiring. If I had thought the previous drawings had a good eye for detail, it doesn’t compare to this. Drawn on a tiny square of paper, dimensions probably no more than 4cmx5cm, it appears to show an aerial view of a city or road system. Even standing at a normal distance away, it just looks like a grey block of colour. You are invited to stand much, much closer – my face is literally inches from it. Only then can you really see a tiny network of roads and buildings and appreciate its complexity. It is so tiny in fact, that I can only imagine that Kelly would not have been able to draw this with a pencil nib any finer than the point of a pin. I have to say, without delving any deeper into its underlying meaning, it is easily impressive enough as it is. The modest frame seems mammoth in comparison. It allows it so much space, emphasizing even more it’s miniscule proportions. There is something quite impressive about creating work on a microscopic level, like the artist who makes objects to fit on the head of a needle.

samuel kelly

There are many more notable examples of drawing on display today, even in a relatively small gallery space; you could spend hours soaking in the extraordinary talent showcased. This is the last week of the exhibition’s run, so head over soon to avoid disappointment.


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