“Drawing owes a huge amount to the energy with which the hand traces lines and the character of this energy is determined by the character, the mood, the culture, the vision of the artist. In fact, it is a mysterious phenomenon.”
Geta Brătescu wrote these words in her diary in 2008, a decade before she passed away last year at the age of 92. They play testimony to her commitment to her work and to her deeply conceptual approach to her studio practice, something which is echoed by the artist’s current solo show at Hauser & Wirth, London.
Having lived all her life in Romania, Brătescu is perhaps the supreme example of the female artist whose work is only internationally recognised much later in life. Despite being an important figure in the development of conceptual art, Brătescu wasn’t widely known outside her native country until she received a solo exhibition at Tate Liverpool in 2015 and subsequently presented a critically acclaimed body of work at the Venice Biennale in 2017.
Now Hauser & Wirth, working closely with the artist before her death and with Ivan Gallery, has put together a museum-quality exhibition of this remarkable artist’s work. The show draws together pieces from the last decade, a period in which Brătescu’s practice focused on working with the line as a structuring principle.
At the centre of the exhibition is a free-standing structure that effectively breaks up the space, and also provides a viewing room for a video about the artist’s studio practice. ‘The Gesture, The Drawing’ (2018), a film made in collaboration with the artist Stefan Sava, presents Brătescu talking and working in her studio (a space she imbued with personal, artistic and cultural significance). Her small, age-spotted hands draw with striking clarity and confidence, undermining our expectations and prejudices surrounding issues of age and gender.
Another mesmerising video, ‘The Line’ (2014), shows the artist using a thick, square-nibbed marker pen to draw shapes that flicker between abstraction and figuration. It’s deeply satisfying to watch, even when the results don’t work out to Brătescu’s satisfaction: sometimes she says “done” after only a few strokes, sometimes her hand hovers over the page before she decides to rip it up. These videos effectively demonstrate the deliberation and fascinating performative process that lies behind Brătescu’s entire oeuvre.
The artist’s exploration of the line takes many different forms, even within this aesthetically and conceptually cohesive exhibition. Although she sometimes uses more traditional drawing tools such as pen and pencil, she also frequently uses scissors, glue and found objects to create her compositions. She incorporates items such as match boxes and coffee stirrers, finding a continuation between life and art through the common element of the line.
Notably, although from a distance Brătescu’s line works can seem like perfect geometries, close-to they all bear evidence of the artist’s hand. The use of torn scraps of paper or imperfectly edged shapes evokes a sense of delight in the materiality of the medium, and also a strong vein of experimentation. There are subtle surprises at every turn in this exhibition: Geta Brătescu is shown to have been innovative until the end.