This first retrospective of drawings by the contemporary American artist Richard Serra (b. 1939) presents a comprehensive overview of some forty years of his drawing activity. It traces the development of drawing as an art form independent from yet linked to his sculptural practice. Drawing for Serra has always played a crucial role in the investigation of new concepts and new creative methods. It has been a means of exploration of formal and perceptual relationships between the artwork and the viewer. His innovative ideas have radically transformed the traditional understanding of drawing as a form outlined against a background of the paper support, and exponentially expanded the definition of modern drawing through novel techniques, unusual media, monumental scale, and carefully conceived relationships to surrounding spaces.
Through some fifty drawings and a selection of sketchbooks, the exhibition presents the evolution of Serra’s drawing from the early 1970s—when he worked primarily on paper with more traditional mediums such as ink, charcoal, lithographic crayon—to the mid-1970s when he turned to black paintstick, a crayon comprised of a mixture of pigment, oil, and wax. He has been using paintstick in its various forms since then, creating heavily textured works in which thick black surfaces, frequently very large in scale, emphasize his interest in process, weight, and gravity. Black, in Serra’s understanding, is not a color but rather a material; it therefore has weight and responds to the laws of gravity.
In the mid-1970s, Serra made his first Installation Drawings—monumental works on canvas or linen pinned directly to the wall and thickly covered with black paintstick, such as “Abstract Slavery”, “Taraval Beach”, “Pacific Judson Murphy”, and “Blank”.
The drawings Serra has executed since the 1980s continue the experiments with innovative techniques and explore further surface effects, primarily on paper, and while very large and monumental in expression, they are less monumental physically. The process of creation remains an essential aspect of their expressive power. Generally made in series, such as Rounds (1997), out-of-rounds (1999), and Solids (2007-2008), they highlight dense paintstick, frequently pressed through a window-like screen, which allows a heavily textured surface of viscous pigment to develop.
The exhibition culminates in site-specific, large-scale works, completed specifically for this presentation. The selection of sketchbooks from different decades and places completes the understanding of the artist’s use of drawing as a system of thinking.
[Image: Richard Serra (American, b. 1939) “September” (2001) Paintstick on handmade paper; 50 x 51 in. Private collection. © Richard Serra. Photo: Rob McKeever]