The exhibition Still Masters at the gallery expands the presentation at Frieze Masters not only historically. It illustrates the development David Connearn, Minjung Kim and Susan Schwalb have made to the present day, and, as stated in the editorial of this publication, reinforces the title-giving idea as to why these artists have become or rather remained Still Masters.
David Connearn is, to a certain extent, the artist that stayed most faithful to the core of his practice since the 1980s. Line drawing invariably forms the essence of his creation, even if he is constantly pushing the boundaries conceptually, as well as in form and content.
Contextualising the two presentations, it makes much sense, that a recent, if smaller version than at Frieze Masters of Connearn’s series Five Drawings will be on display at the gallery. Yet another series entitled 1000 Signata exemplifies the intellectual rigour and bandwidth Connearn subjects his practice to. 1000 Signata, a group of 16 drawings, is visually related to a series of single Signata works. These drawings refer to signs for identities, or “signatures”, which for various reasons have been obscured or rendered unknowable by overdrawing.
1000 Signata also uses a process of overdrawing, which Connearn has applied in different ways over the course of several years, in particular for the Refuge series. In both cases, intentionally selected colours are employed to then be consecutively obliterated in systematic steps. The drawing purpose of 1000 Signata is purely aesthetic and has consequently no external reference beyond their own matrix. This elaborate and playful set of drawings is an homage to the inventive processes used by Sol LeWitt.
Minjung Kim’s oeuvre has taken spectacular new developments since her works from the 1990s presented at Frieze Masters. Achieving equilibrium has remained the all-compassing force, though Kim has ventured into many new spheres, exceedingly integrating Western concepts and ideas into her vocabulary. Kim relinquished the gestural brush stroke more or less completely. Traces remain in her Predestination series, and most prominently in the subtle layering of her landscapes in the mesmerising Mountain series, executed in delicate gradations of diluted ink.
The gentle beginnings of burning the paper in a few works during the mid-1990s has become a fundamental feature and technique that pervades almost all of Kim’s new work. Most of the artist’s recent series are collages made of carefully layered sheets of thin, finely textured Korean Mulberry Hanji paper that is burnt at the edges, essentially drawing the lines with fire.
In Timeless, thin strips of horizontal burnt lines carefully meander across the surface to accumulate in small bands until reaching the upper margin. A softly undulating image emerges from the slightly changing tonalities of the paper, accentuated through the darker shadings of the burnt edges. Timeless imbues great tranquillity and inner balance, a state of mind and heart much desired in times of uncertainty and change. The oscillation between creation and destruction, the repeated, almost meditative movements unite Kim’s works to convey an almost visible transience of time.
Susan Schwalb’s metalpoint drawings have made the most apparent evolution towards a more tranquil and minimalist oeuvre. With the Strata series already setting an abstract tone in the 1990s, successive series reveal an even more reduced, geometrical and metaphorical language.
At the same time colour is brought into the creative process through the pigments used for preparing the papers or panels. Schwalb further expands the versatility and technical ability of the medium by using up to eight different metal points as well as metal brushes and wool pads.
The abstract compositions of narrow horizontal or diagonal lines and geometric patterns are elegant and subtle while evoking an atmosphere of serenity. The peculiarities of the diverse metals Schwalb is using – among them silver, gold, brass, copper, platinum, pewter, bronze and aluminium – allow for soft shifts in tone and colour to cause ephemeral effects, which have more nuances than any line drawing can usually convey. The works on black and white ground are meditative and quiet, often possessing more tonal hues, whilst the works focusing on colour, develop more patterned and expressive structures where drawing and painting elements unite.
Series like Convergence, Polyphony or Harmonization are often related to musical configurations, disclosing parallels in the tonal structures and metaphysical qualities.
Works from the Currents or Aurora series are inspired by natural phenomena such as the atmospheric presence of clouds and wind or the reflections of sunlight and water. Despite the precision metalpoint possesses as a medium, Schwalb consistently accomplishes to obtain a shimmering luminosity that gives her drawings a poetic dimension and an almost sculptural quality.