Luck of the drawing
One great thing about art is the range of opportunities it provides to communicate all those thoughts, musings, ideas, unmarked trails to ideas, theoretical miscellany, and all the amorphous, hard-to-pinpoint mental minutiae that has no other place to go, all that stuff that falls through the cracks of other disciplines but is too interesting or insightful to ignore.
Often, artists tumble these otherwise uncategorized ideas and thoughts—let’s call them “A” for short—around in their minds for years or decades. They get revised and refined and can evolve into their own new systems of visual elements, into individual languages of shapes, colors, marks and what-have-you that communicate something precise and hard to quantify where words just weren’t going to do the trick. Let’s call the tangible object that usually results from that process “B.”
There are a lot of good ways to get from A to B. The routes could be circuitous, curlicued or tangled and still be effective.
German artist Jorinde Voigt goes straight from A to B. The marks she makes on paper—anywhere from poster size to bed-sheet size to larger—are direct records of the things she observes. She’ll perceive, say, a person walking or the pulse of music or an eagle in flight. Then she’ll draw each movement, not to depict what it looks like, but to make a record of each individual motion the subject makes, each wingstroke, each step.
In her Berlin studio, Voigt unrolls huge pieces of paper onto the floor and crouches over them with a compass, a straight edge and colored pencils. Some of her drawings look like topo maps a seismometer might make if it had secretly come awake one night, like a stuffed animal in a nursery when no grown-ups are watching, and decided it wanted to think for itself. Others, from Voigt’s pre-color phase, look like something you might see on a blackboard in a physics lab. They might come off as obtusely cerebral if their painstaking execution weren’t so intensely graceful.
“I always knew I wanted to do this,” Voigt recently told Crane TV. “For me it was never clear it was fine art.” It was just how she wanted to record things.
For a time, she worked in photography, adding extra steps between A and B, which she realized she didn’t need.
She explained in the same interview, “I stopped photographing and decided to just write down the reasons I wanted to photograph, and instead just write down the situation. I like to look at the structure of things and not at the visual impression outside.”
Voigt say that as she draws, half her decisions about where to place lines are predesigned and half are spontaneous. When she starts a piece, she’s not sure what it will look like in the end. She always works in a calm state of mind, cranks the music at full volume, and gives way to the rhythms of her subject.
The drawings end up with the similar mix of chaos and precision you’d find just about anywhere in nature, where everything adheres to rules, but the rules seem mysteriously governed.
Looking at her work is like listening to a conversation in a language you haven’t studied, but if you tune in you can intuit the gist.
Voigt’s drawings, which are collected by the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Pompidou in Paris, fit right in between the disciplines of science and language, but aren’t quite either. Hers is a highly personalized form of drawing, yet it does a job only drawing could do.