Joan Witek on Richard Serra

“I understood that drawing was like writing in another language. I have never felt that drawing per se is inadequate as a device, even though I’m aware of its limitations and conventions. As an activity it is sufficient within itself and as such has nothing to do with any other mental or physical activity. It is the most conscious space in which I work. Drawing gives me an immediate return for my effort and the result is commensurate with my involvement. The give and take is instantaneous.”

This last quote is from Richard Serra’s writing on his beginning perceptions and awareness of his life as an artist. As a young boy he felt his drawing was part of an interior life which his parents supported – that other language. In the evening after dinner, he made drawings on butcher paper, an experience he calls an organizing of his perceptions.

This drawing is one of two drawings in the Kramarsky Collection of the same date, 1971. The other, Untitled (Study for “To Encircle Base Plate Hexagram, Right Angles Inverted”), is a representation of a work once imbedded in the ground at 183rd Street and Webster Avenue in the Bronx. That piece was dated 1970.

Serra has said that “I never make drawings for sculptures, but there are a few bird’s-eye-perspective sketches and ‘preliminary drawings.’” His works on paper are mostly studies made after a sculpture has been completed. The shapes in the drawing originate in a glimpse of a volume, a detail, an edge, a weight.

The drawing shown here of an unrealized sculpture could fit very well with Serra’s statement about his sculptures: “There is no closure to the experience. There is no hierarchy of views, no center, no inside, no outside. There is no single privileged location from which best to understand the work. Space and time become functions of each other. Space and movement become inseparable from each other.”

And he finishes with, “This is probably the least known aspect of my work but it may be the most consequential.”

There is a rich historical arc following the great American sculptors from Augustus Saint-Gaudens to David Smith to Richard Serra.

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