Studies From The University of Lethbridge Art Collection
February 15 – May 3, 2002
Helen Christou Gallery
Guest Curator: Ryan Doherty
Featuring figurative and landscape studies and sketches by Canadian and international artists.
Studies: Historical and Contemporary
History tends to rather conveniently forget that art making almost never happens instantaneously in a bolt of lightning. Nevertheless, this is the general perception and we pay homage to a long list of those artists seemingly blessed with the innate talent to effortlessly produce only works of unequivocal brilliance. Giotto, Michelangelo, DaVinci, Monet, Picasso, and Warhol are among those artists surrounded by this aura of genius, and while their talent and their influence are undeniable, it has not been without extraordinary effort, dedication and reflection.
This exhibition is intended to expose the often-neglected preparation integral to many of history’s masterpieces, namely, the study. Simply put, a study is a preliminary sketch; a less refined drawing or painting that precedes the finished work. Then again, as this exhibition addresses, a study can be far more than a technical exercise: a study is a product of the pursuit of knowledge and it is the result of attentive scrutiny, examination and contemplation.
Historically, the study appears quick to spot and easy to categorize. The works in this exhibition by Augustus John and James Linnell are easily recognized as figure drawings likely produced directly from a live model. These sketches, however, represent an entrenched tradition of academic art making that was relentless. Students at the Slade School of Art, Augustus John among them, would spend years developing their skills through a meticulous program of studying anatomy and musculature in order to understand the human form from its smallest detail to its most magnificent expression.
The work by Benjamin West or Sir James Thornhill is certainly more than a simple sketch. These allegorical studies are complex investigations of the relationships of forms in space in addition to the scholastic foundations of figure drawing, iconography and history. After careful deliberation and countless failures, these scenes were arranged in a manner that powerfully translates a singular story, woven within the details.
Clearly, the study reflects more than meets the eye. It is also about problem solving and locating the fundamental nature or core of the world around us. Illingworth Kerr used a series of studies to deconstruct the traditional figure drawing and systematically approach an alternate abstracted representation of the figure. Mary Shannon Will used the study to investigate pure abstraction and the relationships of geometry, colour and pattern that would translate accurately and equally in both drawing and sculpture. For Christo, his study is not separated from the product but is inherently a portion of his work as part of its process.
Studies: Historical and Contemporary is not a historical survey that traces the progress of the study. That would imply improvement. The studies in this exhibition span a wide period of time and are as broad in method as in their objective. They are not placed hierarchically because this exhibition intends to expand the very notion of the study, not by concealing the talent hitherto described as genius, but by revealing the struggles, challenges and meditations of the artist which make their work appear as such.
– Ryan Doherty, Guest Curator