Drawing Parallels

To coincide with the opening of the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2017, founding Director Professor Anita Taylor expands on the importance of drawing, both in her own practice and in the wider cultural sphere.

A: Your solo exhibition DRAWN has just opened at The Customs House in South Shields, with works spanning two decades of your drawing practice. How has your process evolved over this period?
AT: DRAWN includes a number of drawings that explore perceptions of identity, self, portrayal and witness, with Seeing Something Else (1993) presented as a key drawing that encapsulates and discloses the territory for development in the later large charcoal drawings on show, such as Divulge (2006), Vestiges and Glance (2012) and through to the Witness series (2017). An interrogation of gesture and expression has led to a sequence of drawings that question not just appearance, but the emotional or haptic sensation of being inside a skin or body that can only be seen or recognised by the self with the aid of a mirror. There are also sequences of ink drawings on show that have more expansive themes and reference narratives, myths, historical precedent and events that explore, interpret and resituate the depiction of female characters and subjects.

A: Has your role as Director of the Jerwood Drawing Prize informed your own practice?
AT: Seeing so many drawings and listening to the discussions between the selectors year on year and engaging with the participants and audiences of the annual touring exhibition in addition to the wider context for my engagement within the field of drawing, as a practitioner and educator, inevitably informs my thinking.  It has certainly reinforced my commitment to drawing as an act, medium and form, fundamental to my understanding and experience of the world.

A: The use of charcoal has remained central to your work over the last 30 years, what is it about the medium that resonates?
AT: The use of charcoal has remained constant for a number of reasons; as a flexible and adaptable medium, it is intrinsic to the making, with an innate capacity for negotiation and adjustment in realising the constructed image, with traces and residues of carbon resonant to the subject matter.

A: Each year, the Jerwood Drawing Prize exhibition includes works produced in a wide range of mediums and forms. Do you feel the diversity of works in the show contributes to a wider understanding of drawing practice?
AT: I believe that the overall focus on drawing as a field and discipline of the Jerwood Drawing Prize exhibition project enables a wider and deeper understanding of the multiple ways in which creative practitioners are using drawing now, and it facilitates dialogue and understanding about visual values, definitions and taxonomies of drawing, and it enables people to see drawing anew, both within their practice and in that of others. The breadth of interpretation of subject and form has been key to this dialogue and debate, and to developing and deepening a discourse around what was once an undermined territory in creative practice.

A: Jerwood Drawing Prize is a unique opportunity for emerging artists to exhibit alongside well-known names, and it has served as a catalyst in many artists professional development. Is supporting young artists a key aspect of the project?  
AT: The Jerwood Drawing Prize has been delivered within a higher education context since inception in 1994; one aspect of its origination was an aim to address awareness and understanding of current drawing practice within this context. Supporting emerging and developing artists to understand the way in which others and more established artists approach drawing, making and presentation, is critical; and the project also supports students to gain professional experience in art handling and administration and to observe the selectors at work. The dedicated student awards, are intended to ensure reward and recognition for drawing by those in the formal learning stages of their careers.

A: Why is drawing so important to early-career and established artists alike?
AT: Drawing remains a fundamental discipline for creative development for many – used both as a means to explore, encounter and examine a range of subjects, as a departure point for new understanding – as well as often being a means to an end in itself.

A: What does the future of drawing look like, both in terms of your own work and the Jerwood Drawing Prize?
AT: This is the last year of our longstanding funding support from Jerwood Charitable Foundation (since 2001) and so, inevitably, there will be some changes to the project. The commitment to exploring drawing remains as strong as ever, and as our recent impact evaluation work indicates, it’s clear that the project has significant value and impact for individuals and more widely. Therefore, I look forward to welcoming new funding and delivery partners to join in and to explore how we can collaborate in this endeavour to sustain an open opportunity and dialogue though drawing practice.

We aim to enhance the opportunities the overall project has afforded since 1994 and already this year, we welcome the Evelyn Williams Trust in making a new award in association with Jerwood Drawing Prize 2017 to support a selected artist with an established career to develop a new solo show for Jerwood Gallery in Hastings in 2018. And, as for my own work, I will find out what the future holds through the continued practice of thinking through making, and understanding by doing. This has been the constant approach on both accounts – the establishment of an open framework for discovery.

The Jerwood Drawing Prize exhibition will be on display at Jerwood Space, London from 13 September – 22 October 2017, followed by a national tour to East Gallery, Norwich University of the Arts (14 November 2017 – 6 January 2018), The Edge, University of Bath (10 February – 31 March 2018) and Sidney Cooper Gallery, Canterbury (12 April – 6 May 2018).

Anita Taylor, DRAWN, continues at The Customs House Gallery in South Shields until 12 November.

Alongside her practice as an artist, Anita Taylor has worked in art education in numerous roles, including: Director & CEO of the National Art School in Sydney, Australia; Director of The Centre for Drawing at the University of the Arts, London; Dean of Wimbledon College of Art, University of the Arts, London; and Deputy Head of School, School of Art, Media and Design at the University of Gloucestershire, where she was first awarded a Professorial title in 2002. She co-founded the Jerwood Drawing Prize in 1994, a renowned annual award and touring exhibition that showcases current drawing practice in the UK. She is Executive Dean of Bath School of Art and Design at Bath Spa University and current chair of CHEAD. She is also co-director of Drawing Projects UK in Trowbridge, Wiltshire – a space for artist residencies, workshops and exhibitions dedicated to drawing.

1. Anita Taylor, Lovers in the King’s Chambers.