New inspiration at Vancouver’s inaugural drawing festival

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      Spanning 16 galleries, the new Drawn festival celebrates an underappreciated form that’s low-tech but high-skill

      “Seeing is the problem,” Ann Kipling says. “Drawing is the solution.” One of Canada’s most distinguished artists, Kipling is a key participant in Drawn, Vancouver’s inaugural drawing festival. The first of its kind in Canada, Drawn celebrates an often underappreciated medium. It launches on Saturday (July 18) and runs until August 8 at 16 galleries across the city.

      Although a new generation of artists is energetically embracing the practice of drawing, Kipling is rare in her focused commitment to the medium since the late 1950s. “It’s a lifelong pursuit,” she affirms, speaking by phone from her home near Falkland, in the northern Okanagan area. “I can do things with drawing that I can’t with any other medium.” Whether landscape, portrait, or animal study, Kipling’s distinctive art is characterized by an accumulation of calligraphic marks. Jots, dots, dashes, zigzags, and squiggles convey the living energy of her subject.

      Kipling extols the many forms and shapes drawing can take, the variety of its themes and subjects, and the endlessly evolving relationship between line, tone, and ground. She also notes some of drawing’s humble tools and materials—pen, pencil, charcoal, chalk—then says, “Drawing is very low-tech and very high-skill.” Some of Kipling’s low-tech/high-skill images will be on view in a group show at the Douglas Udell Gallery from July 18 to 31.

      Together with the work of more than 50 other participating artists in exhibitions across the city, Tomoyo Ihaya’s tiny, elemental line drawings at Art Beatus, Anna Plesset’s realistically rendered images of newspaper headlines at the Jeffrey Boone Gallery, Michael Abraham’s surreal tableaux at Gallery Jones, and David Alexander’s David Milne–like landscapes at the Bau-Xi Gallery represent the tremendous span of expression possible through the drawing medium. Ongoing displays of work by Jack Shadbolt at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, B.C. Binning at the Burnaby Art Gallery, and Emily Carr at the Vancouver Art Gallery remind us of the drawing achievements of some of our region’s historic greats.

      Drawn will also feature a multitude of events, including talks by artists and curators, drawing performances and installations, and an opening party with large-scale “live” drawing by seven artists. (For info, go to Kipling will give a talk about her work at the Douglas Udell Gallery on Saturday (July 18) at noon.

      Conceived by Robert Kardosh, an Inuit-art scholar and assistant director of the Marion Scott Gallery, Drawn has been organized by him and festival cofounder Lynn Ruscheinsky, an art historian and independent curator. Subtitled Artists and Drawing/Vancouver 2009, it is modelled after Contact, Toronto’s annual photography festival, Kardosh says. “Basically, it’s a multivenue festival based on a specific medium.” And yes, he says, there are aspirations to make Drawn an annual event.

      Sitting at a wooden desk in the crowded storage room of the Marion Scott Gallery, he’s talking about the rapid coalescing of the festival over the last few months. He’s also reflecting on what has, well, drawn him to drawing.

      “Our core specialty has always been Inuit art,” he says about the Marion Scott Gallery, “and that probably accounts for my interest in drawing, because drawing is an Inuit medium.” Initially seen as secondary to the stone-block prints produced by the northern workshops since the 1950s, drawings have emerged in the last decade as a significant Inuit expression. As part of the festival, Kardosh has organized Extreme Drawing for the Marion Scott Gallery (July 18 to August 30). Its seven artists include Shuvinai Ashoona, whose fantastical scenes, wrought in ink or coloured pencil, include dark, foreboding landscapes, crucified women, and twining serpents.

      Drawing is the most direct of art media, Kardosh observes, and the most honest. “I love this quote by Le Corbusier: ”˜I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster and leaves less room for lies,’” he says. “A drawing can’t hide the way it’s come together, because the lines are all there.”¦The sense of mobility is something that I’m very aware of—the line is a record of the movement of the hand.”

      Kipling talks about the movement in the natural world that she feels compelled to capture in her drawings: the slight turn of a head or the flick of a tail. She also remarks on the relationship between medium and ground. “The paper has depth,” she insists. “It’s not a flat surface for me.”¦I don’t impose drawing onto it, but pull it out—out of the paper.”