There was an audible intake of breath when the First Prize winner of this year’s Jerwood Drawing Prize was announced. Juror and artist Glenn Brown noted that the work could be ‘contentious’ for its medium – and when the word ‘video’ was announced, the audience gasped.
Solveig Settemsdal’s video piece ‘Singularity’ explores the process of drawing both sculpturally and temporally. Having suspended white ink in cubes of gelatine, the video shows a fluid shape pulsating, almost battling against itself as it morphs and transforms. The materiality of the ink is at odds with the biological gelatine lattice, representing the artist’s delicate balance between physical process and thoughtful intention. The piece works as a metaphor for the drawing process, often battling against its traditional constraints – yet it is a paradox, as works such as these infinitely expand the medium.
All four prizewinners this year are women. Someone in the audience said the words ‘girl power’ after the awards were announced but it represents more than that. Seeing the proliferation not just of video but also of works unfinished, unmounted, unframed, there was a visible rawness to this year’s exhibition. The Prize celebrates the breadth of drawing practice and creates new dialogues about the continued relevance of drawing in an increasingly diverse and digitally-led age.
Student Award recipient Jade Chorkularb’s work, also in video format, represents temporality through real-time, computer-based drawing. ‘That What They Would Do’ asks various people what they would do if they had an hour left to live and illustrates the answers. It’s like the game Pictionary but slightly more morbid. Underneath, though, there is a simplistic charm to the work that demonstrates a mature and conceptual approach to drawing, and its continued power for universal expression.
Elsewhere, there is an overwhelming monotone theme, with many entrants choosing to represent natural scenes of trees or geometric forms in black and white. One of the only coloured pieces is by Amélie Barnathan, another Student Award winner, where mythical and historical narratives are rendered in pinks, reds, oranges and purples on a roll of paper. The girls represented – ancient Greek madwomen and medieval witches – are highly detailed in their dreamlike pursuits, creating a sense of ethereal movement across the paper.
Many of the works show drawing’s ability to reveal complex and tragic emotions. Anna Sofie Jespersen’s ‘Sid in Bathtub’, which won Second Prize, shows a man lying in a bath, fully clothed and smoking, and when depicted from above he appears at once intimately close and far removed from the viewer. Using blue ballpoint pen, Jespersen shows both crispness and softness in the work, which takes on a tragic feeling of time wasted and love lost.
Nearby, Małgorzata Dawidek draws with written emotions; words like ‘doubt’, ‘disgust’, ‘despair’, ‘anticipation’ spiralling out on the page. The work acts like a map of the brain, a navigational tool for emotional depth. Perhaps this work sums up the act of drawing the best. Drawing is the truest representation of an artist’s intentions, in all its expressive detail and material complexity, and this exhibition is an exuberant celebration of that.