The curatorial and editorial project for systems, non-objective and reductive artists working in the UK

Website: Chestnuts Design

8 Lines

 Platform A Gallery, Middlesbrough,  20 June - 1 August 2019

A review by Alan Hathaway

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

‘What does it mean for architects to return to pen and paper, because the relationship between thought and action is somehow interfered with when computer programs are employed’? Avis Newman and Catherine de Zegher in conversation, The Stage of Drawing, Gesture and Act (2003)

Installation shot

In recent years we have seen drawing repositioned as a primary means of expression, whilst continuing its role as a vital exploratory tool. Drawing is said to have embraced ideas and forms banished under late modernist/formalist ideology: appropriation, myth and narrative, political and personal histories. It has been pushed (like painting and sculpture) so as to become a non-medium-specific activity. Drawing is attitude; it can be line on paper, video, sound, performance, placement, text etc. It is a finished product and a transient moment.

Aside from the now extensive theoretical frameworks for drawing and its variety of potential applications, at a very fundamental level we do seem to be very interested in the way people continue to make marks on surfaces.

All the artists in the exhibition 8 LINES make marks on surfaces: they all make drawings.

The presence of systems in art and in life are an ongoing preoccupation in the individual and collaborative practices of Patrick Morrissey and Hanz Hancock, the curators of this show and the directors of Saturation Point UK.

For this exhibition they asked eight artists (themselves included) to respond through drawing to the ‘figurative, notional, mathematical, geometric and cultural signifiers of the number 8, this being the atomic number of oxygen, the bits in a byte, the primary planets in our solar system and the verticals in a cube...’

(8 LINES exhibition catalogue).

Richard Serra’s assertion in the exhibition catalogue: that drawing is a verb rather than a noun, is key to understanding Morrissey and Hancock’s desire for the artists to examine and consider the generative capacity of drawing within their respective practices.

Although the artists selected have diverse approaches to drawing: planning, mapping, thinking, intervening, marking and executing, on first inspection there seem to be more formal similarities than differences between them. This is no bad thing  and gives the exhibition a definite coherence. The hang is relatively sparse, which is not surprising given the pedigree of both Saturation Point and Platform A. The work is predominantly wall-based and is given plenty of room to breathe. Formally, the selected pieces are reduced, even minimal, and the overall aesthetic works incredibly well with the natural light and architecture of the space.

Installation shot

Mary Yacoob is, I believe, only the second artist to use the large glass windows at Platform A as a surface on which to work directly. Her impressive large-scale vinyl piece, based on the Octagon building in Middlesbrough, continues her interest in re-imagining the environment through chance, mapping and systems. The intricate vinyl webbing is like a veil placed directly on the glass, filtering the natural light and partially obscuring the view outside. This seems to invite, rather than discourage, a closer inspection of the external space, which is fitting given that this work is derived from the town’s architecture.

Peering out through these vinyl marks we see familiar street furniture: a bright yellow grit bin, terrifying attempts at municipal planting, temporary billboards and signage, along with a multitude of painted lines and symbols which organise, instruct and segregate the users of this shared space.

Mary Yacoob Octagon (2019), vinyl, window installation

Back in the gallery on the far wall, these lines and colours are echoed in Morrissey and Hancock’s Tracery, a bright yellow painted panel, its object quality emphasised by the cut-out in the middle and its surface inscribed with a repeated zigzag motif. I think of enclosures, courtyards, parking bays, exercise yards and then instructions: do not cross the line, this way up, mind the gap, no exit, no entry, rules and regulations.

Morrissey & Hancock, Tracery (TQID series), pen on panel, 2019

My relationship to the exterior space is similarly heightened by Rachael Clewlow’s diary work, Notebook 2014, which is placed sculpturally on the gallery window ledge in a small vitrine. This work is part of an ongoing series, begun in 2003, in which tiny hand-written columns of text documenting day-to-day occurrences merge to form lines and blocks of tone. In Clewlow’s second piece Eight Months on Earth, shown in the foyer space, her and her son’s movements for the first 253 days of his life are presented as maps or sequential diagrams. I wonder for a moment about pitching up in the gallery and obsessively recording the routine or mundane events outside, or maybe even my own. I think about revealing the unseen patterns and then I think about routines: breaking the routine.

Rachael Clewlow, Notebook installation (2011)

Opposite the window are Ben Gooding’s two large drawings on canvas, Invariant Formation no III and IV. From a distance one seems to resemble an aerial drawing of a city, the other a kind of mutated Spirograph. I see loops and circles (the number 8?) come and go in a tangle of lines. There is, I read in the catalogue, a system at play, one that allows ultimately for any logic to be disrupted, for the mark to be made. I struggle with written explanations or instructions, I need to be shown, I am an observational learner. I do, however, get the general idea enough to enjoy the order and chaos present within these works.

Ben Gooding, Invarient Formation 111 & 1V, graphite on canvas (2012)

At the other end of the gallery Francesca Simon’s Discovery Bay 1 and 2 provide a welcome injection of colour, the stunning aquamarine blue in both pieces providing a counterpoint to the yellow in Morrissey and Hancock’s Tracery. Like Yacoob’s work, these drawings are a synthesis of geometry and place. Simon recently visited Jamaica Bay where she encountered a large rusting dome, an industrial remnant of the Kaiser Bauxite works. Her drawings are like two blue jewels, fusing this experience with both pure circle and octagon.

Francesca Simon, Discovery Bay 2, vinyl, pigment, pen on paper (2019)

Adjacent to these works Duncan Bullen’s drawings Greyscale 001, 002 and 0005 employ a simple and highly effective system, which I was able to get to grips with even without a written explanation. Although he uses print and digital technologies in his wider practice, for this show he chose to use the tonal scale of 8 Faber Castell Polychromos pencils (black, white and six cold greys 1-8, of course) to produce a series of three calm, restrained, and yes, quite beautiful pieces, that resemble a kind of DNA print-out of the material employed.

Duncan Bullen, Greyscale 001, 002, pencil on paper (2019)

Wendy Smith’s Octet (study 1) and Octet (study 2) sit on the opposite wall. Both are based on what she describes as “a deceptively simple underlying square”, the relative sparseness of the first piece contrasting with the density of the second. Smith’s practice is based entirely within drawing, and in these rigorous and tough works she addresses directly the notion of investigation rather than expression. The emphases that she places on them are hand-made, and this is particularly intriguing given her works’ proximity in this show to Truthplotter II, a new kinetic work by Nick Kennedy.

Wendy Smith, Octet 1 & 2, pen on paper (2019)

Of all the artists in the show, Kennedy has perhaps gone to the most trouble, or the greatest lengths, to distance himself physically from the marks ‘he’ creates. A wall-mounted, laser-cut drawing automaton (with a matching box for its power supply), mimics the action of a human arm, or a set of arms reaching down and then up again in a continuous loop. This rather lovely machine seems destined to scrape or draw the number 8 over and over again on the wall in an endless cycle, an elaborate juxtaposition of aesthetics, engineering ingenuity and futility…


Do it again and again and again, do it again and again and again.’ Joy Division, Glass (1978)

Nick Kennedy, Truth Plotter 12, mixed media, installation/drawing (2019)

The gallery is quiet during my visit and there is a an alternating high - then low - pitched hum emanating from this creature, a kind of weird music of the spheres. I don’t know how this sound is being generated, or whether it’s accidental or orchestrated. I can’t detect a beat or a pattern, but the sound creates a certain ambience in the space, an accompaniment to all the works, which gives the exhibition a sort of ‘otherness’ that just seems to work.

Installation shot

8 LINES is a fascinating exploration of both drawing systems and gestures.

In a transcribed conversation from 2003, Avis Newman and Catherine de Zegher highlight the fact that many architects have returned to the direct contact of pen on paper, cutting out the computer in order to avoid unwanted mediation between thought and action. Ultimately, the role of drawing for the artists in 8 LINES seems very different to this preliminary, spontaneous, autographic, ‘thinking things through’ approach. Their drawings are the result of systems, strategies, material processes and machines that generate or ‘allow’ that gesture to exist.

As such they seem to owe a great deal to the conceptual and experimental approaches to drawing that accompanied the sculptural practices of the 1960s and 1970s. Maybe what distinguishes the drawings in this show from process drawing per se is the desire of the artist to remain present; the work doesn’t simply ‘make itself’’ and maybe within this terrain there exists the potential for more intimate, sometimes ‘un-monumental’ and personal reflexivity.

‘Between thought and expression, there lies a lifetime’, Some Kinda Love, The Velvet Underground (1969)

Installation shot

Travelling back to Newcastle from Middlesbrough by train, I began to think about the largely hidden computerised systems of signals, ticketing, timetables and personnel rotas that all coexist in order to get me back safely, but not, it has to be said, in good time or in much style.