Sunday, February 28, 2010

Drawing is Seeing, by Damian Fennell ARBS

The following piece was written by Damian Fennell ARBS, as a supporting text to my show Evaporated Meanings at the Hirji Gallery, Mumbai in Oct 2009. He is a sculptor with a deep sense of drawing and his works exemplify that awareness. In 2006, Damian invited me to Art in Action, in Oxfordshire to present my extreme abstract approach to drawings. It was one of the most memorable moments in my drawing exitence.

Drawing is about seeing. The primary challenge it presents lies in making the shift in the mind from seeing what you think is there to seeing what is really there. The painful but invaluable gift of drawing is that ultimately it forces the artist to recognise that we spend our entire lives seeing and therefore existing in a dreamworld – a projection of our own minds. Somehow the discipline of the drawing process breaks through that veil, because the ostensibly simplistic process of drawing what you see, whether that subject is observable through sight or only in the mind’s eye, leaves a faithful imprint of what you believed was there. Very like the detached experience of hearing a recording of your own voice as if it were someone else’s, that faithful imprint (the drawing) reflects back to the artist and to any onlooker not the ‘real’ world, but actually a record of the artist’s ideas and beliefs. Drawing involves a complex interplay of skills, but the essential one is of learning to see objectively, to turn off the labelling and recognising facility in the mind, to learn to witness like a very young child again. It is an undoing process, a right brain engagement, a discipline of consciously quietening down the left brain rationalising and filing system that habitually dominates most of or everyday thinking and perceiving, that rejects raw data absorbed through the senses in favour of a categorised version. Drawing celebrates the raw data.

Drawing is about touch. Just as the act of seeing can be experienced as a constant balancing act between the apparently paradoxical disciplines of intense concentration and the total letting go of control; similarly touch is simultaneously about both the profound connection of hand with medium right at the moment of contact and the emancipated dance of movement and accident. Touch is mark-making. The attention can become so finely focussed on the point of contact between drawing instrument and surface that no infinitesimal movement or degree of pressure is unintended. But then it takes on a life of its own nonetheless. Accidental marks occur that in the context of the whole are anything but accidental. The marks get made within an immersive field of consciousness that seems to inflate out from the sustained single-point of attention. It engulfs the mark-maker, nothing else at that moment, in that space, exists, yet the space feels vast.

Venantius Pinto’s drawings exist within this meditative genre of drawing practice – the intense subtlety and range of his marks gives the game away. His abstract drawings are highly gestural, the marks almost frenetic, but they are contained within calm compositions, and their sensitivity of touch gives them an ethereal quality, as if the energy is highly refined. Such distinctive mark-making language only evolves over years of sustained practice within this field of consciousness. Pinto’s language, although experimental and often generated in contemporary digital media, is rooted in an ancient tradition. Like his choice of media that fuses the traditional with the cutting edge, his gestural energetic marks owe a debt of allegiance to Buddhist calligraphy. Buddhist monks used the practice of calligraphy as a meditative process, much as Christian monastic orders created illuminated manuscripts. But the Eastern approach was very different of course; calligraphic pictograms were painted with quite large, unwieldy brushes that hold a lot of ink yet taper to a fine point. The pictogram is written in a flourish, a single danced movement, and the pursuit of perfection was not in the blemishlessness of the marks as it was for Christians, but in the total presentness of the act, the flourish, accompanied by a disciplined transcending of the urge to control the outcome – desirelessness. The resultant mark-making language is by its nature highly gestural and individualistic, with an overwhelming emphasis on the content in each mark. This is the tradition within which Venantius Pinto’s work seems to lie, because this is the way he seems to work. His marks are, interestingly, very calligraphic – a tendency towards short flicked strokes of varied weight surely influenced by a meditative process often with a brush. Even the long vertical scroll-like format of many of his works speaks of Eastern calligraphy. Perhaps like Chinese Brush Painting there is buried within his works a system of marks, even if subconsciously so, that each have meaning and tell a story. But more important than the story, and more insistently evident on the surface of the image, the marks speak of the exquisite interplay of concentration and desirelessness.

Damian Fennell is a Creative Director at the top architectural visualisation company Cityscape Digital, in Shoreditch, Central London, and Former Courses Director at The Art Academy, an independent fine arts diploma school on the South Bank, London. Damian’s tumblr blog. 

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