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Performative drawing

Roy Ananda

Roy Ananda is an Adelaide-based visual artist whose work was included in Primavera 2004 (MCA, Sydney).

Thomas Buchanan, Paul Rohan, Viewing Point (video still), 2005 Thomas Buchanan, Paul Rohan, Viewing Point (video still), 2005
The work of Adelaide artist Thomas Buchanan hovers curiously between states. At first glance it seems firmly grounded in the traditions of representational drawing and painting. However, by colliding this mode with performance, video and animation, Buchanan manages to work both at the edges of drawing practice and within a traditional idiom.

In 1999, motivated by a passion for drawing and an ethic of accessibility, Buchanan began making drawings live in several of Adelaide’s nightclubs, accompanying bands, DJs and electronic musicians. Working on an ambitious scale, he creates ferocious drawings that resonate with the club environment and reflect the artist’s love affair with mark-making, gesture and rich, charcoal-dusty materiality. These drawings are held in a constant state of flux, erased and reworked until the last moment when the artist walks away. The drawings exist parallel to the music which is by nature ephemeral and experienced in the moment. The drawings are often perceptual, depicting their immediate surroundings, but frequently feature invented architectural spaces, like the work of Giovanni Piranesi re-imagined in an urban framework. Buchanan is aware of this lineage and also cites Jeffrey Smart and Edward Hopper as influences, evident in his definitively urban aesthetic and subject matter. However, the artist’s live drawing in particular suggests that the real subject of Buchanan’s work is drawing itself. His frenetic mark-making, fuelled by hundreds of visual decisions per minute, recalls artists like Frank Auerbach, Alberto Giacometti and Cy Twombly.

Early in his practice as a ‘performance drawer’ (for want of a better phrase), Buchanan began documenting the club sessions on video. He has since extended the video aspect beyond documentation into short films that act as adjuncts to his drawings, as well as being works in themselves. The videos are collaborative affairs, his primary partner being digital artist and filmmaker Paul Rohan. The videos also feature soundtracks from the bands that Buchanan accompanies in Adelaide’s clubs: in a nice reversal the musicians compose music to complement the drawings.

Using very simple and direct techniques, video works such as Viewing Point and Transition explore the artist’s fascination with drawing as a time based activity. The archaeological quality of Buchanan’s drawings, densely layered with strata of decisions and marks, suggest that for him, time is as much a material in his work as paper and charcoal. The medium of video has allowed the artist to manipulate elements of time, dissecting his process and compressing the evolution of a drawing over several days into a single event. Both the aforementioned video works have been edited to operate as loops and the films are cyclical in both form and content.

In Viewing Point a split-screen, time-lapse sequence shows Buchanan creating a large scale, heavily worked charcoal drawing, which then plays backwards to return to a pristine sheet of paper. In Transition, the artist ‘draws’ a line around Adelaide by filming a circular journey through the city, arriving back at his starting point. Interestingly, the loop is also the building block of much of the music that features in the videos and that fuels Buchanan’s live drawings.

The Transition DVD also shows Buchanan’s drawings passing through the filter of video and coming out the other side. The work segues between moving images, stills and transcriptions into charcoal drawings. In shifting these images from video stills to drawing, Buchanan carefully transcribes the properties of the video–the focus, resolution, light conditions and so on–into drawing terms. In other words, the quirks and imperfections inherent in the video inform the drawing in a rigorous and meaningful way.

There is a strong sense that Buchanan is entering a new cycle of work, one that seems to be propelling him directly to the heart of his concerns with space, mark-making and the conventions of drawing. In the self-produced documentary/promotional video Fusion, his friend and mentor Christopher Orchard speculates on future directions in Buchanan’s work and predicts that the artist will "probably walk into one of his own drawings and just wave as he passes through the picture plane." During a recent visit to his studio, Buchanan excitedly described to me his upcoming video work Detour, in which he plans to do just that. Informed by William Kentridge’s remarkable films, 7 Fragments for George Méliès, Buchanan uses animation to enter his own work, playfully confusing real space with the notionally illusionistic space of his drawings.

Other works currently in progress include paintings–or perhaps more accurately, drawings in paint–on perspex, enabling the artist to view his surroundings through the drawing surface. This allows him to play further with space, transcribing the environment in a very direct way, while all the time watching for the slippages and nuances that cause the work to shift.

In testing his drawing practice in so many varied ways and in collision with so many other modes of working, Thomas Buchanan takes on the role of a speculative thinker, searching out an elusive synthesis of disciplines, media and sensory experience. Throughout this search he is constantly asking ‘how many states can the thing exist in?’. He answers this question with increasingly eloquent propositions on the elemental business of drawing. Buchanan’s work is a powerful assertion that artistic innovation lives in the attitude of the artist, not necessarily in the advance of technology.

Roy Ananda is an Adelaide-based visual artist whose work was included in Primavera 2004 (MCA, Sydney).

RealTime issue #67 June-July 2005 pg. 45

© Roy Ananda; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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