Patrick Heide Contemporary Art is pleased to present Drawing History Painting, David Connearn’s second solo exhibition at the gallery, which brings together large and small works on paper from the artist’s 2017 project Refuge, and related examples of current work entitled Signata and Reclaiming Black.
History Painting as a genre takes up the challenge of representing events, of celebration or critique of political and social achievements or iniquities. Drawing History Painting asks again if and how real situations that challenge our imagination and understanding can be figured, but within the unusual aesthetic format of non-representational drawing. The exhibition responds to one particular instance of a contemporary situation in which over a million endangered people have been forced to flee their countries, and make their way into Europe to seek refuge: the final days of the Calais refugee camp before its destruction in October 2016. The works were made in response to the events determining the treatment of child refugees living in that camp, and to the film-maker Sue Clayton’s confrontation of their situation.
Holding that all articulations of history are bound to bear incomplete or corrupted messages, Connearn’s drawings propose a different kind of thinking space in which to consider art’s response and responsibility to its present time. His engagement with the Calais history requires an approach towards the other kinds of borders and limits that are entailed by his working method, between control and uncontrollability, and of intention and subjectivity, within which he frames the possibility for interpretation, linking his practice to events.
The series Refuge, consisting of four large works and a number of smaller Studies, raises questions of responsibility, account, denial and erasure. The drawings maintain Connearn’s technique of repeating closely copied freehand lines. But here, in departure from his previous rejection colour as unnecessary and even contrary to the intended import of his practice, he now adopts its use as an index of both the colours of the flags of origin of the camp’s refugees, and aspects of their identity. The processes of superimposing of colour on colour, and overdrawing with black and white inks introduce the possibility of layering information within the primary temporality of the work. Colour and drawing-over have been adopted to offer an allegorical reading: not a representation, but a pointer towards the emotional register of the thinking implicit in the work.
The Signata drawings develop the use of these techniques in a different way. The large drawing is composed of 10,000 gestural “signatures”, meticulously overdrawn in black by a different graphic process, as if re- interpreted, or censored. Colour remains subliminally visible in the resulting dense, black structure, drawing attention which the overdrawing opposes. The work is a figure of a field of question about gesture and signature, their significance and interpretation. As process, the drawing questions itself in order to question its relation to events.
Reclaiming Black is at once the most simple and yet enigmatic expression of the methodology responsible for this work. Of all the pieces in the exhibition it steers in one sense closest to both allegorical and direct representation by showing nothing but its own process as a temporal fragment. In another sense, the drawing is like a black mirror that neither reflects nor represents, but in view of its own process prompts the question: What are “things in themselves”, in relation to “ourselves” in “history”?
The power of Connearn’s works in Drawing History Painting lies in their engagement with the truly momentous and shocking events that we are all confronted with, and their refusal to turn away or be overwhelmed. They are not ‘about’ the Calais refugee camp, but about the responsibility of art in a world that produces both. The philosophy that supports them links ethics and aesthetics, and encourages the same individual investigation of integrity that it asks of itself.
David Connearn’s work has been exhibited widely throughout UK and Europe, with recent solo exhibitions at the galleries Concept Space, Shibukawa and Star Gallery, Nagoya Japan. It is included in important international private and public collections such as the Victoria & Albert Museum, British Museum, the Arts Council and The Economist amongst others.
The exhibition is accompanied by three short films titled Sea, Camp, and Border, and a 62-minute film Calais Children: A Case to Answer by Sue Clayton.
Sue Clayton has written and directed features, shorts, campaign videos and documentaries, and is a Professor at the University of London. She also works for ITV News as a freelance producer. Her award-winning documentary Calais Children: A Case to Answer follows the race against time to get recognition and a humane resolution for the 2000 ‘invisible’ unaccompanied children who were living in the Calais Jungle before it was razed and its occupants dispersed. See calais.gebnet.co.uk