Jerwood Drawing Prize – Jerwood Space, London

This review was first published on this is tomorrow

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Drawing, I’ve heard, is the medium no artist can ever hide behind. A decent one is the most open, uninhibited extension of a practitioner’s thoughts, and nothing reveals a lack of rigour more easily than cruddy hatching or an overworked line.

The Jerwood Drawing Prize, now in its twenty first year and one of the most visited shows in the Jerwood Foundation’s programme, aims to showcase the diversity of the medium as it’s practiced today. Sixty drawings by fifty eight artists have been shortlisted for the final exhibition, and jury members Dexter Dalwood, Salima Hashmi and John-Paul Stonard have made sure the selection is as broad and reflective of current activity as ever – from fastidious biro landscapes and carefully carved patterns to three-dimensional drawings in space and scribbled texture on the back of a frying pan.

The two prize winners bear more than a passing mention. Tom Harrison, the London-based Royal Drawing School student who won first prize, has produced the soft and superbly atmospheric ‘From Andrew’s Flat, Singapore’ (2015). He’s managed to get across the jostle and distinctive combination of jungle and architectural line of his elevated view of the tiny city state, all rendered in the kind of tentative pencil sketching (immediately reminiscent of the Singaporean pollution haze that any visitor will remember) that we were all told off for using in GCSE art classes.

Elina Alaluusua took second place for her video piece ‘Unconditional Line’ (2015) – a meditation on travel that the artist describes as a ‘video drawing’. Plotting yellow lines on a runway and the shadows of a moving aeroplane’s wing, all set to an improvised cello score, this is reminiscent of the visual investigations into line and movement of the earliest video artists – contemporary in its subject matter and timeless in its patient exploration of it.

Web addicts will be familiar with Welsh artist Lee John Phillips’ submission. ‘The Shed Project: Volume 1’ (2014 – 15) was all over the internet like a bewitching rash earlier in the year, and it was a joy to see it in the flesh. Phillips’ meticulously drew and catalogued every single object in his late grandfather’s tool shed. So far he’s logged over 4000 objects – rows of screws, nuts, cellophane packets, bottles of glue – out of an estimated total of 80 000. An unbelievably neat exercise in grief, patience and industry that is truly hypnotising.

2013 winner Gary Lawrence was inspired to create ‘Santorini Polaroid’ (2015) after seeing a fellow visitor using an increasingly rare Polaroid Instamatic camera on a trip to the Greek island. He’s drawn the most hackneyed of Santorini’s tourist shots in red biro on a large sheet of light-sensitive paper, and the result feels like a giant, luridly pink, disposable postcard that sooner or later will fade to nothing.

Conceptually, the prize could, I think, push its definition of the medium even further. It is, after all, the way artists of all ilks track their thoughts, and by that logic there’s no reason it has to include line or mark-making to be considered a ‘drawing’ as such. There’s a lovely breadth to the works here, though, and fans of the prize will certainly find something to lap up.

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