Vitamin D2: New Perspectives in Drawing


Photo: Courtesy Phaidon Press

As in the fourteen lines of a sonnet, a few strokes of the pencil can hold immensity.

Dame Laura Knight (1877–1970)

In the world of art, drawing is often perceived as bridesmaid, and painting, the bride. Phaidon’s latest, Vitamin D2: New Perspectives in Drawing, showcases drawing without linking it to painting. The result is a stunning book of over 500 illustrations that would, come to think of it, make a great wedding gift.

Phaidon started its Vitamin series over a decade ago, each instalment providing a global survey of contemporary practice in a given artistic genre. To date, they’ve covered drawing, photography, painting, sustainable design and architecture, and sculpture and installation.

Vitamin D2, the second volume on drawing, focuses on works produced since 2005, highlighting the creations of 115 internationally established artists, rising stars, and artists who made a significant contribution to drawing during this time. The result is a cross-section of works revealing the rich diversity of this practice today in approach, technique and use of materials.

 From painstakingly detailed scenes to abstract explorations rendered in pencil, charcoal, crayon, pastel, ink, watercolour and even digital drawing, the art in Vitamin D2 pushes the boundaries of the craft. Making my way through these pages, looking at what I believed to be a photograph, a collage, a sculpture—and yes, I admit it, a painting—I kept thinking, “This is not a drawing. There is no way this is a drawing!”

The artists were selected by critics and curators from around the world. Canada’s own Shuvinai  Ashoona (b. 1961) of Cape Dorset made the cut; two of her inventive coloured pencil and ink-on-paper drawings appear here. Anyone visiting the National Gallery of Canada this summer will also have a chance to see the collaborative drawing Earth and Sky by Shuvinai Ashoona and John Noestheden, made from pen and black ink, coloured pencil, graphite, collage, and adhered glass crystals on wove paper. You can’t miss it. Literally. Earth and Sky has been reproduced as a 50-metre-long banner hanging above the Colonnade as part of Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art, on view from 17 May to 2 September. The original, smaller drawing is displayed in the special exhibition galleries.

Shuvinai Ashoona and John Noestheden, Earth and Sky (2013), banner, digital print on polyester, 298 x 5184 cm. Site-specific installation, NGC. © Dorset Fine Arts and John Noestheden

The works of Kamloops, B.C. native Aurel Schmidt (b. 1982) also figure in Vitamin D2. Schmidt, who now lives in New York City, creates meticulously detailed drawings incorporating the comical with the tragic or the grotesque, the harsh with the delicate: a woman with long blonde hair, whose face and upper torso are made from cigarette butts, bottle caps and rolled bills; a stick man whose body is a prescription pill bottle; a bouquet of flowers in a crushed beer can on which a butterfly rests. Peering into Schmidt’s universe is unsettling, but her technique is awe-inspiring.

Vitamin D2 is organized alphabetically, and contains summaries on each artist, making it an easy-to-use reference tool. It also includes an in-depth introduction by Christian Rattemeyer, Associate Curator of Drawings at MoMA.

Aesthetically, the book itself is an art object—the design and texture, the weight of it, the paper’s slightly tattered edge. This exploration on current contemporary drawing would make a great addition to any art library, and would also make an impressive coffee table centrepiece. Most importantly, Vitamin D2 inspires creativity for artists and amateurs alike, putting drawing up there on the shelf with the other “higher” art forms, where it belongs.


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