In the Line of Fire

We propose a journey through a series of works and artists that, through drawing, have an impact on the individual and current society, with approaches that start from the ironic, the grotesque and the satirical, reflecting in parallel on the practice and the agents that intervene in the process. art, through the use of caricature, renewing and updating the genre, which has its roots in Goya and Hogarth.

Thus, a series of artists arose who, since the 1970s, began to use drawing with common aesthetic elements, without being located in a specific geographical center or belonging to the same generation. All of them seek to move away from the mannerism present in the world of plastic arts and recover for it the most basic of its function, communication.

This is how Matt Mullican, one of the artists we will select, tells it when he mentions that he used drawing because of the pressure exerted then, in the early seventies, on younger artists by the conceptual and minimalist currents of art. The desire to escape labels.

It should not be forgotten that drawing can be used as a global visual language when verbal communication fails. For this, they look for models or are inspired outside the traditional channels and media of art, being the influence of the comic, the comic strip or the world of children’s illustration the most frequent in these artists, without forgetting the world of the media or popular music, with constant nods to art with a capital letter. They also look towards satire and caricature that originated in the 18th century, especially in relation to the events that occurred during the French Revolution, and its peak in the 19th century, which Valeriano Bozal has called “The century of cartoonists”. ”. It will be in that century when Charles Baudelaire publishes two essays in relation to the caricatural; in 1855 he On the essence of laughter and in general of the comic in the plastic arts and in 1857 Some foreign caricaturists, where among others he points out the works of Hogarth and Goya. On the latter he comments he;

Goya’s great merit consists in creating the monstrous believable. His monsters have been born viable, harmonious. No one has ventured like him in the direction of the possible absurdity. All those contortions, those bestial faces, those devilish grimaces are imbued with humanity.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Fuendetodos, 1746 – Bordeaux, 1828)

The absurd and the grotesque will therefore be fundamental elements in the works of these artists, to provoke laughter, humor and irony in the viewer, to bring to light what remains hidden and repressed, and that thanks to this humorous component, we can bear its pathos. From this point of view, the words of David Shrigley are clarifying:

The idea that humor and seriousness are irreconcilable in art is a very common misunderstanding. The opposite of humorous is not serious, but sad.

From the formal point of view, and as a direct influence of the comic, there are three elements that stand out to a greater or lesser extent in these artists:

  • The interrelation and complementation between word and image. Many times the first being a graphic element at the same level as the image.
  • The schematic nature of the drawing, precisely to underline the significant element for each occasion. The graphic line as a syntactic element.
  • Various levels of caricature (see Scott McCloud) according to the various searches for significance.

Another important element is the white space that surrounds and occupies a large part of the composition. The white background, according to art historian Norman Bryson, acts as a reserve, a blank space from which the images “perceptually present but conceptually absent” emerge. For Benjamin, white space is a defining element of drawing compared to painting, it is where the graphic line is activated. This is how he defines it in his essay Painting, or signs and brands (1917).

Many artists today are exploring the special qualities most often associated with drawing: its narrative and anecdotal potential, its inherent subjectivity, its leanings toward the popular and vernacular. Artists have found a refuge by moving away from the rigors of conceptualism, post-structuralism, and critical theory. Therefore, there has been an explosion of drawing based on the aesthetics of an apparent return to the expression of emotion, experience and feeling or on the distinctive reinvestment of the unique authorial voice. Perhaps specifically due to drawing’s critical and theoretical invisibility during the 1980s, and its consequent long-standing status of humility, it provided the terrain for artists to explore hitherto repressed notions of authenticity and expression, narrative, the untamed, and the irrational.

Matt Mullican (Santa Monica, California, USA, 1951)

Within the current of artists who have recently been called “The Pictures Generation” from an exhibition held in 1977 by Douglas Crimp at the Artists Space in New York entitled “Pictures” and which has been revisited again in a Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition in 2009.

Artists who have as a common denominator the appropriation of images in the rampant era of consumerism and the media, who have been developing their works since the seventies and who came from the California Institute of Art.

This is the case of Mullican who finished his training at that institution in 1974, but already exhibited individually at Project Inc. in Boston in 1973, from which time he has been constantly present on international circuits.

Drawing is once again the most authentic and direct way to express oneself about the “consumer culture” in which we are immersed. As Benjamin points out, it is not a window to the world, but an instrument to understand our place within the Universe.

Dan Perjovschi (Shibiu, Romania, 1961)

Belonging to a generation of Romanian artists and intellectuals who lived under the Caucescu dictatorship, and later the democratization of the country through the 1989 revolution, Perjovschi lives a post-traumatic situation fostered by communism to which is added his insertion into a Europe where unbridled capitalism already reigned. Both elements will define Perjovschi’s way of looking at reality, amazed at how this consumerism acts in the countries of Romania’s European environment, and how these countries see the incorporation of their country into it. The danger of Romania being devoured by them.

He uses a drawing that becomes independent of the paper to expand it on the walls and floors of exhibition spaces, pavilions like the one at the Venice Biennale in 1999, always with an ephemeral and transitory character, with a large temporal component of the image. As he himself points out “I feel that my work is unfinished, as if I were making a single piece”

David Shrigley (Macclesfield, UK, 1968)

David Shrigley is another of the protagonists of current drawing with a strong ironic charge in his images. Trained as an artist at the Glasgow School of Art from 1988 to 1991, he studied with Jonathan Monk, both of whom were interested in post-conceptual strategies and popular culture with reference to the American artist Mike Kelley. Although his work has a large drawing component, it permeates other media such as photography (on which he draws), sculpture and animation.

His drawings, which are based on a principle of economy, lead us to place them within the field of caricature. He tries to exclude all unnecessary figurative elements, where the presence of the text is paramount, being on the same plane as the image and without a defined space within the representation, as it is for example in traditional comics. Many times in Shrigley’s drawings the text is converted into an image. As in Perjovschi, he works in disjunction with the image, generating humor precisely between the friction of the two components.


If you are interested in the subject we suggest some readings

Scott McCloud, Entender el cómic. Bilbao, Astiberri Ediciones, 2014

Emma Dexter, Vitamin D : New Perspectives in Drawing. London ; New York : Phaidon, 2005

David Shrigley, Pero ¿qué coño estás haciendo? Barcelona, Blackie Books, 2011