Drawing Box -Jean Doyle

Jean Doyle project

It has a page on Facebook without which it could not be what it is.

Soon after her return from her residency in India, Diane Henshaw together with  Andrew Crane, John Crabtree, and Patil Rajendra, started the first Drawing Box that opened in Mumbai (2013). Then it travelled to Belfast (Crescent Arts Centre, April 2013), Enniskillen (The Higher Bridges Gallery, May 2013) and Dublin (Ranelagh Arts Centre July-August 2013). Some future venues are planned in Malaysia, Philippines, Berlin, Lithuania, Slovakia, South Africa, USA, England and Italy.

DB exists because artists love to draw, are prepared to pay the postage, and the hosts are taking on full responsibility for occupying the space offered by the venue. Not in a small way, it exists because of Facebook’s capacity to revitalise the idea of mail art. Drawing Box differs from the Mail Art of the 1970s and 1980s not only due to new technology, but also the governing rules: each artist may submit only five drawings in one format (A5) and can either let the once made choice travel from venue to venue, or submit new work, especially if there was a sale. Moreover, artists may submit their drawings on the Drawing Box Facebook page only, without posting them to exhibitions organised by volunteering hosts in all or any of the listed venues.

Drawing Box further differs from the earlier Mail Art by not having a militant attitude to institutions. Rather, it follows Joseph Beuys’s advice to artists to learn to use any available resources. Northern Ireland has a respectable tradition of this strategy. The earliest were Available Resources in June-July 1991 in Derry-Londonderry, then  25 years  ago started Catalyst Arts Belfast which is still vibrant and strong,  and more recently Delawab,  Satis House and Household yearly event.

Drawing Box puts its trust into the artworks availability to different audiences.

It has no one curator and one venue. It is engaged in enhancing freedom for artist’s determining what they exhibit and where. Its digital (Facebook) branch allows for spontaneous comments of viewers, in some cases a hundred about one work of art. That luxury is denied in the established models. Yes, the weakness is that visitors of the Facebook page respond to a reproduction, their experience is nevertheless real. I have no scientific evidence about the influence of lens based media on the visual perception, nevertheless, films, video, television, newsprint, photo print are forging quantitatively greater part of our experience with visual art and visual thinking than do encounters with the originals in galleries and museums. I am not proposing that one can replace the other, rather I sense a complementary relationship between them.

The DB hosts at Mumbai (Feb-March 2013) published a handsome catalogue, displayed each artist’s submission on a board, and generally instilled the exquisite sensual beauty of attention to detail, material and atmosphere. The subsequent versions were documented online only.  Let me introduce the four artists who hatched the idea.

Patil Rajendra is a painter, teacher and philosopher. I have noticed, in his paintings, the scale of hues like Indian spices, saturating the surface to the highest possible temperature while avoiding any agitation.

Patil Rajendra 201

Generously, he  regularly feeds his new work onto his Facebook page (Patil Rajendra Mumbai Maharashtra India) offering continuity of thought and comparison. Recent images prefer a dramatic state of mind, incisive  conflict of motifs, at times observed, at times invented, floating in front of the abstract ground. Rajendra does not give titles, dates  and sizes.

Andrew Crane trained in graphic design and now allows his paintings and drawings to remember that by embracing fragmented letters and numbers over an abstract ground.

Andrew Crane, a is to b, 2013, cement and mixed media on card, 23×23 in

He wrote “ I see my paintings  as ‘philosophical ramblings’ in paint and cement” He refers to the method that he developed using cement over canvas as a ground cherishing the material’s character, its stubborn refusal to be as smooth as plaster or gesso.

Andrew Crane, much ado, 2013, cement and mixed media on card, 11×10 in

Crane compares his images to koans – puzzles that inspire meditative state of mind.

Diane Henshaw was a devotee of paper and line ever since I met her during her Master Degree study at the University of Ulster in Belfast.

Diane Henshaw Memory drawings

Diane Henshaw, from Memory Drawings, n.d.

Anchoring drawings in music, musical notation included,

Drawing Music Diane Henshaw

Diane Henshaw from Drawing Music series, n.d.

she invites interpretative attention to her images as compositions of full and empty motifs, of linear and curvilinear, of contrasting hues or a hue  modulated by gradual tonality.

Diane henshaw pink

Diane Henshaw from series Drawing.n.d.

Each composition offers several states of mind at once. Strongly defined motifs insist on their visual supremacy refusing to submit to any story telling. Indeed like music. Kandinsky used to envy that freedom from narratives.

From the opening of Drawing Box in Dublin – John Crabtree’s drawings at the top, the lower five by Carl Heyward

John Crabtree explores variations on a theme, as if shadowing the master of the Fugue.

Crabtree Untitled Album

John Crabtree, Untitled Album: Crippled Symmetry

Without intending it, he shares with J S Bach exactitude of a scale which gets almost simultaneously dissolved in a torrent of passion governed by chance and instinct. It is  the art of John Cage and Morton  Feldman that invites Crabtree to feel free, to be free, to follow deeply held beliefs. Cherishing the power of ambiguity the space is defined yet not understandable. He wrote: “I paint to dis-arm myself”. Amazingly, the indetermined characters of blobs, squiggles, signs, imprints, collage etc unconditionally direct the viewing to what he surrended to.

Crabtree, Nostalgia

John Crabtree, Nostalgia for the infinite or something like that

The latest statistics sent to me by Diane Henshaw  lists 108 artists actively taking part in Drawing Box. I struggle to characterised it: it is free of the power of curatorship, of ideology, of celebrities, of the pressures and advantages of dealerships, grants, subsidies etc.  It is freely supported by the artists from all over the globe with quiet confidence and mute enthusiasm that art will find its audience in direct encounters as well as in the mediated ones. The spirit of Facebook forges gentle positive connections without pressure of competitiveness.

Drawing Box is like a diligent pollinator evoking a change from isolation to an exchange capable of forming an encounter based on free will. Good fortune!

About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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6 Responses to DRAWING BOX: 2013

  1. John Crabtree says:

    The Drawing Box experience has left an indelible mark( excuse the pun ) on me – it opened the possibility of mark making again and it has been a total inspiration – I am unable to leave drawing alone nowadays – it revived my love for pictograms and petraglyphs as a source and reference and enduring influence – a big thank you to Di and Slavka and all those behind the scenes for supporting the project and enabling us all to enjoy the platform it has inspired – best wishes John


  2. hyosung pang says:

    drawing is my life.


  3. What an interesting and insightful article – I have yet to experience the drawing box myself but I understand that it exists to create and strengthen bonds between artists and others work, as a collective force of collaboration. I myself have had an idea to create a format which many can be a part of, to tell stories, emotions, thoughts and ideas in their own way. I like that artists can mail their work and others take on the task of curating and organising – becoming symbiotic with each other.

    This article has also reminded me of the importance to draw regularly, recently it has taken a back seat in my life due to the nature of other projects. Thank you.


  4. artspeak2020 says:

    this has been and remains a great experience fostering global art presentation with serious and adventurous artists committed to new modes of making and exhibiting…


  5. Pingback: The Drawing Box – International Art Exhibitions | Allison B. Cooke

  6. Lorna Crane says:

    the experience of participating in The Drawing Box has left me questioning the concept of drawing but more importantly has enriched my process of mark making through the connections to other artists from all over the world


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