As those of you in London stroll through the Drawing Prize this final week of the show, or maybe in coming months in Cardiff or Devon, you might notice a tendency of few works that play on the long relationship between drawing and books. Somewhere between the sketchbook, book illustrations (from the medical to the fantastical), comic books, and newspaper cartoons is drawing’s relationship, or reliance, on not just the page – what James Elkins in his exchanges with Berger called ‘the invaluable record of the encounter of a moving, thinking hand with the mesmerizing space of potential forms that is simply called ‘a blank sheet of paper’- but a collection of pages. The book is a physical narrative, that is more than just the pulped wood surface of the blank page and it’s pent-up potential released/realised/created in the act of drawing, but a conglomeration of those moments.
This is most apparent in the small, fanned out concertina of pages of Lottie Jackson-Eeles’s Imagery Imaginary – Volume 1, 2010, a sort of abstracted landscape of experiences and sights of the cities, fragmented moments pieced back together as ridges of colliding coloured shapes, water towers, windows and fans. It is a diary of sorts, maybe some form of exquisite corpse where each fold might not necessarily lead to the next moment but somehow they still connect. It doesn’t flow; it juts and spikes, the erupting moments and the zig zag of the page edges themselves we have to follow and animate ourselves.
The expanded book is also bursting out of Iain Andrews’s Patterns of Faerie Tales, where an aged tome has a been cut into to house a series of illustrated sheets. Each is a fragment of a land inhabited with floating fish, odd creature and characters that still we recognize from the Brother’s Grimm, Lewis Carroll and Tolkein. We can shuffle through the pages, and no matter how fanciful it’s still a familiar world.
Perhaps on the flip side of that same coin is Nicki Rolls’s Sketch – a familiar world, but here a mundane one, in a projected street scene that sits on an opened sketch book, its pages lined but empty. We see a car pass, a man walking up the street, then as he reaches the edge of the frame…he simply keeps walking. Strolling along the fanned edges of the book, bobbing in and out of the half-lit pages, then onto the blank white light hitting the wall and finally out of sight. Here, Rolls uses the blank page to, as she says, ‘draw with light;’ the sketch book a place of some sort of gleeful impossibility, though instead of being told through fantasy illustration it’s with the more technological idiom of animated digital video.
A gutted hardcover book is the basis for Sally Taylor’s Mouth Full of Triangles 4, 2011, and it would seem drawing open mouths on dismembered parts of old publications is part of Taylor’s current run, with another example from the same series below. The open cover and the mouth make a visual rhyme, the mouth’s silence and abstracted sound of coloured triangles a skewed mirroring of the symbology of letters and language that the book spews forth. The ‘yelling’ book seems playful, obnoxious, impulsive.
Amikam Toren’s Last Drawing, 2010, does provide a full stop of sorts – the backing cardboard for a spiral bound notebook on it’s own, the paper itself finally gone. The backbone of the metal binding turns upwards, winding and spiraling up, making its own shadow drawing. Despite some of the found and layered work in the show, this piece is the most loudly a drawing without drawing, a gesture that is light and immediate, funny and sketchy and temporary. It relies only on the material, on the leftovers that come after drawing, to make any sort of movement, a movement that will remain permanently unfinished.
The use of the book could be seen as a sort of nostalgic move, a reference to the analogue, to the ‘dying media’ of print – but the books here are cast aside, torn out, ripped open and left behind. It seems part of a move to recognize the physical bearer for drawing, to call on its media to come forward, which is both a love letter and assassination. It sings of the entire history of the book, of illustration, and our own nostalgia-tinted moments of seeing the glimpses into the worlds of stories we were read as children. It also recognizes drawing’s own reliance on the analogue, its own threat and risk of being branded ‘dying’. But it also sets drawing apart from the book, maybe cockily declares it separate, beyond, bigger, that drawing can swallow and digest the book, but never vice versa.