Ecologies of Drawing: In Situ

Curated by Sara Schneckloth

First termed by biologist, zoologist, philosopher, and controversial1 drawing artist Ernst Haeckel in 1866, oekologie, or the ‘relation of the animal both to its organic as well as its inorganic environment’,2 ecology has evolved to signify how we consider complex interdependencies and relationships between multiple facets of the natural and built environments and those who abide within. Rendered plural, ecologies takes on the layering inherent in navigating diverse ways of being, and in our examinations of systems that may be simultaneously independent and intertwined. By its very nature, drawing, as a discipline, an action, and a mode of inquiry, negotiates such complex systems and lays bare relationships by rendering visible thought, body, and sentiment of the drawing artist and the material, concept, and context with(in) which they are engaged. By marking our understandings of and relationships to, with, and within our environments, drawing becomes an ecological practice and presence onto itself, an action that sites and situates, an act of holistic connection and rapport. 

The challenge and reward of curating any exhibition lies in uncovering connections between drawings, their actions, mediums, and aspirations. The tragedy lies in the necessary exclusion of strong and compelling artworks from the scope of what is presented here. Over 160 images were submitted, each thoughtful and exploratory, each reflecting an artist’s engagement with an ecological idea, process, or experience as manifest through drawing in the expanded field. Selecting thirty drawings became about creating an ecosystem of images with various points of overlap and synergy, finding resonance and friction alike. 

When considered as a network of eco-meditations, these works both perform and illustrate drawing’s capacity to question, challenge, and engage, to embody experience and inspire contemplation. And while the digital image can convey great meaning and gravity, there is also the understanding that drawings do something different when beheld in the scale and material form in which they were created – this may require a viewer to supplement what is seen on screen with prior understanding of medium and process, of dimension and light, amplified by the sense of all that drawing can be.

While shown alphabetically, there are thematic strands that weave throughout, moving from visualizations of entanglements and networks, to interplay of elements and natural forces, to architectures and human-impacted environments, to images that solidify and render iconic fragments that, together, may be seen as united. 

Complexities and connections 

The contributions of Cullen, From, Harbott, Yacoob, Riley, and Ward each illumine networks of entwinement, whether by visualizing rhizomatic connections within the earth (Cullen and Harbott), stellar arrays (Yacoob), or through dialectic fusion (Riley) and stochastic groupings (Ward and From). Each image conjures expanding networks of relationship, with single drawings working as fragments of larger interweavings.

Elemental ecologies 

By engaging (with) elemental forces of wind, breath, and air, rivers and tides, volcanism and geomorphology, these drawings travel scales of intimacy and impact. Davies and Rees strike cautionary notes as waters rise, Leah and Almeida draw with bodies in air, and Broadbent and Smith afford space for hand and stone to interact and mutually inform. Bacon, Chen, Denyer, and Simoes pay rich topographical attention to observed or imagined surfaces and lithic events, drawing landscapes marked by erosion, deposition, flowing rivers of water or magma, while Lewis and Henshaw give shape to breath and atmosphere through gesture and line.

Architectures and human environments  

Ecology’s ‘eco-’ derives from the Greek oikos, ‘home’ or ‘household’, affording an opportunity to see drawing as an act of building, layering, inhabiting, as well as space to consider relationships beyond the organic environment. Dupuis and Seth/Crowley render graphic the layering onto the land the human activities of construction and development, production and consumption. Andjelkovic, Clear, and Mitchell go deeply into human architectural territory via structure, pattern, and light, while Cunningham captures natural traces within her built, and vitally shared, environment. And by cataloging vocabularies of marked gesture and sound, Gluth and Wagstaff create drawings about drawing, both seen and heard as action and object alike.

Ecological icons

As points of contemplation and implication, the iconic drawings of Carney, Gordon, Guimarães, and Sawdon each trigger webs of association, from virus, to seed, to tidal pool, to time itself. Each works as an ecological fragment/totality, a condensation of drawn thought that can be perceived as anchors for considering larger, deeper, and unseen complex systems.

At present, I am writing from a 10x12’ studio perched on the slope of a dormant volcano in Northern New Mexico in the Southwestern US. The wind is blowing at gale force and the sun bakes the soil into layers of cracked clay with rain still over a month away. During the academic summers, my partner and I live on land that is by and large undeveloped by humans – we have huts with solar panels and batteries, access to spring water, and shelter from wind, sun, and the cougar who leaves occasional tracks outside the studio. The elements are raw here, with earth, fire, wind, and water presumably at the center of attention of all living things. Scale is mutable, with time marked in layers of sediment, seasons of monsoon and drought, sunrise and sunset. My own ecological awareness is heightened here, sensitive to balances and upsets, and how those imbalances may cascade into events with durable impact (over half a million acres of New Mexico forest have burned in the past six weeks alone3). The drawings I make here chart pathways across imagined, observed, and (mis)remembered landscapes, and mark evolving relationships to place, material, time, and scale. Being able to consider the drawings submitted for the exhibition within this physical context lent an even greater sense of urgency and importance for the work that artists do to raise awareness and enact change. The artworks submitted for this exhibition embody a range of ecological thought and action, united by an ethic of consciousness and dedication to engage with complexity, equilibrium, and flux in our lived environment, understood and expressed through the act of drawing. Thank you, all, for your contributions.