Art review: Drawn Out at Gallery 139 | Jill Stowell

At Gallery 139: Detail from Jill Orr's work, Limelight, in the Drawn Out exhibition.
At Gallery 139: Detail from Jill Orr's work, Limelight, in the Drawn Out exhibition.

Drawing has been a basic human activity for at least 20,000 years, when someone first made a meaningful mark on a cave wall. It has been a tool for thought as well as a recording device or preparation for action; fundamental to many human activities. For artists it solves problems, but it is also the most private and personal form of artmaking.

The Drawn Out exhibition at Gallery 139, ending on Sunday, July 22, finds a group of selected artists exploring new ways of finding expressive uses for a wide variety of materials, investigating the power of mark-making in different contexts. 

How a single line can bring to life the human figure is evident in the wiry pen drawings of Cherie Wren. Bruce Roxburgh, too, works with the simple mark, building immersive grids from the build-up of innumerable small strokes in coloured pencil.

In contrast, Camille Kersley and Ben Gallagher use a variety of materials to create complex images, inspired by architecture and the built environment. Camille Kersley’s tiny floor plan grids have the presence of enamelled metalwork, using various resins and saps, charred twigs, coal and handmade inks in tightly controlled evocations of the man-made world.

Ben Gallagher evokes not the floor but the wall in a series of moody black smudges on metal or timber. Some explore the power of the single stroke; others operate in more complex territory with the suggestion of music scores.

The most extreme reinterpretation of drawing comes from the iPad of artist Peter Lankas. His works have no use for the drawn line, but presumably can be categorised as drawings because they involve hand movements to create images of his familiar suburbs by blocks of bright colour.

Maddyson Hatton decorates her ceramic vessels with linear structures in slip, while Jill Orr’s impressions of flowers have the spare energy of an expressive line built up over many years of constant practice. These drawings even suggest the act of drawing with the eyes shut, a completely haptic happening.

Jill Orr has taught generations of art school students to loosen up, to feel free. Her much loved paintings of poppies have always expressed both brevity and fragility.

By coincidence her work is also at cStudios until July 28, with 81 uniformly A4 sized sheets of watercolours arranged in grids. Many feature flowers, sweet peas as well as poppies, painted with swift élan or more carefully detailed. A block of landscapes includes both evocative minimalism and elaborate representation.

The sketchbook scale of Orr’s work suggests a constant activity, as regular as breathing.

Sharing the exhibition is another artist who never stops making work. Jackie Gorring uses her printmaking background to devise a sort of collage of individual images, firmly outlined and brightly coloured. A menagerie of creatures fabricated from op-shop finds reveals more of this fertile creative talent.