Often in drawing, one uses a graphite pencil or stick of charcoal to make an image on the page. This drawing session was different. I asked my students to spread charcoal across the entire surface of their paper, and use an eraser as their only tool. Observing simple white objects set on the table in front of them, the students carved highlights out of the dark space, bringing the three dimensional image to life on their paper. As I demonstrated, one student remarked that it was almost like watching me sculpt the object rather than draw it.
This brings me to an acquaintance I made a few years ago, whose name is Matthew Woodward. He is a Chicago-based artist, but we met at a residency, and I had the chance to walk into his studio during open studio hours. Graphite dust covered the walls and floors, where he had been working on a massive reductive drawing that reached from floor to ceiling. I happened to be alone in the room, and I was awestruck. While I do not remember the exact title of the piece he was working on, it was based on architectural details found on the streets of Chicago, which were then translated in his work. This is an example of what was happening in his studio.
Later in the evening, Matthew and I shared a conversation in my studio. I had also been working in reductive imagery, but in printmaking, and on a much smaller scale. We shared a conversation about our love of light on forms, and the beauty of pulling an image out from the darkness. There was an overlap in our stories, our experience of loss, and the need to make work about it. This is what was happening in my studio.
The following excerpt is taken from an interview by Damien James, titled “More than a Whisper in the Ear: An Interview with Matt Woodward and Linda Warren” in 2011.
In describing his process, Matt says,”I begin sanding into the surface. Actually, what I do is not so much sanding into the surface as it is beating the hell out of the surface. I’ll drag whatever I can find across it and throw things at it and generally get into a fight with it until it starts to let go of its face a little and dissolve out. I do this is because of the graphite; the paper is going to record just about everything I do to it, and when I get around to laying the graphite powder down it’s going to sneak into all of these grooves and tears and make what it is I have done to it into a more visible mark. It’s also going to make itself difficult to get out again. And, of course, it’s then that I go about trying to get it out again. I start scraping and sanding and erasing or getting it wet and pulling it out however I can. Sometimes I’ll add more paper to the surface, over the graphite and get back into it and repeat the process.”
Woodward continues, “I’ve taken these objects, these images and I have put them in the dark, in the graphite bed that I have made for them. And, if you’ll humor my analogy a moment, after this I then begin to pull them back out. I do that by applying light to the object, by erasing the graphite out of the surface. It’s really your traditional reductive drawing, and in this way, I think, reductive drawing has more in common with a sculptural idiom, an architectural idiom than you might expect. I am letting the light of the image, which is the light of the paper – the paper that is buried beneath the graphite – signify the things presence by pulling and carving it out of the surface. It’s very much like a relief.”
Do you remember ever being so inspired by something that it took your breath away?
You can see more of these images at mattwoodward.com.