Who’s afraid of . . . ? What? Why drawing? And who is afraid of drawing?
Not many of the artists featured in this new show in Canonbury Square, surely? Umberto Boccioni was an influential Futurist painter and sculptor, his most famous work was most probably Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, a seminal and startling piece, produced at the same time as Jacob Epstein’s The Rock Drill. He could draw, and is represented by a sensitive, pen and pencil back-lit portrait of a girl, entitled Controluce from 1910. And Dominico Gnoli can draw, and has two delightful compositions to prove it; one Boat IV, a pen, ink and watercolour, depicts a mournful horse,and has a group of exuberant men in a rickety grandstand observing an apple on a pedestal. We know that Renato Guttuso can draw; stray no further than his illustrations for Elizabeth David’s Italian Food, although he is probably better known for his paintings, the most famous of which is of the street market in Palermo, called La Vucciria. Marino Marini is represented by a solitary pen and ink drawing of his favourite subject matter, a man and his horse. The last exhibition put on at the Estorick was of the works of Fausto Melotti, and there are a pair of pencil sketches of his, alongside two by his friend Lucio Fontana, both of whom studied under the Symbolist sculptor Adolfo Wildt in Milan, who also has a couple of pencil works in the exhibition.
We are told that the title of the exhibition is ‘an ironic rhetorical question that aims to belie the somewhat disparaging perception of drawing.’ Admittedly, it probably does sound better in Italian: Chi ha paura del disegno? The curators do not stop there; they continue their quizzical sub-titles into the galleries themselves: ‘Abstractions?’, Figurations?’, ‘Words + Images = ?’ and ‘What about Sculptors?’ Questions, questions, questions. The ‘Collezione Ramo’ comprises some 600 drawings gathered over the years by Pino Rabolini of only Italian artists working in the 20th century, of which around seventy are represented here. Some critics define works on paper as somehow inferior to painting and sculpture, hence the tentative uncertainty inherent in the title. There are dozens of truly great artists from the Renaissance on, who used drawing, not just as a means to an end, but to an end in itself. One has to look no further than Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Durer, Rembrandt van Rijn and Rubens to verify this. Four hundred years later, Alberto Burri, Alighiero Boetti, Piero Manzoni and Fabio Mauri may not be artists with whom the British public are familiar, but they resonate in Italy, while Boccioni, De Chirico and Lucio Fontana have more of an international appeal. Gianfranco Baruchello’s close friend was Marcel Duchamp, with whom he shared an interest in Surrealism, and he is represented by a box-framed assemblage of doodles, scraps from periodicals and sketchbooks, while Maria Lai, ‘mistress of the phantom thread’, used sewn threads that are literally interwoven with literature and poetry of the traditions and folklore of Sardinia, where she was born in 1919. In a way, Emilio Isgrò is the Italian Tom Phillips, in that he has ‘redacted’ all but two words, era perenne, from a double-page spread of a book using black ink, in much the same way that Phillips has been fiddling around with his Humument for over 50 years. Piero Manzoni, who died tragically young at the age of twenty-nine, eschewed conventional materials, and used Artist’s Shit (Merda d’Artista), packaged in 30-gram tins and sold as a parody on the art market and a comment on consumerism. He is represented by an empty book of stubs. No shit.
Who’s Afraid of Drawing?
Drawings from the Ramo Collection
39a Canonbury Square, London N1 2AN