Friday, 24 May 2013

A Situated and Sensitive Drawing

A key question is emerging in our discussions about this project: what do we call this type of drawing which is the focus of Walking the Line? Site-specific? Site –sensitive? Situated? Cross-disciplinary? Locational? None seem fully comprehensive. On the one hand we want to encompass a sense of being in a specific place, either geographically or conceptually, and on the other acknowledge the responsiveness of the drawing in the encounter.  

A 20th century example of this type of situated and site sensitive drawing is found in Barbara Hepworth’s hospital drawings, made in operating theatres between 1947-49.These drawings depict not simply observed fact but communicate what is felt; they convey the experience of being in surgery.
Barbara Hepworth,  Concentration of Hands II (1948)

  In these drawings we see Hepworth noticing particular qualities of the operating theatre – the brightness and direction of light, the concentration in the eyes of the surgeons - and looking for graphic equivalents. We see parallels between the surgical procedures depicted and the artist’s process:  Hepworth uses a bone dry gesso surface, scrapers and sharp points to incise, the edge of a razorblade to scrape back.  These are newly developed tactile and haptic techniques specifically designed to marry with the particular actions and intentions of the surgeons.

Hepworth makes clear the situated nature of the drawing experience: “body experience… is the centre of creation. I rarely draw what I see. I draw what I feel in my body”.[1]
Barbara Hepworth,  The Scapel II (1949)

We might see this evident in the quiet composure, the sense of tension, the intent focus of the figures depicted, gathered around the operation, illuminated by the an intense light of the operating lamp. The figures are bathed in light from behind, lending them a mysterious glow, akin a divine light highlighting a sense of mysetry or miracle in the scenario. 
 The experience of drawing in the surgery brought about a change in Hepworth’s drawing, and manifests an increasing graphic specialisation. Hepworth herself noted “from all these experiences and from the paintings and drawings I made, I learned how better to observe the world around me“. [2]In other words through sustained engagement in this particular world of surgery, the drawing became adapted to the specificities of representing the surgical procedures.

Perhaps here we should note a crucial difference in what Hepworth was doing and to the artist simply ‘going’ out to unusual or far flung places.  By contrast consider the nineteenth century naturalist- artist who goes out to record exotic flora and fauna deploying the conventions of the day. The language of drawing is unchanged by the observation, remaining demonstrably that of botanical illustration.  This example of the naturalist might be conceived of as a ‘colonial’ approach- using drawing to record, and gather, without the drawing ‘going native’, i.e. the languages of drawing being altered by the experience.

The difference in short is that engagement with drawing in the example of Hepworth’s Hospital drawings results in innovation within drawing. A specific and specialist technique is refined, developing and expanding existing graphic conventions and an understanding of what drawing can do.

So, folloing this post, we intend to post about our own practices shape our approach to this kind of drawing... 

[1] Cited in Judy Chicago, Through the Flower ( 1985), p.142
[2] Barabra Hepwoth  An Artist’s View of Surgery (1952) reproduced in Nathaniel Hepburn, Barbara Hepworth Hospital Drawings ( 2012) p.83.


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  2. The experience of drawing in the surgery brought about a change in Hepworth’s drawing, and manifests an increasing graphic specialisation.

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