Alexia Goethe Gallery is pleased to present A World of Drawings. A selection of works by Lia Anna Hennig, Felicity Powell and Virginia Verran.
Drawing as a Matter of Course: Hennig, Powell, Verran at Alexia Goethe Gallery.
This exhibition presents three distinct approaches to that very old, yet still vivid and volatile thing we call drawing, using this term in a wide and generous sense that proposes an openness of approach, technique, intention and result. One might slyly or playfully reverse the title of the exhibition, A World of Drawings, and regard Lia Anna Hennig, Felicity Powell and Virginia Verran as having each produced their own particular world, “country” or character of drawing, the idiosyncrasies of which the present exhibition emphasises through the bringing together of these three artists. Drawing may sometimes be seen as a minor or subservient art form, a thing carried out in preparation for the making of larger or more substantial works, but the artists in A World of Drawings all employ this practice for its own sake, and not simply as a means to an end.
Lia Anna Hennig’s pictures are comprised of an immense complexity and overlaying of tiny marks, a myriad of strokes and squiggles, meandering rivulets of black and red ink that seem to both bind together the dominant image Hennig has chosen to depict and, at the same time, pull it apart. For if the focus is on, at one level, a foodstuff or a natural form (spaghetti, a mushroom, a human or animal figure), on another one is drawn into the physicality of the picture’s actual make-up, its compositional or material “substance” as a made thing. Hennig’s intense, concentrated images, assembled through the juxtaposition and interweaving of thousands and thousands of strokes of the pen, literally embody the substantial amount of time taken over an individual work. Although there is the implication of an “organic” or pseudo-biological order to Hennig’s drawings when viewed close up, at the same time what one is, on such close inspection, party to, is the act of drawing itself. The squiggles, spirals and stippled patterns Hennig deploys are both inventive and, within a given drawing, constrained, limited as though they might together form an alphabet or lexicon of letters or other iterable signs. Even if, when one looks closely at these works, one can see numerous tiny pictures of figures or fruits, one nonetheless encounters what one might term the purity of the signifier, the limit point at which the picture becomes an unadulterated concatenation of marks. To zoom into Hennig’s drawings is to encounter an intensity of surface detail, the liveliness and complexity of which is an important part of the attractiveness of the work. Often dealing with subject matter that implies or projects the breakdown of boundaries, Hennig’s drawings enact such a dissolution between content and its rendition through the seductiveness of their physical materiality.
Felicity Powell’s contributions to A World of Drawings are a number of works executed in white wax on the dark, reverse sides of small circular mirrors. These figurative images borrow their format from a technique for medal making perfected by the Hamerani family in Rome between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Although Powell has herself produced medals these drawings are works in their own right. Their imagery is pseudo-mythological, depicting a considerable range of subjects that includes tentacled heads or skulls, the Medusa, a shock of forked lightning over the sea, a ship, a balloon, snakes, bees, and trees, with many of these themes combined with human heads in profile. The heads are in the majority in Powell’s practice, frequently rendered as having eerie physical developments such as being transformed (the head or just the hair) into non-human substances such as sponge, cactus or beeswax. Once one grasps the often extremely fine detailing of these portraits in profile their somewhat disturbing nature – if “nature” is the right word here – can be seen. Aberration or deviation would be a more appropriate term; but it is the grafting together of the conventional and unconventional within the tiny space of these portraits that produces such a sense of the uncanny. The lightly three-dimensional wax is translucent, the passing of light through the material giving a ghostly glow to what are already unnerving representations. The blackness of the mirror backs emphasise the spectral presence of the wax. One is reminded of John Dee’s polished obsidian Aztec mirror (now in the British Museum, where Powell has herself exhibited) – Dee used it to communicate with what he believed to be spirits, and there is something “other worldly” about Powell’s glass-mounted drawings that connects with that metaphor or trope. There is also the constant contrast of darkness and light, of solidity and malleability within these exquisitely seductive circles of wax and glass.
Virginia Verran also uses a rondo format: the double series of circular drawings, Bolus-space and Bonner-space, are in part the result of the artist finding abandoned pieces of already-cut MDF. However, the works these random boards became are far from aleatory, being rather carefully – if intuitively and openly – composed. The Bolus-space series consists of ten pieces executed during a residency in the south west of Ireland in 2009; the Bonner-space pieces were made in Verran’s studio in London’s Bethnal Green, and are ongoing. Although best known as a painter of large semi-abstract oils Verran has for many years made drawings, and in this respect the current images are not entirely new, but have developed out of an earlier way of working. The Ireland works were a response to the openness of the landscape, a factor implicit – I mean their light, airy and insouciant aspects – within their uncluttered aesthetic. Dense tracts of sharp, closely clustered imprints of ink delineate relatively immense zones of blankness, the exposed canvas contrasting acutely with the sheer mass of compacted marks. These pieces suggest themselves as imaginary maps upon which have been recorded, through a spectrum of esoteric signs, the drift and trawl of certain soils or the scatter, extension and pitch of subterranean strata. Zones of light grey and blue, pink and red, some yellows and greens screen out the void of the canvas, slip across it like clouds passing over a milky moon. Running through or over these flat but sinuous formations thin tracks of punctuated colour pulse or pause. The Bonner-space rondos are darker, denser, greatly layered, and arguably heavier and more brooding in their mood (witness the tiny faces, flags, bombs and outcrops of buildings that reside within these works).
A World of Drawings, then, displays in miniature the diversity, potential, intelligence and energy of drawing at the present time.
Peter Suchin is an artist and critic, and a regular contributor to Art Monthly and Frieze.
Lia Anna Hennig was born in Franfurt Am Main, Germany, 1981. Lives and works in London.
Felicity Powell was born in 1961 in London. Currently lives and works in London.
Virginia Verran was born in 1961 in Cornwall. Currently lives and works in London.
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