A blank sheet of paper is an open space where artists might conceive ground-breaking ideas or where children might doodle with artless abandon. Paper provides our first experience with both the possibility for abstract thought and primitive mark-making, and the versatility of paper makes it important for the practice of countless artists past and present. Doodle & Disegno is a group exhibition that gathers over 100 works on paper to demonstrate that whether an elaborate drawing in pencil or a quick splash of ink, a piece of paper is an invitation to create a vast range of thought and emotion.
When Avigdor Arikha took up observational life drawing after years of pursuing modernist abstraction, he turned to paper first, drawing exclusively in pencil and ink before he tried to paint. For Amy Feldman, paper is a laboratory of spontaneous thought and a playground for experimentation, and she often draws with ink, marker or paint before transforming ideas from her works on paper into large-scale paintings. Michael Simpson similarly works out ideas on scraps of paper, including old newsprint, sometimes taking these ideas into large-scale canvases. Rachel Howard often uses a stencil technique in her paintings, and with her triptych Things that Grow (2018) she develops a similar method using pressed plants and flowers and ink on paper to create images with a ghostly presence. Artists as diverse as Lynn Chadwick or Bill Viola, known for sculpture and moving image respectively, use paper to jot down or explore ideas, and the works have their own distinctive force.
Alex Dordoy, Pietro Ruffo, John Stezaker, Henning Strassburger and Nasan Tur treat paper as a material imbued with pre-existing concepts and inherent qualities, transforming fragments into sculptures, or collaging found images into new forms. In a series of drawings titled with seemingly random quotations from H.P. Lovecraft, Jake and Dinos Chapman appropriate pages from a children’s dot-to-dot book, subtly altering with pencil a goofy, anthropomorphic animal or pastoral landscape, while leaving the numbers mostly untouched, and thus open to the viewer’s imagination.
For many artists paper rivals in importance their work in other media. Tim Noble and Sue Webster created a series of ‘blind’ self-portrait diptychs in ink that are particularly direct and raw. Marius Bercea’s exuberantly coloured works on paper convey a saturated, apocalyptic mood, while Joanna Kirk’s Floating Above Me in Bluest Air (2017) is a vertiginous landscape in an engulfing blue. For Francesco Clemente, paper is the ideal medium for the masterful watercolours he makes during his frequent sojourns in India. Joan Snyder, who brings sketchbooks to concerts to record her thoughts, creates richly coloured works on paper that combine a graceful touch with expressive power. Sean Scully and Liliane Tomasko both use pastel on paper to create works of rich, saturated colour that, although abstract, seem to depict a fragment of the natural world. Enrique Martinez Celaya creates large-scale portraits of Joseph Beuys and Ernest Hemingway, subjects that reflect the artist’s interest in history and literature, yet the works themselves are careful to emphasise the unique qualities of paper itself: tactility, delicacy and warmth.
A new work by Lawrence Weiner breaks away the paper focus of this exhibition. Weiner’s most recent wall installation provides a counter point in his distinctive large-scale script.