Art, and more specifically visual art has always been a popular means to record and depict historical and political events. Even more so to emphasize and critically comment on any type of economic, political, or social iniquities. Drawing History Painting
raises questions how something, that exceeds human imagination in all its dimensions like the European migrant crisis can be translated into art. The exhibition explores how an event, which forced millions of people to flee their countries of origin, trying to make their way into Europe to seek refuge, can be represented in a purely aesthetic format such as abstract drawing? Presuming that representational history painting has an agenda or a corrupted message, Connearn’s abstract drawings occupy another space on the border of control and uncontrollability, of intention and subjectivity. As the artist states, “History and its painting must lie, in the way that memory can and news media does.”
David Connearn’s latest series Refuge, consisting of four large works and a number of smaller size Studies, deals with these issues as well as with questions concerning responsibility, participation, denial and erasement. The abstract works, which carry Connearn’s trademark of parallel lines drawn freehand from top to bottom of each sheet of paper, emerged from the confrontation with the inhuman conditions in which the refugees lived in the reception camps in Calais. Colourful lines as representatives for the unmanageable number of refugees in the camp, which are then imposed with black or white acrylic ink in an act of obliteration. With this series, after many years of mainly drawing in black and white, Connearn, who has hitherto refrained from applying colour in order to avoid the risk of being too decorative, started to use coloured acrylic inks, inspired by the flags of the Calais refugee camp. The superimposition of colour and black and white ink in turn introduces new aspects of layering and grading to his minimal scheme. Colour and drawing-over have been adopted to offer an allegorical reading, itself a pointer towards the emotional register of the thinking that remains in silence behind the work.
Signata works in a similar way. The large drawing is composed of 1.000 signatures, again blackened out to result in a dense, black structure, that leaves the spectator slightly uneasy. Connearn is not only commenting on the danger of disregard and the act of oblivion, but is also raising questions such as: What does it mean to make a gesture? To leave a signature, a mark?
Herein lies the power of Connearn’s works in Drawing History Painting. They allow us to consider the terrible atrocities we are confronted with from an abstracted, philosophical point of view. At the same time the works raise topics of involvement, commitment and responsibility in a highly personalised approach.