In the ecosystem of art mediums, works on paper were once overlooked but no more. Prints, drawings, watercolours and collages – once sidelined as studies or sites of experimentation – are now reaching the forefront of collector consciousness. In recent years international art fairs, art awards and exhibitions dedicated to the medium have sprung up, causing collectors, gallerists, curators and art lovers to pay attention.
At the precipice of desirability and accessibility, the time is ripe to invest. Not only a fecund opportunity, works on paper often possess their own kind of magic: an intimacy and immediacy that is rare in a world of screens and spectacle. Welcome to the rich and giving world of works on paper.
From the artist’s mind
One of the unique attractions of drawing is how immediate it is to an artist’s process. An almost automatic compulsion, putting pencil to paper can be a way for an artist to record the ideas, events and feelings that populate their life.
When the Blackman family relocated to London in 1965, Charles entered his ‘Golden-Era for Drawing’. Indeed, flushed with the intense newness moving abroad entails, he took fervently to his notebook and Rotring pen, capturing the people and sights that struck him most.
The fruits of this period are dappled with unexpected complexities. In ‘Interior’ you see Charles formulating his thinking around interiors, a concept that refers to both physical and psychic space. In the background he draws a window – a metaphoric tool for both looking out at and segregating the external world. This duality, immersed yet distanced, recalls how it feels to be homesick.
Works on paper can be deceptively technical. An example is Adrienne Gaha’s ‘Reclining Male Nude’, a large charcoal on paper that is so beautifully rendered it looks like silk. Caught between figurative and abstract, liquid and still, spontaneous and considered, Gaha’s work is like a mirage. This restlessness is as much an aesthetic as it is an existential insight. The artist invites speculation, delighting in the dance of interpretation.
To different affect, Anne Marie Hall also explores the possibilities of charcoal on paper. In ‘The Couple’ she draws two figures surrounded by shadows. Unlike traditional nudes these bodies are awkward, their faces twisted by some unknown thought. Hall is interested in the psychological reality of her subjects; it is as though she has peeled back a facade to reveal something uneasy.
As the former wife of the talented yet troubled John Perceval, Hall understands relationship dynamics with great acuity. Against an abstracted black background, her couple hurtles through space. The use of charcoal – dark, uncontrollable and prone to the dramatic – is not incidental.
Anne Marie Hall, 'The Couple'
An art critic once described works on paper as a narrative, not a tool. That an artist elects to draw or print their vision can be the key to understanding their work – it’s a plot point in the story of their practice.
As for the medium’s growing popularity among collectors and alike, perhaps its intimacy and accessibility is responsible. Or perhaps there is a nostalgia to art on paper – a salve to an age where screens feel omnipresent. Either way, the best works on paper won't remain as undiscovered as they are now, so why not make your own discovery.