Far from being confined to studies and experiments, works on paper represent important modes of art-making in their own right. This viewing room features the work of artists who demonstrate the breadth of ways in which one can deploy the humble media of paper to extraordinary ends. Revisiting different artistic periods and contexts, the exhibition draws out both contrasts and comparisons between artists, modes of representation and the continuing vitality of paper as an artistic medium.
In Portrait de Dora Maar, Picasso distorts the striking features he so loved about her, translating her flowing dark hair, seductive eyes and strong nose into angular, linear projections. A tight smile graces her lips in keeping with the later, post-Weeping Woman works, belying the complexities and strain of life in the midst of occupied France. The palette is muted, like so many of the artist’s war time works, which were often painted in the dim candlelight of the evening. Picasso’s keen draftsmanship pervades this work as his restrained handling of the paint and bold brevity of line achieve the impact of a much larger composition.
Marc Chagall drew inspiration from the theme of the circus throughout his life. As a child in Russia, he had been fascinated by the travelling acrobats he saw at village fairs. After he moved to Paris, he regularly attended the circus, where he would sit in the audience and sketch. The chaotic and colourful atmosphere of the circus captivated Chagall. Here, he saw all aspects of life represented, from the comic to the tragic. He later said, 'For me a circus is a magic show that appears and disappears like a world.' Circus performers, with their outlandish costumes and garish make-up, were ideal characters to populate Chagall's dreamlike compositions.
Étude pour La Partie de Campagne belongs to an important series of ‘country outing’ works that Léger completed during the years just before his passing, between 1952 and 1954. This study recalls in a general way, Manet’s 1863 masterwork Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, for the subject involves an arrangement of nude women and a clothed bourgeois gentleman in a pastoral setting. Léger was a lifelong admirer of Manet, considering the artist one of the most important innovators in the History of Art.
Alexander Calder began his artistic career as a painter, but only created his first series of works made in gouache during a year-long stay in Aix-en-Provence, France in 1953, in his mid-sixties. He would continue to work in this medium for the rest of his life, making works on paper in parallel to his sculptural practice.
The two works exhibited display how using this more immediate medium, Calder could more easily transcribe the bold and vivid visual vocabulary of his sculptures into a two-dimensional form. Painting quickly and freely, he used exuberant lines and planes of his trademark primary colours, to describe the geometry and patterns, as well as the natural and metaphysical themes that inspired him.
'My desire is to make the site evoked by the picture something phantasmagoric; and that can be achieved only by jumbling together more or less veristic elements with interventions of arbitrary character aiming at unreality. I want my street to be crazy, my broad avenues, shops and buildings to join in a crazy dance, and that is why I deform and denature their contours and colours.’
Georg Baselitz began painting his subjects upside down in 1969 in an effort to overcome the representational, content-driven character of his earlier work and stress the artifice of painting. Drawing from a myriad of influences, including art of Soviet era illustration art, the Mannerist period and African sculptures, he developed his own, distinct artistic language, often referring to his post WWII upbringing in Germany. To this day, he still inverts all his paintings, which has become his signature feature in his work.
A.R. Penck is widely acknowledged for his ultimate achievement and compositional investigation, exploring the balance between pictorial figuration and abstraction in his own unique, non-traditional fashion. Taking its first impulses from visual systems like tribal art and hieroglyphics, his work is designed as a complex vocabulary of signs and symbols with universal comprehension that has the potential to analyse the relationship between the individual and society.
Keith Haring's angel mermaid motif emerged from his subway drawings of 1982. Haring described the symbol as having grown from an evolution of dolphin and angel images, combined together. In Brazil Haring discovered the mermaid goddess 'Yemanja', worshipped by fishermen for protection at sea, and welcomed the association.
Since the beginning of his career, drawings and works on paper have formed an important part of George Condo’s working practice. Condo tries to explore the relationship between the directness of drawing and the controlled methods of painting. He stated; “My intention with this work was to explore the extreme possibilities of the ink on paper”.