Drawing Abroad

Drawing Abroad, Galleryeight, Sydney
Hanna ten Doornkaat, Paul Lee, Miles Hall, Jonathan McBurnie, Melissa Howe and Brooke Leigh Carlson
curated by Brooke Leigh Carlson

Drawing Abroad brings together artists from London, Seoul, Sydney and Brisbane whose drawing practices investigate the versatility of the medium. These artists embrace the immediacy and fluidity of the drawing discipline, exploring the language of line and mark making through diverse processes in their approach to drawing. Through Contemporary drawing practices the exhibition demonstrates the drawing discipline as a tool for mapping out spaces and marking time whilst engaging with the tactile dialogue between the materials at hand.

exhibition catalogue essay


I am a drawer, that is to say I like to draw; I am not as the word suggests a sliding horizontal container designed for clothes, knickers, knick-knackeries and what-nots, though I have been called much, much worse. Paul Klee said that “drawing is taking a line for a walk” and much like the wanderings of a well heeled flaneur setting off on a new adventure into the urban jungle, almost all drawings end up somewhere not first pondered or thought of, much like walking down a street you never knew existed. Sure there’s the initial idea and semblance of an end result but the finished product rarely is exactly what an artist has in ones mind when they first put pencil or other mark making projectile to paper. This is the enduring, exciting and sometimes frightening proposition that faces the artist as they sit down to produce something out of nothing. It is inherent in this transformation of thought to action that dreams are made into reality.

At the genesis of most art forms is the drawing. Painting in essence is drawing with paint. Sculptural forms often start as a doodle and architects always begin a project with a blueprint. The Egyptians drew plans for the Pyramids of Giza and other monuments on paper made from the papyrus reed. It could be said that the first artist was the cave dwelling humanoid who first put rock to cave wall and no doubt started a process many of us still participate in and relish today. Indeed if we are to believe Jesus was a carpenter, he would also have taken part in this most raw and elementary human compulsions. We are witness to drawings power when we watch children relish their early expanse into colour, shape and form. Unfortunately this expressive birth is so often snuffed out before it really gets going for as modern human beings we are told by a conformist society we need to do important things like Accounting, Law and Business, and that we must “contribute”, Art so often being seen as a lesser ideal than those mainstays of a bourgeois society.

In a society and time very much different to ours was the Middle Ages and the Renaissance  where the practice of Alchemy was commonplace. It was an early form of chemistry concerned with trying to turn baser elements into a substance of far greater value and it was also the search for the elixir of Life itself. Parallels could be made to the act of drawing. For what could be more life affirming than creation? We begin with our base elements – the pencil, charcoal, ink, pen, whatever it may be. We then add a substance upon which your drawing material will come into contact with – paper, canvas, a brick wall – it can be anything, it just needs to be a surface. More often than not, and with years of practice, the artist is able to do the unthinkable – turn water into wine; molecules into mind; a big nothing into a big something.

The artists in this show all have drawing as the basis of their art practice, each performing the action of drawing in a different way – some incredibly so – from automatic drawing techniques to fine line drawing, from energetic action strokes to more expressive Turner-esque charcoal works. What they all share though is the same need and want to make a mark – their mark – onto a surface and thus take part in one of the longest continuous lines of artistic expressions known to Mankind. It is clear that not only do these artists have all the necessary skills to be labelled compelling draughtsmen and women but they are so much more than that – they are indeed Alchemists, in a sense like a vital child, yearning through their actions to hold onto eternal youth. Knowing the folly of such a direction they therefore apply themselves and ultimately succeed in that most noble of causes – trying to do the implausible and improbable – turning dust into gold.

– Luke Strevens is a Sydney based artist.


Brooke Leigh Carlson: When we first met in London at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery, we had a lot to talk about! Our conversation sparked through our passion and exploration of drawing in our practices. Could you explain what drawing means for you and the importance of it in your practice?

Hanna ten Doornkaat: I am interested in drawing in a wider sense. Anything can be a drawing, an expression of the self. The marks on paper is what interests me. Marks are everywhere, they are imprints that we leave and which are proof that we exist. Recently I have started to approach my drawings in a more investigative way which means I have been studying the meaning of mark making more intensely by introducing other media or in a traditional sense non art related media. I believe that a mark in the widest sense whether deliberate or accidental can be a drawing, a shadow on a wall, a bent wire.

BC: How do you begin work in the studio?

HD: I usually have an idea to begin with but I am not following a strict rule if it doesn’t work and I let things happen. The best moments for me are when the work makes the decision for me and points me in a direction I hadn’t thought of but feels right.

BC: In the past few years you’ve been drawing with the drill. What brought this on and how did it start?

HD: As my usual work is often quite repetitive, tedious and also often very controlled I had to break out of this and release some of the energy bottled up inside. I had a wonderful experience from a taiko drumming course which was very liberating. I really enjoyed this but was also felt very frustrated when I couldn’t get the counting rhythm right. I use the same method when ‘attacking’ my sheets of paper spread out on the floor. Depending on what graphite pencils I use this leaves dents in the paper and when withdrawing the drill it leaves a faint pencil mark. I am still experimenting and constantly introducing new media that fit into the electric handheld drill.

BC: This is the first time for you and Paul Lee to show your work in Australia. You both have become quite close friends from showing together in various exhibitions in London. Do you think Paul’s work has had an influence on your drawings?

HD: A lot of my own work is very mediative and in my main body of work there seem to be similarities like the circles and certainly the repetition of the marks which have been there before meeting Paul. But I have always been interestedin Asian art. I wrote my first dissertation about Japanese contemporary art which won me a prize at the time. Drawing for me is therapeutic, it’s all I want to do no matter what with!


“A kinesthetic practice of traction – attraction, extraction, protraction – drawing is born from an outward gesture linking inner impulses and thoughts to the other through the touching of a surface with repeated graphic marks and lines.”

– Catherine de Zegher

The immediacy that drawing allows for mark making and repetition becomes an important aspect of the process of the interaction between the hand, the surface and the drawing material. Exploring the ways in which artists embrace the diversity of the discipline, Drawing Abroad investigates the meaning of drawing. What it means to make a mark. A mark in a particular way, in a particular time. It becomes a form of marking space and time, thus leaving marks and traces of the artist’s existence.

Repetitive and meditative mark making houses the drawing practice of Seoul based Korean artist, Paul Lee. Meditation is embraced in Lee’s works through the act of repetitively drawing circles. The reoccurring motif of this geometrical abstract shape becomes for Lee a symbolism of the universe and existence. Drawing for Lee is essentially drawing time. Lee captures a movement through the tension created by the monochrome circles as their placement interrupts the coloured circles. Lee states,

“I am drawing time. These drawings are alive, there is constant movement in them, it is contained, but not suppressed.”

For London based, German artist Hanna ten Doornkaat, mark making is the process to investigate the meaning of drawing. Doornkaat challenges this with a play of limitations and rules for manipulating the control in which the process takes place. Line is explored through constant repetition. The drill is used as a tool to interrupt the relationship between the hand and the drawing material, as the grid is used for imposing order into this chaos and creating structure in which experimentation can unfold.

Brisbane artist, Miles Hall embraces the immediacy of drawing for exploring the tactility of the medium, its interaction with the surface and the dialogue of the process. An immediacy in which gesture, line and tone intercept within the surface as traces of the artist’s experience. This drawing process displays an intuitive, intimate interaction with the drawing medium. Hall repetitively experiments with the medium in a way that feels challenged – in a pursue to explore as many possibilities of the mark that can be made. It is in this process that determines the final outcome of the work. In describing his recent drawings Hall expresses,

“Drawing is tactile and provides an immediate dialogue between materials, touch, movement, force and emotion. Our experience of the chaos of the world is met with the necessary desire to find order and structure, nevertheless the mystery remains.”

The drawings of Sydney based artist Jonathan McBurnie exhibit the result of an obsessive and repetitive interaction with paper and ink. These drawings form their being in a manifestation of collaged images sought from a variety of media. Playing with paper upon paper in the initial stages of the drawing process, collages form the preparation for the visual idea. With an immediacy of the nib or brush, ink is put directly to paper, mapping out forms and landscapes through strong yet delicate repetitive line work and mark making.

Sydney based artist Melissa Howe explores drawing as a tool for mapping places and time through a diaristic notion. In this way Howe demonstrates the immediacy of the drawing discipline engaging with the freedom of an artist’s sketchbook – to draw anytime, anywhere. Whilst living in New York City, Howe investigated portraiture as a form of documentation. For Howe, These drawings signify personal memories of a particular moment, place and time, acting as a visual record of chance encounters with strangers in foreign lands.

Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist techniques of automatic drawing are investigated in my own work. My practice focuses on the performative aspect of automatic drawing through series of charcoal based drawings. Through this performance, repetition, immediacy, mark making and gesture form the process which the drawings are derived from. Their material qualities are reprocessed using silk-screen printing and other remediations, thereby displacing the mark and the artist’s subjective position, with the performative gestural marks of the unconscious approach to drawing.

– Brooke Leigh Carlson is a Sydney based artist

press release 

London based, German artist Hanna ten Doornkaat engages drawing through mark making and repetition. In an investigation of line she plays on the act of drawing by reducing and limiting herself to strict rules to begin the process of her drawings. Doornkaat’s practice is a pursuit of regularity, reflected in the repetitious mark-making. Doornkaat is represented by the Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London and New York. Exhibiting extensively in the UK and Germany, this is the first time Doornkaat’s work is to be shown in Australia.

Paul Lee is a Korean artist who lives and draws in Seoul. Drawing for Lee, marks a space and time, his existence. Through the physical repetitive process of drawing abstract geometrical shapes Lee has discovered his practice to inhibit a meditative and philosophical aspect. Lee’s work has recently been selected for the 2014 Royal Academy summer exhibition in London. This is the first opportunity for Lee’s work to be exhibited in Australia.

Brisbane based Miles Hall‘s practice is concerned with bringing the process of drawing back to the tactile qualities of the materials at hand. By engaging with this, Hall offers a tactile and cerebral resistance to the disembodied and frictionless digital frontier. Hall lectures in Fine Art at Queensland College of Art, Griffith University and has recently undertaken a three month residency in Paris as the recipient of an Australia Council Grant.

Jonathan McBurnie’s drawings are created as a form of eroticism. Repetition and obsession are evident through McBurnie’s constant sifting through a variety of media for potential fodder for drawing. This becomes a constant impulse for McBurnie, reconfiguring the act of drawing into a ritualistic, even fetishistic method for filtering and reflecting the world through a metafictional melodrama.

Melissa Howe is a Sydney based artist with background studies in architecture and photography. Her practice investigates the city and its inhabitants through autobiographical drawings. By incorporating the use of photography and drawing Howe looks to portraiture as a means of tracing and marking time. Her recent interest lies in capturing strangers encountered in the daily routine of city life in New York City and Sydney.

Sydney based artist Brooke Leigh Carlson investigates how Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist techniques of automatic drawing can be reiterated in a contemporary context. Her practice explores the performative aspect of automatic drawing through series of process-based charcoal drawings reprocessed through photo silk screen printing and other remediations.

self-published exhibition catalogue