Space to Draw, Jerwood Space, London

Drawing room drama where nothing is at it seems

When bits of paper from Francis Bacon's studio were shown at the Barbican Gallery in 2001, there were squeals of rage from critics and art historians. Their problem lay less with the dubious way in which the bedoodled scraps had been acquired by the late artist's handyman than with the fact that they called into question a key Baconian myth: that he didn't draw. Geniuses of Bacon's kidney worked straight on to canvas, without need for preparation or study. Drawing was for sissies.

Which makes the Jerwood Space's Space to Draw an intriguing show historically. Since Jackson Pollock, drawing has been seen as inimical to modernism – skilled and learned rather than intuitive and spontaneous, less an art than a craft. In the past five years, though, its stock has risen. Galleries devoted to contemporary drawing have opened in London and New York, and artists from Tracey Emin to Banksy have put unapologetic pencil to paper (or at least to wall).

Hand in hand with this has gone a redefinition of what, precisely, drawing means. Where once the word implied a small-scale action done with a thing held between your thumb and forefinger, it is now possible to draw in marble, thread, spray paint, deserts, video and sound. So wide is its new ambit, in fact, that drawing seems in danger of losing its meaning, which is why Space to Draw's curators have narrowed their focus to sculptors for whom it is part of a broader way of working.

That said, the show opens with a challenge to your dictionaries. Neville Gabie's practice involves many, many things, some of them visible in the Jerwood's first room. Among much else, Gabie makes and flies camera-carrying kites with which he shoots footage of the Australian outback. The film from these plays on a bank of monitors, its crazy angles and rutted tracks gnawing at the line between narrative and abstraction. Across the way is the trolley on which Gabie wheeled a block of granite, to be incorporated into a pavement, back to London from China. What any of this has to do with sculpture may set you scratching your heads, far less its connection with drawing. But then that, at a guess, is its point.

Certainly the sculpture/ drawing link seems reassuringly clearer in the work of Antony Gormley, which follows Gabie's. A series of drawings on paper, called Clearings, also plays with the steel-wire swirls that build up Feeling Material, Gormley's sketchy sculptured man. Questions arise as you look at these, though, among them ones of status. Implicit in the word "drawing" is the word "preparatory". Yet Clearings, done on heavy laid paper and handsomely framed, are clearly not throwaway sketches. Contrariwise, the whorls of Feeling Material suggest speed and insubstantiality, as though Gormley has been drawing in the air with sparklers. Whether his work on paper or in steel is the finished product – whether either precedes the other in time or hierarchy – is far from obvious.

Heather Deedman, in the next room, blurs things further by making sculpture out of drawings. Her wall installation, Ornament, does what it says and decorates the wall with two-dimensional paper cut-outs of three-dimensional china objects: vases, urns, tureens and bonbonnières, all Meissened and Coalported in elegant pen-and-ink. By contrast, her sculpture – a shelf of coiled porcelain pots called, pertly, Porcelain – is clunky and lumpish. Drawing, for Deedman, is an ideal state, a platonic world; whether you'd want to live there is another matter.

The same disparity between the fantasy of drawing and the reality of sculpture haunts the work of Paul McDevitt. His Lounger, a Lloyd Loom mother and child, takes Henry Moore's couch-potato posture to its logical extreme by turning it into a sofa. McDevitt's drawings move in the opposite direction, making his sculpture the hero of a story of woods and moonlight, of German Romantic yearning. The disparity between his paper and wicker men is heart-rending.

And where does all this leave us? Nowhere very precise, which is as the Jerwood's curators would want it. If Space to Draw has any intent, it is to show that reports of drawing's death have been greatly exaggerated: that, Bacon notwithstanding, it still means many things, and many things to many men.

Jerwood Space, London SE1 (020-7654 0171) to 10 February

Further reading 'The Drawing Book' edited by Tania Kovats, published by Black Dog, price £24.95

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea

film

In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops

film

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game