All things change and drawing is back in vogue. Though this time it's neither a return to Neo-classical order nor Expressionism, but more an emblem of the currently fashionable small scale, minimal budget, low-tech, rough-edged aesthetic. 'Some Drawings: From London' picks up on this increasingly widespread trend, and was suitably installed in a modest-chic manner in two rooms of a half-renovated East End house.
Many of the works were familiar examples of semiotic game play, inverting the show's theme and presenting non-drawings in place of the 'real' thing. Cerith Wyn Evans added a degree of poignancy to this conceptual posturing by submitting a portrait of himself executed in a rather beautiful, soft, chiaroscuro style. Commissioned from one of the itinerant army of portrait artists who work around Leicester Square, it represented a honest response of impotence and capitulation. Liam Gillick persisted with his own particularly droll brand of art, making a prettily coloured geometric pattern, seemingly inspired by 70s wallpaper, and framed slightly askew. Moving a little closer to the idea of conventional drawing were Keith Coventry's delicate designs achieved with a brass rubbing technique. Taken from wheel imprints in melted tarmac, formed by a burnt out car that had been flipped on its side during the 1995 Brixton riots, they put a new spin on the concept of British Heritage.
Doodling as art is Toby Mott's well-rehearsed technique, though the repetitious nature of his work can get, well, a bit repetitious. It's a well worn path of pattern and chance, and Mott adds little to the master doodlers of the past. Still, they do have a decorative quality, as does Damien Hirst's unusually understated small pencil-line spin piece, taken from his 1993 series 'Making Beautiful Drawings'. Here, Hirst shows the same deft control of an economical idea as found in the best of his monumental sculptures.
For those artists searching nostalgically for their lost adolescence, the badly drawn cartoon holds a strong attraction, not least in that it's a no skills required ideology of 'this is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band'. Dave Falconer's Poo Shooter (1996), is a Viz-inspired attempt at transgression, straight out of the bargain basement for tired and outdated humour. In a similar vein, the Chapman brothers continued their campaign of naughtiness by covering a crudely drawn blobby monster with excremental scribbles and expletive annotations. (Though this sounds uncannily like the work of Simon Bill, there's no real comparison with Bill's highly resolved depravity). Set against this background, Angus Fairhurst came across as a veritable Leonardo, his absurdist cartoon sketches brimming with skilful academic tradition.
Neither Paul Noble nor Michael Landy could be accused of making throw-away flippant gestures. Both take an obsessive approach, working intensely on their drawings with a kind of bedsitter introspection. Landy's single page notebooks are denser than a telephone directory, recording an overflow of facts, diagrams and minutiae spilling out from a besieged mind. There's a whole weird world to be found in Noble's drawings. Uh-Oh (1996) is a competent pencil rendering of a humdrum brick wall, filled out with a suggestion of perspective and some nice smudgy shading. However, in close up it can be seen that the mortar is melting and dribbling, there are intrusions of Escher-like hollows and humps, and on the bricks' surface are oozing pores, tiny penis characters and miniature alien animals.
With a few reservations 'Some Drawings...' is a pleasant and amusing show. Perhaps it was weighted too much towards non-practitioners of drawing and their ironic displacements of the medium, particularly when there are other interesting artists out there making drawings as an integral part of their art. I think we already know that a packet of pork sausages can be a drawing. But what, ultimately, do we learn from that?