September 25, 2023

Drawing and what? Notes from Shanghai by Anne Murray

It seems rare to see a show of just drawings- the lush efforts of a pencil line across paper or an ink pen, are things I remember from art school, where I learned to appreciate the subtlety of lines across paper, but in contemporary terms, drawing gets the short end of the stick.

Drawing and what an exhibit at IFA Gallery, takes a risk and pushes the ideals of drawing to the forefront, even including pieces that are impressions of images made on paper with invisible lines.  How is this possible? Well, we have all drawn on a notepad, torn the page off and seen the impression of what we wrote previously in a white indent.  Take this idea and then flip the paper over and you have the works of Zane Mellupe, her drawings are an ingenious mixture of the ideals of printmaking and drawing together, an impression made on paper with a pencil, but without any color at all- a pencil trace drawing.  One wants to touch them, press on them, but they are behind glass.  Wonderful impressions of cityscapes and figures within these drawings , seem to be traces of something, an echoing of what happened somewhere, conveying a message of investigative inspiration, a need to look further on a path.

Zhu Ye IFA Gallery photo by Anne Murray
Zhu Ye IFA Gallery photo by Anne Murray

Zhu Ye takes another step using wood to draw, or rather using lines in wood made with printmaking tools.  She was inspired from learning woodblock printing, and loved the plates themselves and experimented with how the textured lines engraved in wood looked with surface areas painted instead of inked.  Are these drawings?  Yes, somehow they are, they feel and mimic and justify line as a form that might just come off of the page and burnish you.  Zhu Ye explains that in the past she made sculpture, taking inspiration from the idea that line could become physical three dimensional form passing through a room.  She has a studio in the heart of M50, former warehouses turned into art galleries and studios here in Shanghai, now the hub of the Shanghai art scene. Upstairs at IFA Gallery,  she has some works that are more figurative, lines on paper cutouts of figures in tan, white and black, these are gentle renderings curiously posed and placed next to each other in a suggestive way, although it is unclear what they are suggesting, but there is something there indeed.  There is a clean and crisp line and form in these works that are somehow elegant and awkward in the same moment.  She is from Shanghai, but studied in the UK and her influences from studying Chinese painting and experiencing contemporary art in Europe, show through.  She is also dating Christophe Demaitre, another artist in the show, and there is a relationship in their work as they both use figures shaped through line and subtle colors, but they are quite different.

Christophe Demaitre Unreadable dance 2011 mixed media drawing
Christophe Demaitre Unreadable dance 2011 mixed media drawing

Demaitre is from Belgium and his work uses figures over a ground to tell stories, secret ones, it seems.  Unlike Zhu’s images, Demaitre paints and draws his figures over a surface of pages from books.  He uses black ink to create shadow shapes and flowing lines overtop of these pages as though they are unrelated, one just moving across another, an ant travelling across a page. Demaitre’s work is drawing with fluidity, ink on a background of printed  paper.  It is familiar, but there is a graphic quality that makes one think of logos at times and at others something more sensitive and natural.  His piece, Unreadable Dance, is a combination of gestures almost splashed across the pages of a book, they are just about to move out of the scene in a vivid expression of drawing as a fluid moment attempting to capture the human form.

Wang Xiangdong’s work is traditional in technique, but quite innovative, portraying images of creatures within condoms row upon row.  Xiangdong places everything from fish and mice to little people inside carefully drawn lines of condoms.  It is a provocative series, nonsensical, surrealist, lush with delicate lines and details, showing yet another facet of the art of drawing.

Wang Xiaofeng Bust series Massage Table photo by Anne Murray
Wang Xiaofeng Bust series Massage Table photo by Anne Murray

The show includes other artists such as Wang Xiaofeng, who uses cutouts and patterns drawn with ink to create juxtapositions of both materials and form. A  particularly amusing image is a carefully portrayed drawing of a massage table, an important part of the Shanghai expat culture, and an interesting form placed in contrast to dotted lines of ink.


This show is a tribute to drawing and all of its potential manifestations in a myriad of materials with a dramatic variation in content.

by Anne Murray


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