Monday, June 22, 2009

Back to the drawing board

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Thu, 06/18/2009 1:22 PM | Arts & Design

Mother of Many by Ipong Purnama Sidhi (JP/P.J. Leo)Mother of Many by Ipong Purnama Sidhi (JP/P.J. Leo)

For some time now, the art of drawing has tended to be associated with preparation and incompletion, a mere stepping-stone to a "higher" form.

Rather than being treated as an art form in and of itself, drawing is often regarded as a means to an end. But with modern art stripping away any lingering hierarchy of mediums, drawing began to reclaim a position as a final and autonomous work - an end in itself.

A contemporary drawing exhibition at the National Gallery Jakarta brings together 73 first-grade drawings by 53 Indonesian artists with the simple goal of showing that drawing can be and is an "autonomous medium" for expression in the context of contemporary art.

"Drawing as an autonomous medium of art means that it is the final aim of artistic expression and not just in preparation for some other kind of art," said curator Asmudjo Jono Irianto.

"These are not sketches; these are artistic drawings which are artistic expressions using drawing techniques, mediums and approaches."

Art history shows that drawing has long been respected as a skill but has had little acclaim as an artistic end in itself. Rather, it has tended always to be relegated to the service of painting and sculpture.

The role of drawing as servant has diminished recently as artists turn to digital technologies, such as digital cameras, computer software and projectors, to do the groundwork for their paintings and sculptures. In the meantime, the contemporary fine art world has boosted the popularity of drawing in the past two decades by challenging set conventions and hierarchies.

Quoting art critic Emma Dexter, Irianto said the rising popularity of drawing in the past decade had been more or less influenced by the popularity of painting: "In painting's slipstream followed its shy sibling, drawing, arriving without any apologies or explanation," Dexter is quoted in the exhibition brochure. "Drawing had never been widely theorized in its own right, allowing the field to be open for the artists to make of it what they choose."

Construction of drawing as servant for other mediums, said Irianto, was apparent in the very structure of the nation's art schools where drawing is not included as a course of study, but where various kinds of painting and sculpture, for example, are.

"In European countries, the popularity of drawing has come back within the past two decades, thanks to the concept of no hierarchy of mediums and *anything goes'," Irianto said.

"With the concept of *anything goes', artists tend to create more egalitarian works. They know that it's easier for people to appreciate good choices than hard choices. Drawing has the potential to be easier to understand than installations, video art, or performance art."

Yet its simplicity is deceptive. "Drawing" is ultimately difficult to define but is characterized by specific techniques; thus it is reasonable that most of the works featured in the exhibition were done on canvas if only to demonstrate this character, whatever the material.

Consider, for example, Artist Ingusan (Runny-nosed Artist) by painter Agus Suwage. This work is done in acrylics on canvas but is regarded as a drawing because the artist used lines - considered a drawing technique - to create the picture rather than using painting techniques.

Agus Suwage also chose to leave part of the canvas blank, as is common in drawings, rather than covering the entire surface, as is typical of paintings.

"Drawing is about the medium but it's also about the approach - such as using lines, shadows and hatching. So as long as an art work uses lines or hatching, it will still be regarded as drawing no matter what material is used," said Irianto.

Some artists even made drawing and painting equal by combining the two techniques in one medium. One such work is Seno Andrianto's 8-08, done in pencil and pastel on canvas, which depicts a man sitting among watermelons playing a Portuguese guitar.

Another attempt to bring drawing alongside painting is Chusin Setiadikara's Two Girls on the Mountain, done in charcoal and oils on canvas.

Although more and more artists are demonstrating confidence in using drawing for their final pieces, the exhibition pulls together artists from all walks but who have drawing in common.

"Many artists are now confident with drawing as their main skill," Irianto said. "*There are those who have* drawing as their main medium or technique but there are also some painters who draw too."

The choice of canvas as the base for the drawings is also a strategy to persuade art lovers to see drawing as a serious art.

"Drawing on canvas will make people respect the works more because it doesn't deny the drawing techniques but at the same time solves the classic problem of maintenance," said Irianto. With drawings able to offer more longevity, people "will not hesitate to become collectors" of drawings, he added.

The exhibition might be a positive sign for art lovers that drawing - a mere prerequisite for good artists since the Renaissance era and dominated during the Modern era by abstract expression - is now enjoying a resurgence.

Triyadi Guntur, whose graphite drawing on canvas titled So Close portrays a photograph by Hyperrealist artist Chuck Close, said he was interested in drawing because it laid down the rules in fine art. As an artist who learned abstract painting and realism at the same time, Triyadi understands that knowing the basic rules is important.

"How can we break the rules if we don't know them?" he asked.

Indonesian Contemporary Drawing
Until June 24
National Gallery
Jl. Medan Merdeka Timur 14
Central Jakarta

June 28 - July 26
Andi's Gallery
Jl. Tanah Abang 4/14
Central Jakarta

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