04 September 2009



Brooke Davis Anderson

The readily available materials of stylus and paper have been used by self-taught artists to express themselves for a very long time. Regardless of economics, geography, education, or other conditions (confinement, for example), the beauty of line and the eloquence of the mark dominate the visual experience. Adolf Wölfli, Madge Gill, and Edmond Monsiel, all well-established artists in the canon of art brut, exploit line in their highly mysterious and obsessively detailed compositions. The compulsive, accumulative quality of much of this work, what is known as horror vacui (the need to fill the page), sets the stage for artists working today. Although contemporary versions of obsessive drawing can be more reductive, even quite minimal, the drawings are labor intensive and painstakingly precise, mirroring the methodologies of some of the best art brut.

“Obsessive Drawing” highlights contemporary interpretations of line by five emerging self-taught artists. This is the first museum exhibition in New York to showcase this international group: Eugene Andolsek (USA), Charles Benefiel (USA), Hiroyuki Doi (Japan), Chris Hipkiss (England and France), and Martin Thompson (New Zealand). The immediacy of the art masks painstaking processes, and the act of drawing becomes a surprising necessity. The artists’ motivations for making art are married to their self-taught survival skills to help them cope with illness, loss, loneliness, fear, and regret. Inevitably, though, the process of drawing eventually dominated this motivation, and making marks on a page became captivating, so that it is now an obsession for each man. The lust for line trumps everything. Each artist thus discovers what John Ruskin (1819–1900) said about drawing years ago, that one purpose of drawing was to record things that could not be described in words.

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