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“Y’know the real world, this so called real world is just something you put up with like everybody else. I’m in my element when I’m a little bit out of this world – I’m on the beam. Because when I’m falling, I’m doing all right: When I’m slipping, I say, “Hey this is interesting!” It’s when I’m standing upright, that bothers me: I’m not doing so good.” Willem de Kooning.
For the last year I’ve worked at Factory 7 with dim lights (nearly always at night), metallic dust, and a large dirty desk that takes the brunt of my drawing. I work with dry and dusty pencils, charcoal and dense pigment pastels, always on paper.
In my dark corner, I’ve drawn bodies, women, angels, saints, friends and places, faces, and forces. I draw these things to understand my body, the bodies of others – real and unreal – and to trace the experiences of my physical, intellectual and emotional self. I draw to understand old marks I’ve made, how my hand moves and hits paper, and to feel how the marks and paper hit back in whatever way they can. I guess I draw to get better at drawing.
I am most interested in making marks when I am as wary as possible of the eye, the hand and the paper, even when – or especially when – I’m not in control of them. The easiest way to be aware of something is to feel it change, the more violently the better. To become aware of your eye, you blind it, your hand – you hurt it, the whiteness of your paper – you dirty it.
I want to draw like being in a car crash.
The relationship between your eyes and hands is the easiest to disrupt. When drawing blindfolded, the hand is increasingly sensitive to movement and impact, and even the mind’s eye can be confused if you’re slipping. This is the best way to draw unlike your self, which is an important part of drawing as your self. I think that short fits of hysteria have the same effect and can be practiced, like New Zealand artist Max Gimblett who stomps the ground and bellows like a madman, or there’s De Kooning, who supposedly charged at his canvas from across the room with his loaded brush in hand. I find music pumped into my ears helps me arrive there too. The effects of all these can be an extended sense of openness, or aggressive bursts of physical and emotional energy that smash pigment deep into the paper. It feels incredibly direct.
When I draw,
“I’m not pure; I’m not an abstractionist completely. There has to be a history behind the thought.” Cy Twombly.
To consider technique, my newer drawings are really about how my hands and body interact with the drawing surface. Rebecca Horn’s Pencil Mask is a striking example of this, and is a type of practice often called performance drawing. I think the Pencil Mask and other performance drawings tend to explore drawing instruments as prosthetics of the body, recording the body as directly as possible: Yves Klein’s blue body paintings are dramatic examples, where the drawing instrument is the naked body. In the end, I’m not artistically interested in sharing the performance of my drawing (infact, oppositely, I prefer to keep this ambiguous), so I think I deviate from Horn & Klein. Instead I’m very interested in collecting as many ways as possible of making marks, especially ones that undermine the well-practiced control of the hand on paper. Cy Twombly has become an important influence in this way. My drawings in the Collisions/Alchemy and Nova sets are good examples of this exploration, the first set uses ambidextrous and intentionally deformed and uncoordinated hand gestures, twisting the way I might hold the pastel, and contorting my hands and body to force cramped and shivering lines; drawings in Nova are more desperate as they crush the pigment pastels to pieces right on the paper, and smashing my hands and fists into the coloured dust, I smear it heavily into the paper with hugely exaggerated and unnecessary force.
“I’ll take you where nobody knows you–”
Recently I’ve drawn with Fenina Acance and Jaslyne Gan. Apart from the joy, challenge, and intrigue of working alongside other drawers drawing (‘art is by the alone’), for me it’s an important practice in developing new mark-making strategies. The marks I was making before the collaborative jams were (maybe too conservatively) sitting between what I saw in Fenina’s sharp, shifting scratches and Jaslyne’s dancing, ethereal compositions. So we all decided we should do some shared drawings, made simultaneously or swapped part-way.
At first most of them looked like my drawings, but they have changed, and they’re now the drawings that I find most intriguing. Maybe it’s because I could never have done them myself, or because of their uncanny familiarity. I find them incredible sources of inspiration and fascination, like looking in a mirror and not recognising something about myself. When I’m slipping, I say, ‘Hey this is interesting!’
Collaborating is also a terrific way of dispelling any preciousness for your drawings (‘kill your darlings’) and more importantly, learning to rework existing unsatisfying drawings, even if you ruin them. I’m terrible at working through drawings that I’m not feeling good about (and have no idea how to rescue), so ruining someone else’s drawing seems like a safer idea.
Force and Fire
These days, I keep taking the drawn force, lushness and violence from Willem De Kooning’s Women and Julie Mehretu’s storms; I take the lines, scratches and scrapes of Cy Twombly, Mike Parr, and Rebecca Horn… I can’t help but use a researcher’s eye and hand to scrutinize and explore mark-making techniques.
Departing from the celestial references in the Nova drawings, my new work warily uses fire as a driving force. Intensely about the Australian land and sky, fire is sublime because it destroys and regenerates, it’s terrifying and warming. Aside from all that, and most importantly to me, it sparks, cracks and swirls in ways that I want to draw.
Byron Kinnaird is one of the Directors of the Freerange Cooperative; an artist and poet at Factory 7; and a teacher and researcher for architecture at the University of Melbourne. His drawings are at www.drawnandwritten.com