Curator’s Essay

Artistic Inspiration

Drawing is a crucial practice for most artists regardless of their preferred working medium. Artists often work out conceptual ideas or investigate formal, spatial, and color relationships on paper before undertaking work on a grander scale. Such drawings may be carefully rendered or quickly scribbled; they may denote specific dimensions and materials or simply convey an abstract thought. Traditionally, drawings of this nature were regarded as preparatory studies or sketches for paintings, sculptures, or even architecture. Today they are appreciated and accepted as independent works of art. Kramarsky collects many of these “inspirational” drawings, which provide invaluable insight into an artist’s mind and methodology.

Dan Flavin’s drawing Alternate Diagonals of March 2, 1964 (to Don Judd) delineates the configuration and dimensions for one of his austere light sculptures. Flavin’s directives call for an eight-foot “cool white” fluorescent light fixture counterbalanced by 4 four-foot “daylight” bulbs. It is a formal, geometric arrangement to be fabricated of common industrial equipment. The title, however, provides a glimpse into the artist’s personal life (Donald Judd was an early supporter of Flavin’s work). Flavin’s cursive script along the lower edge of the paper complements the linear precision of his drawing. The completed sculpture Alternate Diagonals of March 2, 1964 (to Don Judd) is in the collection of the Dallas Museum of Art.

On a piece of sketch paper torn from its spiral binding, Donald Judd drew Untitled (Galvanized Iron Verticals Painted H-D H-F Blue). Judd’s forthright pencil drawing depicts a freestanding, five-legged sculpture, or “specific object,” to be constructed of iron. Unlike Flavin’s flat rendering, Judd’s geometric colonnade is drawn as a three-dimensional structure, its positive and negative spaces equally articulated and important. Judd’s drawing displays the aesthetic rigor of his sculptural objects, although a few errant lines hint at a sketchier, freehand start. The work is to be painted “H-D H-F Blue;” the initials likely refer to an early 1960s motorcycle color called Harley-Davidson Hi-Fi Blue. Multiple versions of Judd’s Untitled were fabricated, including one owned by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottowa.

The two Richard Serra pieces featured in the exhibition also relate to specific sculptural projects. In Untitled (Preliminary Drawing for L.A. County Museum), Serra notes the construction materials (Corten steel) and dimensions (51” high) for one of his large sculptures. It is not the manufacturing information that makes this drawing significant, but rather the feeling of shape and space that it conveys. Serra’s fluid lines and gracefully curving forms enclose an elliptical space, commanding at any scale. The drawing is direct yet sketchy, by no means a precise engineering design. But in it the seeds of inspiration are sown. The artist’s other drawing, Tilted Arc, is far more conceptual. Four confident strokes of a black oil stick convey the expanding sweep of Serra’s infamous public sculpture. This drawing, which dates from 1986, was made after the work’s installation in lower Manhattan and during the years of civic debate regarding its permanent status (Titled Arc was ultimately dismantled and destroyed in 1989). With this drawing, Serra liberates the sculpture from its location and from the public vitriol. The image, pared to its essence, becomes a strong, but heart-rending, musing.

Robert Smithson’s two drawings, both from 1971, illustrate two monumental, albeit unrealized, earthworks. Asphalt Spiral depicts a spherical pyramid, its earthen foundation supporting three graduated tiers of dirt and seeping asphalt. Smithson renders the organic and synthetic materials in brown and black felt-tip markers. The artist notes that the Spiral’s 15-foot-wide corkscrew road must be “large enough for truck.” Although never constructed, Asphalt Spiral relates in shape and scale to Broken Circle Spiral Hill, built by Smithson in Holland in 1971 (that work measures 75 feet in diameter at its base). While in Holland, Smithson also drew Peat Bog Sprawl after visiting the peat bogs near Emmen. His proposal calls for 34 blocks of peat, each measuring eight feet wide by four feet high by three feet deep. They are randomly angled and arbitrarily sited, creating a labyrinth of positive and negative spaces. Smithson’s sturdy graphite lines reinforce the solidity of form. And yet, without reference to landscape or horizon, the blocks hover in the air, and Smithson’s drawing is transformed into an abstract, geometric composition.

Barry Le Va’s 1968 mosaic collage Wash is a preparatory drawing for a sculpture that was ultimately realized, but in a different configuration. The materials to be used are listed on the drawing itself: red iron oxide, black iron oxide, mineral oil, strips of gray felt, and sheets of glass. Le Va’s graph paper cuttings and puddles of red and black ink recall his densely layered “scatter” installations of the period. While those works were typically sited on the floor, this sculpture seems intended primarily for the wall, as suggested by a single horizontal bar demarcating the change of planes. Wash is a physical force; its disparate elements tread between order and chaos. Saturated colors and agitated black lines evoke energy, while fragments of drawings hint at a pattern, a plan, perhaps even an aerial view of a suburban development (albeit one stained with industrial residue). Like its sculptural counterpart, Le Va’s drawing has no fixed relationships and one expects to find subtle shifts with each viewing.