Aspex Portsmouth

Week 37, Drawing as Philosophy, 40 Stories

Les Buckingham, Director 1984–99

Some artists simply want us to slow down so that we can see things that we fail to see. To notice. Some artists let us go further towards the doors of perception. Through his study of Eastern philosophies David Connearn wants us to feel the actual process of making and thereby seeing and feeling. In a series of drawings, he marked the position of his feet in front of a large sheet of paper and drew lines, starting from his most extreme position on his left and drawing to his most extreme position on the right using a high precision pen. For three days, non stop. Drawing as ritual, as yogic contemplation, as philosophical statement.

When I asked him to show some of these on the large white walls of the gallery, he asked for two things: to show with Leszek Brogowski, an artist he had not met but whose work he had seen, and to work with local children on the ideas in their work. Leszek was studying philosophy at the Sorbonne at the time and readily agreed to David’s proposal. His work showed how line can move from total order to complete chaos, echoing the brain’s ability to cope with extreme variation and dynamic intervention. For the outreach part of the show both artists came up with the idea of a never ending drawing, worked on by every child who visited the show and made on a roll of paper that simply extended and extended. Needless to say the whole project was a tremendous success, thanks to the artists’ ingenuity and invention.

On most opening days in a contemporary art gallery, urgency and slight panic are the norm. Are the lights right? Have the labels been edited correctly? Are the speakers up to speed? The artists were present, adding to the heightened atmosphere. Except it wasn’t. Their methodical approach and calm inner certainty made the last arrangements a joy.

Yoko Terauchi, a Japanese artist friend of David’s, was there. As well as sharing an interest in Eastern ideas with David, she was a sculptor I had worked with at Leeds in 1983 and who had had a show at Aspex in 1985 called Hot Lines, transforming telecom wires into gorgeous blossoming sculptures. Around lunchtime, I received a phone call to say that the facade of my house had been destroyed by a van that had smashed into it. Contrary to my usual practice of benign dictatorship (!) I issued orders to various people and set off for my house two roads away. For a second I panicked but then realised there was nothing I could do and I approached the scene of devastation (with all the emergency services present) with a quiet acceptance. After all the arrangements to make the house safe again had been made (albeit with temporary walls) I went back to the gallery for the opening and entered to great applause, to some bemusement on my part!

The gallery of course looked perfect. Had the presence of the three philosophers working in the visual arts given me an inner calm? Who knows? Yoko Terauchi spent the night in the room above the devastated facade of the house. She is now professor of sculpture at Aichi University, Japan. Leszek Brogowski is university professor in theory and philosophy of contemporary art at the University of Rennes, France. David Connearn is an artist. A drawing by each artist hangs in my (rebuilt) house.