Masters of Drawing - These Artists Dare to Explore the Line

May 2, 2016

Back in the day when art was more about clay and paper, drawing was considered to be an essential part of an artist's education. Young artists were using the technique in order to define their visual language, which would help them develop their skills and eventually achieve authenticity, because just like our handwritings are unique, each person's drawing line is different. 

Nowadays, it seems like it is not as important for an artist to draw well, but even if that is true, it still doesn't mean that drawing is not as good of a tool for realizing ideas. We're lucky enough to live in a world which gives us a plethora of options, lots of fresh ideas on drawing to compare with the traditional ones, and plenty of ways in which to understand the concept of contemporary drawing. Sometimes it is about the drawing itself, sometimes it is about the way it was created, sometimes it's neither of the two.

These ten artists will show us how drawing fits into the world of contemporary art.

Carroll Dunham - Vulgar beyond Belief

The work of the American artist Carroll Dunham can be characterized as exploratory, fluctuating between figuration and abstraction, between painting and drawing, shaped with tendencies toward caricature. Most of his works show regard to naive drawing, reminiscent of cartoons and comics, and a seemingly inexperienced, childlike style. Standing in strong contradiction to the naive visuals, but also in clear correspondence with the straightforward approach and expression, the content of his drawings usually depicts vulgar narratives and subjects, and it was once described as "vulgar beyond belief" in an essentially affirmative review by David Pagel. These subjects often come as unexpected and uncalled for, leaving the conservatives offended, but most of the audience seems to be thrilled by the power of drawing which makes the vulgarity seem harmless.

Francis Alys - Delicate Metaphors

Originally trained as an architect, Francis Alÿs bases his art on a wide range of phenomena, most of which involve the social and the political factor. He explains his endeavor as "a sort of discursive argument composed of episodes, metaphors, or parables". When he moved from his homeland Belgium to Mexico in 1984, he decided to pursue his newly established desire to become a visual artist and to leave architecture behind, at least in terms of pragmatic architectural design. Although Alÿs presents his sensibility across different media, it is likely that his choice to express ideas through drawing is rooted in architecture.

Amy Sillman - Exploring the Color

What Amy Sillman and a great number of drawing masters have in common is the proneness to create works which blur the line between drawing and painting. Being an American painter and having a particularly expressive visual style which seemed to avoid explicit figuration, she couldn't avoid being called an abstract expressionist. However, her comment on such categorization seems to be disapproving: "I wanted to learn about both Abstract Expressionism and the critique of easel painting—not because I wanted to emulate them, but because I didn’t like them." Regardless of the category, her vibrant works show how colors can combine into brilliant compositions, and how steady and chaotic line merges with patches of color.

Ann Kipling - Dancing Lines

The authentic, recognizable works of Ann Kipling consist of multiple layers, which ultimately generate impressionistic landscape and portraits. Her artistic endeavor is primarily based on the personal assessment of a particular subject, rather than the accomplishment of actual visual resemblance. She is one of the unique examples of a contemporary artist who uses pencils, pens and pencil crayons, rather than watercolor or paint, although she is familiar with them as well. Kipling states that she is fascinated by the transformation and change of her subject matter, whether she is representing people, landscape or seemingly static situations.

Tracey Emin - Emotional Croquis

If out of the blue, someone asked about today's masters of drawing, Tracey Emin would probably not be on the tip of anyone's tongue. But we must not forget that the mistress of unsolicited confessions often chooses to express them through the genre of drawing. Such is the case with her monoprints, drawings that depict events which happened to her, or were self-induced by Emin herself. These informal, immediate drawings remind us of pages ripped from a diary of an artist, an emotional person who is as sloppy and honest as her drawings are. They sometimes incorporate texts, which remain misspelled and sometimes unreadable, contributing to the intimate tone of her work.

Charles Avery - Heroic Poems Translated into Visual Terms

Charles Avery is a one-of-a-kind storyteller, who simply chooses not to put his stories into words. Instead, he uses drawing and sculpture, in order to tell the audience about his imaginary, apolitical, ahistorical world. The human-like characters inhabit his imaginary island, which is a part of a greater archipelago. We know this thanks to his idiosyncratic drawings, which depict the main town Onomatopeia and all the situations that occur in it. Although this project seems to be one big, complex piece of art, made to endure the artist's lifetime, the artist is still young and we will have to wait and see if the story has the form of a series, or if it will end at some point and turn the artist into different directions.

Virginia Chihota - Revisiting Social Issues

Zimbabwe-born artist Virginia Chihota often combines drawing with screen prints, assembling diverse elements into new visual amalgams. Her artworks depict some of the concerns related to femininity and feminism, such as the controversial reception of African women, the matter of fertility, and some more general concerns such as death, isolation, and the introspective approach to self. Most of the narratives and symbols that appear in her works are fundamentally tied to the African continent, the political and the social issues which cause her great inner pain and discontent. However, the visual appeal of her work does not necessarily present itself as negative, which speaks about her ambivalent position in art, that she uses both as a tool for expressing the pain, and acquiring happiness.

Susan Hauptman - Photorealism and Androgyny

In 2015, the untimely death of a great drawing mistress, Susan Hauptman, left the world short of one precious gem of the art world, known for her unique hyper-realistic representation. Hauptman used to make self-portraits mainly, in which her own face was presented as neutral and androgynous. Such face was easily attachable to various bodies, dressed in different clothes and associated with both genders. The clever interplay was at the same time questioning and dismissing the gender stereotype, and all of it was done through one simple medium - drawing. Hauptman usually made her drawings in black and white, very often in life size, and the aesthetics were often compared to Otto Dix's depiction of prostitutes.

Bruce Conner - A Bit of the Beat

The art of Bruce Conner was a true alternative to the American mainstream in the 1950s, since he was a part of the San Francisco Beat generation, which nurtured a line of prolific ingenious artists belonging to different artistic genres. Conner kept his artistic expression in the domain of visual arts, although he did make excursions into other genres like most of the open-minded jazz-loving artists did at the time. However, most of his drawings, especially the more recent ones, don't really seem to be jazzy at all; on the contrary, they show discipline and focus, in proportion to a dense quantity of ink or graphite. Some of his works do get a bit out of control (the ones from the '60s for example), but even this supposed chaos seems to be in some kind of balance.

Cy Twombly - Drawing on Intuition

Finally, Cy Twombly was known for many interesting stories, and one of the lesser-known ones was his "drawing in the dark" period. The artist used to practice this strange technique (which was more like a sort of a research really) while he was working as a cryptographer in the army in 1954. The reason Twombly started doing this is associated with his fascination with primitive art, made by the unschooled artists, who had no conscious intent behind their work. Twombly wanted to explore the conditions to recreate the process. Ultimately, the technique became famous because of his dark-canvas series, with thin white lines that looked like scratches. So in terms of responding to the title of this article, Twombly was probably the one who really explored the line, on a meta level.

Follow These Artists

Tracey Emin
Bruce Conner

Follow These Galleries

Lougher Contemporary

Bristol, United Kingdom

Bergamin & Gomide

Sao Paulo, Brazil

Two Palms

New York City, United States of America