The essence of this part of the course seems, to me, to be about relinquishing control, either totally, or to some extent. It might be by allowing a degree of randomness or happenstance into your drawing, or perhaps by setting up a set of conditions or parameters and then turning over all control to the medium, the ‘program’ or the mechanism. As a background to drawing with my arm extended by a stick, I thought I would look at artists who did this, or used a radical loosening of control in their practice.
Marlene Dumas works from photographic references which can produce a very controlled, stilted outcome but she avoids this by allowing her media to flow on the support. She has introduced an element of risk by freeing the media. This video shows her working on the floor, shepherding a large pool of ink and water, searching for her image. The thin washes of paint or ink dispersed in the water gives her portraits great fragility. Her subjects are usually the flotsam and jetsam of life, the victims or dispossessed. In her paintings they look as though they are ghosts who could disappear at any moment, washed away as the ink or paint disperses.
The American artist Joyce Polance creates paintings of women interacting in unusual poses but her recent works have incorporated a degree of obliteration or reworking of the surface to allow a new layer of meaning to appear. What was a simple portrait has become an observation of physiological turmoil. She says, “In becoming willing to destroy that which I have just created, I allow for something entirely new to emerge” (Polance, no date).
Damian Hurst’s Spin paintings use a spinning disk with paint. He brings added uncertainty to a mechanical process by varying the pain colours and the location from which it is dropped, but the outcome is dictated by the spin of the disk, not the gesture of the painter.
In complete contrast the works of Louise Naunton Morgan, aka The Humanprinter, are produced by the artist following a strict set of parameters which remove all control over the final image from its maker. Her works are produced using felt tip pens to mirror the process of a half tone printed photograph. Her references are supplied by the public and she (and subsequently a group) then faithfully reproduces them, dot by dot. However, the human-drawn dots lack the precision of machine-printed dots, bringing a painterly element to the outcome. The outcome would not be the same even if the same process was used to reproduce the same photograph. This is an example of ‘generative art’ where the artist decides on a set of conditions or algorithms and then allows the work to come into being by executing the ‘program’. Other examples of generative art are the works produced by harmonographs where a support is placed on a swinging table and is drawn onto by a pen which is also swinging in a different plane. The resulting drawings a reminsent of spirograph drawings, but much more complex. The results can be very mechanical looking but the drawings of Ivan Moscovich transcend machine production; the artist (or mathematician) has intervened in the process to create a work of art.
One of the ultimate introductions of jeopardy into art has to be Beuys’ performance piece ‘I like America and America Likes Me’ (1974) in which he spent three days in a room with a coyote as ‘a challenge to the hegemony of American art.’ (Joseph Beuys: Actions, Vitrines, environments: Room 4, 1974).
One artist who combines both preformance and artistic outcome is Cai Guo-Qiang who draws with gunpowder. The process is meticulously planned with assistants placing gunpowder on a large gridded-up support. The gunpowder is covered by stencils and then mats before being triggered in front of an invited audience. The smoke and burn marks created ‘paint’ the surface and the stencils produce surprisingly representational works.
It is clear that jeopardy can be introduced in many ways from the spontaneous gesture of the artist to planned relinquishing of control to a drawing machine. It is a way to add energy to work, find new marks or gestures and requires the artist to accept and even celebrate ‘mistakes’.