The annual Jerwood Drawing Prize aims to ‘explore and celebrate the diversity, excellence and range of current drawing practice in the UK’. Competitions such as these, based on type of medium, are often open to a lot of criticism (think Brian Sewell on the BP Portrait Award). The criteria can immediately cast doubt on whether each work is chosen on merit, is being used to demonstrate the scope of the medium, or is merely a wall-filler, the best of a bad bunch. My verdict in this case would be dismally unfavorable.
As an ex-printmaker whose practice was heavily based around scribbling and sketching I always look to the Jerwood with high hopes, and am often disappointed by the quality of the exhibition. This year, sadly, the selection again didn’t meet up to its promise, but there were a few understated delicacies hidden amongst the dross to keep me happy. Katie Aggett, one of the two student prize winners, had presented a duo of precise architectural forms drawn in black ink, entitled N1C 4TB W10 5UU. There was a Bridget Riley-esque quality within the geometric lines, representing a sign of good things to come further along in her career. Hung a little further down in the same room was a delicate conte on silk piece by Heeseung Choi, consisting of five layers of fabric depicting a towerscape drawn from full scale to ruination. Between remembering and oblivion 3 had an almost holographic quality with the sheen of the silk and the layered image creating a sense of the destructive action in motion. This work was well constructed and felt unique, more than could be said for much of the selection.
Another three artists to note were Carl Randall, Tanya Wood and Richard Galloway. Randall had submitted a series of 78 small line drawings, Notes from the Tokyo Underground, which showed commuters engrossed in a variety of activities on the subway. Some of the portraits were funny, others poignant, and together these works had real presence. The smart mounting was also a plus (future entrants take note), proof that hastily created work doesn’t have to be shoddily presented. Wood’s careful recreation of a pillow spoke of trace and intimacy, and showed real drawing and observational abilities. Galloway has achieved prior recognition for his linocuts on Japanese paper, and a high level of professionalism and intelligence was present in the work selected for this competition, Dolor.
Contrasting with these few gems were a group of largely dreadful, amateur works which wouldn’t look out of place in a church hall art show. The range of material on show also called into question the point of the show, how a spray painted party hat in a frame could be selected as a drawing or even a thing that’s worthy of hanging on a gallery wall is beyond me. Another ‘work’ consisted of the carcass of an emptied sketchbook artistically pulled apart at the wiring and framed. The curators might argue that this work showed the passage of time or was proof of the production of drawing but I felt that its inclusion was an insult to the other entrants. I can understand the appeal of entering this competition for artists, it’s a high profile group exhibition which looks good on the CV. Unless the Jerwood organisers sort out the quality control, however, this show is never going to say about drawing what they want it to say, it’s not going to create respect for the medium or have an impact of any worth. There are lots of talented artists out there who work with drawing of some sort; I would like to see more prints, more illustrative works, architectural renderings, mappings, pieces demonstrating real imagination and skill.
The winning artist managed to pull back some credibility for this show in the form of her animation piece. Karolina Glusiec had created a poignant story in her sweetly rendered work, Velocity, where drawings acted as a substitute for faulty or desecrated memories of her childhood town. The narrative was repetitive and slowed down to a series of moments which occurred in a day, representing the drawn out nature of a childhood where seemingly insignificant events like a train passing begin to act as markers of time. One memorable section of the film showed the landscape passing by in the train window and the figures outside obliterated into a blur. The imagery in the story travelled from trees and people chatting happily in their apartment windows, to factory smoke and people trudging to work, while the descriptive sentences were deceptive in their simplicity, revealing menacing undertones. Trains and mass exoduses toward working in factories can hint at unspeakable things in mainland Europe, and on watching the full six minutes you are left with a sense of wanting to know more. Glusiec was a deserving winner, please include more like her next year Jerwood judges.
Works selected by Stephen Coppel, Kate Macfarlane and Lisa Milroy. On display at Jerwood Visual Arts until 28th October 2012.