3.2 Research – Gesture

The artist considers the gesture of her or his subject. In life classes, we often start with very quick drawings, designed to warm up our eyes and arms, and to capture just the very basic form of the pose, the thrust of a hip or twist on the spine, an essence. Below is a very quick drawing, 3 minutes, where I have not worried about the quality of my line, or even looked at it, but looked at the model and tried to capture the position of the arms over a pole and how that has pushed the head forward. In doing so, the marks themselves become gestural, capturing the gesture of my hand as I made the mark.


A1, 3 mins, pencil and charcoal

The artist’s bold gesture expressed by the mark can become of interest in itself, taking on a life beyond the expression of the subject. It allows us to picture the artist working and envisage the physicality of the process. In Action Painting, the expressionists (Pollock, Kline et al.) took this to its logical conclusion of eliminating a subject and making the process of creation of a work itself the subject. Painting became a performance, often with an invited audience, and the painting almost a secondary record of the event.

Gesture is recorded through the direct application of material. The vigor and energy of the artist’s action is captured. The physical application is overtly displayed in contrast to classical painting where the act of applying paint is hidden in the attempt to create an illusion of reality. “Under the cloak of an intellectual aim, the materials have been completely murdered and can no longer speak to us”, Jiro Yoshihara asserted in his Gutai manifesto of 1956 (Harrison and Wood, 2002).

The Gutai Bijutsu Kyokai (Concrete Art Group) took the gesture to another level with what latter were termed Happenings, Installations and Performance Art. The gesture of the artist became the artwork with artists writhing in mud, jumping through sheets of paper or throwing an ink soaked ball at paper. The materials were unassuming and clearly displayed such as in Shimamoto’s ‘Holes’. Pollock had allowed the genii out of of the bottle and there was no going back. In 1996, Yoshihara credited Pollock, “Pollock’s splendour will never be extingushed” (Harrison and Wood, 2002).


Harrison, C. and Wood, P.J. (eds.) (2002) Art in theory, 1900-2000: An anthology of changing ideas. 2nd edn. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.



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