David Connearn draws lines like these, and has been doing for 18 years.
Across the top of the page he draws a straight line, freehand, left to right - or he tries to, but inevitably the line wanders slightly from true. Just under it he draws another line, not straight now, but a line that follows the wandering path of the first, or tries to. Just under that he draws a third line, which follows the path of the second, or tries to. And so on. Each line aims to hug the contour of the last, but each line errs and veers off its intended track, converging with or diverging from the line above, and setting a new track for the next. The drawing unfolds as a Chinese whisper of imperfectly echoed lines relaying down the page.
This is David Connearn’s work and these are the rules he follows, in drawings made in various sizes and shapes, usually rectangular.
A picture-seeking eye can pick-up inklings in these drawings- of rock strata, say, or a cloth weave, or a high aerial view of the ocean,
or a seismographic print-out. And certainly what I like about them first of all is, not exactly their pictures, but their textures, the beautiful and mysterious variable densities - the way the grain spreads and concen- trates in brighter and darker layers, disturbances start, proliferate, settle, disperse, forming wrinkles, inci- sions, stocking-ladders, waves, eddies and knots. The drawing on this page is more or less actual size. In larger works, these ravelling rhythms build to a great and greatly absorbing richness: force-fields, massive weights, shimmering veils.
But I see there’s something odd about treating these drawings as any sort of image, picture or pattern, because their effects are, in a way, quite unintended.
To be sure, it isn’t “automatic” drawing, in the Surreal sense, and it isn’t ungoverned chance. Con- nearn has his rules and keeps to them. He decides the dimension and format of a drawing, he chooses the nib-width. He knows the kind of effects his procedure produces. But, as for the particular appearance of each work, that’s not within his grasp. The textures are determined by the successive, minute, accumulating meanderings of each stroke. The edges result from the small misalignments of each line’s beginning and end. A drawing produces itself, a series of reflexive responses, a controlledloss of control.
If the process is peculiar, it’speculiar in its extremism. It takes some general truths about drawing, and makes them absolute. It’s common enough to say that all drawing, as well as being image- making, is also the record of an activity in time, a sequence of actions and gestures. But Connearn’s drawing is explicitly sequenced, it runs left to right and top to bottom, line by line; and it’s all activity, done with no view to the picture as a whole, which is purely a by-product. The image materialises without any plan. You follow it down, through its various layers of closely and widely spaced lines, and what you’re following isn’t a pattern but some variation in the drawer’s attention or tempo. It’s true, too, that freehand drawing is never fully deliberate.
A drawn line isn’t plotted like the line of a graph. Every stroke is
a kind of throw. But Connearn’s drawing lets this letting-go make all the going. Each line is drawn steadily, but without a pause and without correction. What happens, happens. What makes each line distinct, different from the last when it is trying to be the same,
is simply that the hand can’t help it. It can’t exactly repeat its last action. Take the diagonal ripples that descend left to right in all the drawings. This diagonal is an occupational hazard. A wiggle gets into a line. But when it comes to be echoed in the next line, the hand’s reaction is slightly delayed. The next wiggle comes out a bit to the right, and so on down.
So this system is a study in error.
It generates it and makes it visible. It sets up a situation where human error is released from human design
Certainly, one can’t attend to this work for long without thinking about the state of mind involved in drawing these thousands of lines, over and over, year on year... I do see that, from a certain point of view, having started on this course there would never be any reason to stop, because there’s no end
in view. Stopping would be an arbitrary decision. But then, just as life is full of error, it’s also full of arbitrariness, so there would be a truth there too, and the fact that Connearn’s drawings do start and stop on arbitrary plans already compromises their impulse to endless-ness.