Review: Jerwood Drawing Prize 2014 Exhibition at The Tetley

By February 13, 2015

Art & Photography. Leeds.

[Images courtesy of The Tetley]


As Pablo Picasso once said, “art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”.
Now whilst that’s all well and good, what then replaces it with can vary considerably: from a redeeming fairy dust of ameliorative enlightenment and critical engagement, to nightmarish gritty hells of imponderable philosophising and mind-numbing contemplative ruts. And, as can be said for many things, too much exposure can ultimately be good – the satisfying after-burn of a worthwhile intellectual workout – or bad – the relentless stitch or cramp that grinds everything to a halt.

Over the past 20 years, the Jerwood Drawing Prize seems to have established a reputation as being a firm provider of both.

Arguably the most prestigious and contentious award of its kind, the Jerwood is the largest and longest-running annual open exhibition for drawing in the UK. Each year through selected artists’ work, the show champions a breadth of excellence within contemporary drawing practice, and the prize’s current instalment at The Tetley is the only opportunity to catch the tour in North of England.


Jerwood at The Tetley.Hannah Downing. (400x267)
[Zoe Maslen, The Absents Presence, Hair Drawing, 2014]


This year’s exhibition, comprising 51 drawings from 46 artists, selected from 3,234 submissions, is again not without its surprises. Alison Carlier won the £8,000 prize with a 1 minute 15 second audio work entitled Adjectives Lines and Marks, which she describes as an “open ended audio drawing, a spoken description of an unknown object”. Brilliant or eye-rolling, it unquestionably augments Jerwood’s forensic endeavour to champion an expansive understanding of drawing and its location within contemporary art – from printing to video, sound, text, voice, and even the process of contemplation itself or the processing of information.

Of course, that’s not to propose that drawing as ideologically perceived is of smaller significance here, for once again it forms the basis of the Jerwood display, exhibiting an abundance of exquisite draughtsmanship and experimental practice. Freya Gabie presents an intriguing and refined depiction of floral caravan wallpaper in a captivating transformation of the regimented kitsch into a dynamic and animated work of the hand. Gary Edwards offers a compelling graphite study “building up layers of graphite, working and reworking, adding and taking away, creating histories of mark making”. With Vertical Panorama: Oak Tree, Hannah Downing discusses her fascination with the ways in which reality is perceived in images. Her large graphite drawing sits proudly on a continuous roll of paper, extending from the height of the wall and out into the space of the floor, one of three selected works adopting this format. The reasoning for this is unclear, with the paper on the floor appearing to be blank, but its seductive detail is meticulous and satisfying.


Jerwood.The Tetley. Hannah Downing
[Hannah Downing, Vertical panorama: Oak tree, 2013]


Dr Janet Mckenzie, one of this year’s selectors, writes:

“The drawings chosen stood out by virtue of their capacity to move the viewer emotionally and metaphysically.”

They also had a discernible candour and resonance that distinguished them from vast range of other word”. Such frankness in art is by all means refreshing; yet such plain dealing can be met with raw bulkiness, not so much in terms of the physicality of the work but its metaphysical setting, and some works here feel somewhat unrealised. Such is the nature of open exhibitions. But each work undoubtedly solicits new socio-aesthetic contracts and relationships, proposing alternative modes of engagement with objects, individuals and thought.

“Drawing is undergoing a resurgence,” writes this year’s winner Alison Carlier. As the exhibition shows, that is surely true – but it’s beginning to feel somewhat inaccurate to discuss something so increasingly vast and diversified as one singular movement. As such, the Jerwood Drawing Prize represents what is happening across and within drawing, not what is happening to drawing.


Daniel Newton


The Jerwood Drawing Prize Exhibition is running at The Tetley from 16th January – 1st March 2015. For further details about the prize and the tour, visit the website.