Richard Serra draws. Richard Sera sculpts. He sees each as an autonomous activity. He doesn’t make drawings of the sculptures he intends to create – he makes models. Neither does he make drawings of his finished sculptures.
Serra, born in 1938 and probably the world’s best-known contemporary sculptor, who has produced large-scale, site specific pieces for clients around the globe, and whose work has been celebrated in two retrospectives at The Museum of Modern Art, twenty years apart, whose major recent drawing exhibitions include Richard Serra Drawings: Work Comes Out of Work, Kunsthaus Bregenz (2008); Richard Serra Drawings: A Retrospective, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2010 – travelled to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Menil Collection, Houston in 2012) was drawing long before he became a sculptor. In San Francisco where he grew up, his proud mother would introduce her young son, who sketched on pink butchers’ roll paper, as Richard ‘The Artist’.
Richard Serra doesn’t paint. As a student at Yale – where he was accepted on the strength of 12 drawings – he painted, but he paints no more. Paintings, in his opinion, are produced with the viewer in mind, while drawings are for the artist. Drawing every day, Serra insists that the practice is primary to artists and gives them grounding. He would always rather look at someone’s drawings – Van Gogh’s, Rembrandt’s – than at their paintings. Indeed drawing to him, reveals far more than painting about the way an artist thinks and sees.
In his search for an individual way forward in his drawing, Serra says that there came a point quite early on in his career when, faced with the entire history of anyone else who had ever made a mark on a piece of paper, he realised that he needed to adopt a radical approach. Abandoning representation and any anecdotal references to other things, he discovered that by defining the form he was creating in relation to the space around it, relating it to the architecture, to the floor, the walls and to the ceiling, he could draw with space, thus ‘making space palpable’.
It’s only to be expected that Serra, who pushes the concept of drawing to its limits and whose drawings are often almost as monumental as his sculptures, uses unconventional methods to create them. Unwilling to ‘make art out of the art store’, as he puts it, he uses paint-stick – a cheap material made from paraffin with a little oil mixed in – that he has melted, stamped on and even put through a meat grinder, as his medium. Often he draws with a big brick of paint-stick on handmade paper, but has also created series drawings with ink and rollers at the print shop he uses in LA.
In interviews on YouTube Serra talks about how spatial differences have always interested him, about the idea of people ‘entering into the space of a drawing’, and how – citing Cézanne’s paintings of fruit, as an example – he tries to imply gravity within the structure of his drawings. For his installation drawings his object has become to ‘create a space within the space that differs from the architectural container.’ Consequently, as an exhibitor he is extremely hands on – when drawings intended to work in one gallery are transferred to another, he may even alter them to function to his satisfaction within the new context.
Drawings from top
Double Rift #5, 2012, Richard Serra
Paintstick on handmade paper
289.6 x 537.2 cm (114 x 211 1/2 ins)
Double Rift #9, 2013, Richard Serra
Paintstick on handmade paper
214 x 611.5 cm (84 1/4 x 240 3/4 ins)
Images ©Richard Serra. Courtesy the artist & Gagosian Gallery
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