Dean is one of the Young British Artists, first exhibiting in the 80s, and known best for her film work and blackboard drawings. Often working in series, some people say her films are like drawings and her drawings are like films, there is a sequence, not much action and time passes slowly.
Dean’s blackboard drawings are cinematic, drawn in white chalk on blackboards, with annotations as if this were a narrative being shot for camera. They are large in size, some measuring 89 inches by 24 approximately. Working in series allows for a story to be told, a narrative is constructed and a journey is being taken.
Adding words to the canvas adds a literary dimension, giving a narrative to the journey, it also allows for an atmosphere to be created, weather conditions are suggested and it helps the story move along.
In Fatigues, the size of the mountains suggests the power of nature over mankind, reminding us human life is vulnerable and limited compared to the enormous impressive presence of nature. This suggestion is reinforced by the use of the fragile temporary media of chalk, it can be erased or smudged too easily. Whilst they are realistic, drawn from photographs, they seem to capture the passing of time, fusing fiction and reality.
Looking at this series of works is like watching on a big screen, changing the usual relationship we have with paintings, normally we stand in front of them and look at them closely; the cinematic allusion suggests this is a more active experience to immerse ourselves in and watch it unfold. It is no mean feat to consider that a set of static drawings can give the suggestion of movement through scale and words.
If we compare this to Seurat’s Landscape with Houses, 1881-82, which is drawn in conté crayon on white background, (roughly 10 inches by 13 inches), we consider the similarities. They are both monochrome and show a realistic scene with little detail and both give us a sense of place.
Seurat’s Landscape is very dark, with many shadows, you can just make out a tree and some houses, and there is little variation in tone. During this period Seurat moved towards naturalism which, according to Tate Gallery, represented things closer to the way we see them. This was a move away from the idealised representation of earlier. He used space to indicate distance and probably drew this from life, as an immediate response to what he saw with his own eyes, whereas Dean’s work was drawn in a studio.
Landscape with Houses could be described as an everyday image of something very ordinary. It is drawn, not to capture a moment in time, but rather to create the sense of place so details are not as important as feeling. It captures a simple night-time, twilight scene, it does not tell a story.
It is sometimes seen as the first photograph, an image created using light, the light being the off-white background of the drawing. Dean has used white chalk to depict her scenes against a black background, it not a photographic capture but a narrative response to nature.
EWAN GIBBS AND SEURAT
Looking through Vitamin D2, I discovered the work of Ewan Gibbs which, at first glance, seems similar in effect to Seurat’s pointillism. The small marks create a larger picture like a photograph. Gibbs works from photographs and then creates what looks like a knitting pattern. Up close they look abstract and famous scenes look unrecognisable, see New York, 2007. He shows us a different way to look at what we think we know.
Like Seurat’s pointillist works, Gibbs works laboriously to create his detailed images, the tiny marks in themselves meaning little but together creating full images. Everything is intentional and precise.
In his images of architecture, his work reminds us of the structural aspect, the code-like marks reinforce the architectural nature as if they were architects plans. They also look as if they are from another period in time, slightly old fashioned as if faded by time.
Seurat is most known for creating pointillism or divisionism, although his works were made by combining small dots of colour to create an overall effect. He was interested in new effects and colour theory to signify expressive qualities more than realism. The optical effects created by the pointilist marks allow the eye to see the picture as a whole.
Corwin, William, 18 May 2013, Tacita Dean, Frieze
Herbert, Robert L., 1991, Georges Seurat 1859-1889, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Krama, Ed, Cinematic Drawing in a Digital Age, Tate Papers No. 14, Autumn 2010
Eakin, Emily, Celluloid Hero, 31 October 2011, New Yorker
Ollman, Leah, Scribes of Precision and Obsession, 11 January 2002, Los Angeles Times