Jerwood Space, 171 Union Street, London SE1 0LN

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The Jerwood Drawing Prize 2011 review by Eliza Apperly

Almost 3,500 works were submitted to this year’s Jerwood Drawing Prize, the largest-scale and longest-running open exhibition for drawing in the UK. Between them, the judges Iwona Blazwick, Director, Whitechapel Gallery; Tim Marlow, Director of Exhibitions, White Cube and artist Rachel Whiteread whittled down this record number of entries to a shortlist of seventy-three, including two prize-winners and two student awards.

The selection, now showing at Jerwood Visual Arts until 30th October, is an outstanding affirmation of the eclecticism and heterogeneity that the judging panel encountered. Leaping from classical portraiture to fantastical ink-work, nature sketches to room-plans, abstracted wash-marks to video animation the shortlist testifies to an invigorating breadth of method, style and subject. This is ‘drawing’ in the very widest, and most exciting, sense, construed and configured anew with each individual entry.

For a number of exhibited artists, there was a concern to investigate the traditional discipline of drawing in digital media. Tracey Payne’s film Orange Line shows a black inflatable tube, contorted into an archway, which repeatedly inflates and deflates on a 1-minute, 15 second loop. With each rise and collapse, the lurid orange line marked out on the inflatable straightens and then buckles, ‘drawing’ against its black background an ever-shifting coloured contour. Giulia Ricci similarly draws on screen as the animated blue and white geometric pattern in Order / Disruption slowly and subtly contorts like some great digital kaleidoscope, swerving and squashing angular forms and linear repetitions into billowing floral twirls and voluptuous spheres.

Karen Blake’s Walking Classes, which stands directly opposite the gallery entrance, masterfully combines drawing and digital technology in two adjacent videos. On the left runs an aerial urban view, grainy and grey, across which bright white lines intermittently appear. Below, a fast-forwarded ticker-timer records the time of day, alongside the names of various professions. The white lines, we realize, are digitalised walking routes which were mapped out by Blake across the Peckham area with the use of GPS tracking systems. From the early-morning trajectory of a vegetable wholesaler to the mid-afternoon itinerary of a community worker, the lines meander at varying paces and varying lengths, a fluorescent-white maze of daily routines. On the right-hand video, Blake presents a close-up shot of a disembodied hand, which reproduces these walking routes on a blackboard, scratched out one on top of the other. Without the documentary GPS information beside them, the lines appear random, at times frantic, scribbles, an experiment in automatic-drawing, perhaps. With the adjacent mapping, they become some of the most expressive and eloquent lines in the entire show, tracing the pacing of feet with the stroke of a hand, articulating a human day in a chalk-mark.

In other shortlisted pieces, artists have merged drawing with traditionally sculptural media and methods. Amikam Toren’s Last Drawing presents the back grey-beige cardboard cover of a spiral-bound sketchbook, suspended in a frame, with half of the metal spiral pulled out, stretched and contorted into uneven, doodle-like, Calder-like loops. Robert Battams and Simon Leahy-Clark, on the other hand, both created thick forms and stratified shapes with densely-piled paper. Leahy-Clark pastes layer upon layer of cut out squares in newspaper into a thick latticework of white, black and grey in Untitled (TN14411) while Battams collages multiple sheets of graph paper to mould intricate, industrial-looking forms in Grid, rising out of the base page like a sprawling factory model.

Amongst such experimental takes on drawing, the exhibition also includes a number of works in which classical draftsman-ship held forth, often juxtaposed directly with the competition’s most subversive and anti-traditional entries. Kristian Evju’s immaculate small-scale, full-body portrait Girl Bag sat directly alongside Brendan Lyons’ Untitled, a frame containing nothing save a few remnants of paper stapled to ply-board backing, as if some full and finished page had been angrily ripped away. Nearby, Liz Bailey’s Bonsai, a large-scale pencil drawing of a Bonsai tree, was just one example of meticulous nature drawings which also made the judges’ final cut.

The competition’s prize-winning piece, Gary Lawrence’s Homage to Anonymous, similarly upholds the linear clarity and representational exactitude of classical drawing. The work, a vast scene of the town of Pothea, on the island of Kalymnos, was inspired by Lawrence’s own visual experiences on holiday and by town views by other artists through history. In ballpoint pen on paper, Lawrence achieves an exceptional textural variety and observational detail, rendering the town’s bustling port, its populated streets and its dome and spire-studded skyline receding into the surrounding hills, with corner vignettes displaying other views of his travels and a plaque-like detail at the bottom of the work citing the start and finish dates of his drawing. With the meticulousness of a map and the fixity of an engraving, the piece becomes a great personal travelogue - and a log too of the eight hard months of labour that went into his finished work, a triumphant tribute to the painstaking drawing process.

Lawrence’s urban theme is interestingly picked up in a number of other shortlisted works, though across a multitude of styles and psychological spheres. Joy Gerrard achieves a startling contemporary immediacy through her almost pointillist crowd scene in Protest Crowd 1, Tahrir Square, transposing the dominant photographic imagery of the Arab Spring into urgent pencil and ink on paper. The competition’s second prize-winner, Jessie Brennan, meanwhile, explores in The Cut a series of urban myths and personal memories relating to the Lea River Navigation Canal in Hackney, presenting the area as some surreal alter-reality in a 5-metre long drawing of delicately arranged objets trouvés.

There were very few works that did not provoke a long, hard look in this exciting show, at once enthralling and exhausting in its sheer breadth and depth of talent. In each of the gallery rooms, with each new wall of works the visitor enters, in Iwona Blazwick’s words ‘a multitude of complex worlds’, sometimes subtly similar, often drastically divergent, but always, unremittingly, wrought with energy and engagement, with a determination to assert the practice of drawing as an art that is alive, abundantly well and open to manifold interpretation.

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