Serge Onnen’s three-minute film Mouth was created from over one thousand drawings. Drawing is Onnen’s main mode of expression. This is not only reflected in the artist’s statement that “[a]ll the things I do come out of an idea I have about drawing,” but also in his multifaceted practice that includes editing books and curating shows on drawing. In this way, Onnen is part of the recent development in contemporary art that has seen more and more artists turn to drawing as their primary medium.
Myth ascribes the invention of drawing to a young woman in ancient Greece who outlined the shadow of her lover’s head on a wall with black chalk. Distinguished from other art forms by its immediacy and intimacy, drawing has a long and fascinating history, ranging from the prehistoric cave drawings at Lascaux in France and seventeenth-century Northern European portraiture to the work of 1970s conceptual artists. Various combinations of drawing media and supports have offered endless possibilities to artists. Today’s drawing ranges from monumental to micro, from conceptual to three-dimensional, from black-and-white to full color. Animated drawings represent one way of pushing the boundaries of drawing into fresh directions. Onnen often combines his animations with works on paper made with traditional media like ink and watercolor.
To Onnen, “drawing is a universal language; everybody at one time or another has made a drawing.” We are all drawn to the primal and magical qualities of the medium. “The idea and execution of drawing,” Emma Dexter has noted, “has remained unchanged for thousands of years—as such it is an activity that connects us directly in an unbroken line with the first human who ever sketched in dirt or scratched on the wall of a cave.” Now over two stories tall on a concrete wall, Onnen’s animated drawing of a woman silently screaming into the night engages anew our fascination with the medium, updated with twenty-first century technology.
This exhibition was funded in part by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency, and the Cornell Council for the Arts.
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art