Saturday, 9 November 2013


Containing twelve of Serra’s most recent drawings created specifically for installation in the Courtauld, Serra investigates spatial perception by exploring new realms of drawing.

Known largely for steel sculptures that have a presence heightened by an elevated sense of apprehension with unfixed sections that sit quietly balanced against each other, Serra’s drawings seem to encapsulate an anxiety that his sculpture also engages in. Except in the case of the drawings, there is a more intimate and balanced relationship with the viewer, separated from a sense of danger.

Richard Serra, (1988) Trip Hammer, [Steel sculpture], 274 x 332 x 135cm, The Tate Modern, London.

 There is a certain self-consciousness and engagement with internal realms of meaning. From this the ambitious task of constructing drawings as raw and expressive ideas through the development of an innovative method of mark making, into twelve drawings that stand tantamount to tradition, highlighted for me, the true versatility of the nature of drawing itself. 

At the heart of the drawings is a physical battle between drawing as a process against the process of drawing, by this I mean Serra re-vitalises the vision of drawing as a finished work, rather than just a piece of  painter’s preparation or a sculptor’s sketch.

The perceived location of the drawings on the wall spreads into the viewer’s unconscious eyes and embeds itself inside a suffocating blackness that materialises a sense of isolation.  Juxtaposed against the Courtauld’s rich impressionist driven collection the drawings explore the materiality of the process and challenges pre-conceived notions of what drawing can be.

The location of the drawings initially seems odd; however it is no moment of serendipity that the drawings lay in the same gallery that houses a painting heavily admired by Serra. Cézanne’s “Still Life with a Plaster Cupid” C. 1894 highlights the context behind Serra’s interrogation into perspective. 

Paul Cézanne, (1894) Still Life with a Plaster Cupid, [Oil painting], 70.6 x 57.3 cm, The Courtauld Gallery, London. 

Albrecht Dürer, (1493/1494) Three Studies of the artist’s left hand, [Pen and black-brown ink], The Courtauld Gallery, London.
Our entrance into each piece is incoherent; the path taken is complex and confronts typical assertions of the traditional nature of drawing. Being situated next to an exhibition of works by Albrecht Dürer only further exemplifies this point as Durer’s rigid Renaissance works are static and frozen by past ideals. Whereas Serra’s works encapsulate an essence of the present day and enthusiasm for exploration that make you realise that “if you are going to make any contribution at all, you have to break new ground” (Serra).

The drawings share parallels with print making as Serra compresses a clean sheet of Mylar (thin transparent plastic) between two other pre-prepared pieces of plastic with a layer of black litho crayon.  Using a stylus on the outer surface of the top sheet Serra places pressure on the Mylar which results in a transferral of the litho crayon from the outer sheets of Mylar onto the clean central sheet. Serra calls these central sheets of Mylar ‘Transparencies’. It is these pieces that are on display. 

The resultant pieces preserve the movement of pressure by Serra, trapping parts of the black litho crayon in dynamic and often swirling forms that emphasise the physicality of the materials. All in all the drawings convey a darkened sense of discovery into the very essence of drawing that is weighed down by a strong volume of space and pigment into twelve framed boundaries, that are well worth a visit.

Richard Serra: Drawings for The Courtauld runs from the 19th September 2013 to the 12th January 2014 at The Courtauld Gallery, London. 

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