A Book of Two Halves

Drawing Projects, Mick Maslen and Jack Southern (£19.95, Black Dog)

It's taken me a long time to get to grips with this book because for me it's a book of two distinct halves, one of which I like and one of which I don't.

Subtitled ‘an exploration of the language of drawing', the useful part of the book is the artist interviews which form a large proportion of the book. Although some of these contain discussion to do with the drawing projects that are also part of the book, or at the very least are thematically grouped with drawing projects, I found the projects outlined simplistic and over-familiar. These are drawing exercises any A Level or Foundation student will have already have been asked to do. The commentaries, debates and reflective discussions are far more revealing and informative about drawing than these everyday exercises.

What I'd like to have seen more of are the types of drawings that aren't simply representational pieces made with a pencil. Cornelia Parker's inkblot drawings are exciting, as are Claude Heath's drawings on acrylic sculpture and Tim Knowles 7 Windwalks in London. I'd like to have seen more of this kind of work: most artists I know undertake work they classify as drawing, but this often involves, collage, frottage, inks, watercolours, paints, prints etc… undertaken as studies to or from their own or others' paintings or sculpture, articulating variants and possibilities, used as a way to think outside one's head. It would have been useful to to perhaps considered systems and processes, sequences and series of work, and been offered a peek into sketchbooks (there is a very short 2 page spread on the subject) and a look at some collaborative work (rather than simply the final ‘communal drawing' project which ends the book.

Perhaps what really disappoints me is the result of the drawing projects shown in the book. They don't strike me as particularly interesting or useful; I can't imagine where the artists who have taken part in these workshops could go with their work, it all seems so prescribed and limited. Perhaps the learning experience doesn't translate to the page, but I'm a great believer in good processes yielding good results. Or perhaps I expect too much and should be glad people are still thinking visually on paper and canvas?

This is a useful and at times exciting book, but for me it will be used as an anthology of artist's interviews and not as a manual or handbook. The authors here haven't quite convinced themselves to live dangerously and take on board the lessons they have learnt from the artists  they have conversed with. The workshops here are drawing for dummies, a dumbing down rather than an inspiration.

    © Rupert Loydell 2012