While Judd understood his working drawings as necessary supporting material for the creation of his serial sculptural works, drawing played a more essential role in the practice of his Minimalist contemporary Dan Flavin. The artist drew incessantly and for a variety of purposes: to notate an idea or create working drawings for artworks in other media; to make quick renderings of nature; to execute finished presentation drawings for sale; and to commission “final finished diagrams”—drawn in colored pencil on graph paper by his wife, son, and studio assistants—which acted as records of his site-specific fluorescent light installations. The act of drawing increased in importance once Flavin’s practice shifted, around 1963, to making works employing readymade fluorescent lamps bought from the hardware store and installed by technicians. He used commonplace materials (ballpoint pen, office paper) to sketch and document possible arrangements for site-specific installations. Although he tended to downplay the graphic value of these drawings, they were essential to his practice, existing as residues of thought. Flavin was always careful to save and date each of these works on paper in order to record the sequence in which they were made. Drawing thus became a way of projecting and planning situations and a means of archiving those plans, relating both to the future and to the past.
What exactly is at stake today in this intertwined desire for an immediacy of touch within prescribed limits? Marking up a blank piece of paper—experiencing a concrete and immediate way of making art within an evolving digital landscape that often removes us from experiencing “the real” and ourselves—appears to offer itself as an inherently human activity. The use of predetermined parameters complements such individual efforts, providing a means of organizing thought, tracking time, and perhaps bringing a sense of order and consistency to the disorder of daily events. Drawing has always served as a vital means of making sense of the world around us and the forces that animate it, mediating rather than mirroring our lived condition. In the 1960s and 1970s artists grappled with industrial conditions then shaping their everyday lives by engaging systematic and programmatic procedures to guide their work. In many instances, the pronounced engagement with seriality and repetitive marking, charting, and diagramming offered a means not of adopting the rational logic of industry but of highlighting art’s potential escape from it. It seems apt in today’s contemporary climate of ongoing upheaval and perpetual advancement of digital technologies that the desire to draw, to mark, to track is embraced by artists who, much like their historical predecessors, seek to expand the capacities for invention while working to regain a sense of human experience.
Contemporary Art Movements: Books and Museum Catalogues …
Wash (1968) exemplifies the generative tension between the random and the orderly that Le Va actively cultivated in his early works. The drawing includes passages of graph paper on which the artist first mapped out the distribution of pieces of felt and shards of glass. Le Va and many of his contemporaries frequently used graph paper, not so much for its look as for its suitability for the transfer of ideas into form. As the artist Mel Bochner reasoned, “graph paper reduces the tedious aspects of drawing, and permits the easy and immediate alignment of random thoughts into conventionalized patterns of reading and forming.” Le Va cut up the uniform graph paper into random shapes, repositioned the fragments atop a sheet of white paper, and connected the pieces through a series of colorful stains made using red, black, and gray ink. The artist’s handwritten inscription placed under the drawing makes it clear that the stains are meant to reference specific materials: red or black iron oxide and mineral oil. This diagram was apparently never realized in sculptural form but is related to a series of impermanent installations that Le Va would complete at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1969. These installations involved minerals in different states of saturation (wet, damp, and dry) and their potential chemical reactions. Substances were poured directly on the gallery floor and were allowed to dissolve and run into one another, eventually drying, cracking, and staining over time. The strict formal economy of Le Va’s drawn plan simultaneously contradicts and enhances the flux, flexibility, and physical damage unleashed in the space of the gallery.