“Find drawings by two artists who work in contrasting ways: from tight rigorous work to a more sketchy, expressive style …”
Michael Landy and Tracey Emin are Young British Artists (YBAs) and will continue to be so long after they are old and grey. Both are well know for their variety of art works – Landy most notably for Break Down, a performance piece in which he destroyed all his possessions (all 7,227 of them, including early drawings), while Tracey Emin is best known for My Bed which was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1999. However, both draw.
Following Break Down, Landy did not produce any new work immediately but then started drawing weeds, firstly on paper then on copper plates. The resulting set of twelve etchings called Nourishment are all meticulous, life-sized studies of individual weeds the artist found growing in the street.
According to the Tate website, Landy explained why he was drawn to these ‘street flowers’. “They are marvellous, optimistic things that you find in inner London … They occupy an urban landscape which is very hostile and they have to be adaptable and find little bits of soil to prosper.” Landy collected a number of these plants and took them back to his studio where he potted and tended them, making studies of their structures including detailed renderings of roots, leaves and flowers.
Going from a major performance piece to delicate flower drawings which “refer back to artists of the Renaissance, such as Albrecht Dürer, as well as to botanical illustrators of more recent centuries” (Tate) may seem quite a leap. However, Julian Stallabrass has pointed out, ‘the depicted weeds act metaphorically, standing in for the urban underclass – similarly mobile, mongrel and diasporic.”
As well as her frequently obscene self-portrait drawings, Tracey Emin, the Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy, has also produced some drawings linked with the natural world though she usually draws birds. During 2012, she produced one which was for the cover of the Tube Map in London.
Jonathan Jones describes the ‘sweet design’ for the map: “The central line and a fragment of the northern line have metamorphosed into branches of a tree, with a bird perched among the leaves. Meanwhile, the entire network is reduced solely to Emin’s personal use of it … It’s a cheerily subjective version of the tube map, from which you instantly form a picture of Emin’s personal London, which apparently is all art and shops.” He goes on “It shows why Emin is such a straightforwardly good artist, when it comes down to it. Her subjective map of the underground is funny, nicely drawn, touching and yet lightly expresses a sophisticated understanding of maps as fictional visions of place.”
The Tube Map was issued to coincide with the 2012 London Olympics. Emin also produced a drawing which was used as a poster in conjunction with the Paralympics.
If I have one complaint about Emin’s work is that she signs her prints near the edge which means that when one’s wife buys some of her work, they are difficult to frame as surrounding mounts are not possible. But that is just a personal whinge! This cartoon by Peter Duggan about the YBAs has nothing to do with this research, but I just think it’s funny!