It will surprise no one to know that on the night the Jerwood Drawing Prize came to Plymouth it rained. However, as Anita Taylor, director and founder of the prize, noted in her opening comments, the weather hadn’t deterred many. Drawing, as she continued to comment, always draws a crowd.
Coming to Plymouth for the first time since it began twenty years ago, the prestigious prize, which selects its 76 winners from over 3,000 entries, is the largest annual open event. It aims to celebrate and explore diversity in drawing, both in terms of stylistic definition of the term and also in level: established artists’ work hangs alongside that of present art students. I presumed therefore that it was not just the complimentary alcohol that contributed to the resilient size and mood of the crowd, but also the opportunities for conversation provided by the varied responses to the ‘what is drawing’ question.
Hanging mobiles, video imagery and paper creations were displayed alongside traditional pencil drawings and illustrations. They worked together (spread across the two) galleries to provide not one, but many answers to the question of what drawing is and also what it can become. However, like with any innovative leap, I personally found some of the non-traditional entries posed a challenge to my perception of the term drawing. For instance I found difficulty admiring Scott Robinson’s HB drawn Chin up envelope as a drawing, especially when compared to traditional works like Coll McDonnell’s, Samara, Zimmy and Sophie. I will add though, that with the pieces like Robinson’s envelope which I’d been challenged by, I found myself more able to appreciate them after understanding the artist’s intentions. This condition however, which in Robinson’s case required me to read his context essay, presented the question of whether I could still consider something drawing if I struggle to view it as that when it stands alone?
I found myself most engaged with the event during the time I spent eavesdropping on the crowd’s varied deliberations. Particularly entertaining was a young boy’s conversation with his mother about Gary Lawrence’s brilliant Saint Stansted and Other stuff. Whilst she admired how you saw different things in it when viewing it from afar or up close, he commented on how he didn’t really think angels and planes went very well together.
The Jerwood Prize’s success is consequential of its attempts to answer the ‘what is drawing’ question, not just through the works its displays but also through the questions and conversations that are raised in response.
More writing and photography by Hannah Maria Rudd can be found at https://hannahshomeoftangentramblings.wordpress.com/