(essay written for the group show On Drawing II at Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art Gallery, Lisbon, Portugal | this show included the following artists: AnaMary Bilbao; Matt Mullican; João Onofre; Julião Sarmento; Jim Shaw; Rui Toscano; Lawrence Weiner; Erwim Wurm)

The most important thing about drawing may just be that at some point in our lives we all have done it. Be it a drawing on a Canson paper or a simple doodle on a Post-it, in a visual arts class or on a coffee table, committed to it or just passing our time, drawing is completely inclusive in its applications and transverses all human activity. This means that everyone knows what is implied in the act of drawing, as if it were an innate or ancient lore. It also means that everyone recognizes and has some degree of domain over the innumerous protocols adopted by drawing, and that we use to communicate, learn, project, register, or express. Drawing has multiple uses, ubiquitous and democratic; what may explain why it is often considered the most intimate of the artistic mediums—one that does not lie nor keeps secrets and that, in its directness, establishes the open, informed, and immediate receiving field that once led Ingres to declare that 'drawing is the probity of art.'

The exhibition now being presented at Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art comprises all this variety of uses of drawing and its natural impulse for denotative exchange. Between Matt Mullican’s emotional essay and Jim Shaw’s categorical archive, we can find drawing in the service of the cataloguing of an iconography that is as generic as it is anchored in the codes of popular culture. The easiness and excessive carelessness manifested by both work as leveling mechanisms, canceling out any chance of recognizing hierarchies, beliefs, or possibility of using them to confirm any personal framework of values. To put everything in the same plane is also one of the fundamental characteristics of pictogrammatic drawing. However, in Erwin Wurm’s and Julião Sarmento’s works, drawing is just the superficial layer of a set of advances, echoes and references that either refer to tutelary artworks and names in Western culture or complexify previous moments of the artists’ own paths. The graphical condition of the sign and the metalinguistic function of the text serve radically different purposes in the works by Lawrence Weiner and João Onofre. What in the first is spatialization, inflection of meaning, and deducible content, in the second is tautological depiction and operation, as if the energy giving density and intention to Weiner’s words was polarized by Onofre, forcing it to go back into itself and causing a circular coincidence between what we read and what we see. Besides bringing a skillful perceptual disruption into play, the traveling and panoramic sequences by Rui Toscano question the traditional codes applied to landscape, drawing our attention to the artful nature of contour—the impossible line that signals the thin edge of things, rigorously expressed and singularized in the works by AnaMary Bilbao.

Exactly ten years later, this exhibition repeats the premises of On Drawing I, honing its criteria. Despite the diversity of formats and resources used by these artists, their artworks establish a territory permeated by a common ideology. In the extraordinary economy of their achievements, these pieces row against the rhetoric of the superfluous, as well against the spurious tide of contemporary image. Fundamentally, they are exercises in concision and acumen: the depuration of their solutions, the focused attention of the gaze, the vague space of their intervals, the critical backing of subjectivity.


Bruno Marchand, May 2014

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