Introduction classes at St Martin’s School of Art whilst

Introduction

 

In this essay, I am
going to be comparing the way in which Dennis Creffield and John Wells use line within their drawings. I am particularly
interested in exploring how this links to other components such as media and
context. Dennis Creffield’s drawing Peterborough:
Approaching the West Front, 1987 (Figure 1) and John Wells’ drawing Untitled Drawing, 1952 (Figure 2)
have lots of visual similarities and differences, which I am going to be
investigating to inform my comparison. My main aim is to
analyse how both artists have employed strong, bold lines using different mark
making techniques and media to create the main body of the drawings, however
both creating very varying atmospheres.

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Dennis
Creffield, known for his detailed technical plans and drawings is a very
impressive and well-respected draughtsman. Dennis Creffield is particularly
passionate about his drawings. With a profound loyalty to the subject matter
resulting in Creffield’s work being created from knowledge obtained from his
senses, combined with improvisation when working creating spontaneity within
his drawings, Creffield’s final drawings acquired a heartfelt spirituality (James
Hyman Gallery n/d). The lesser known artist John Wells was trained in art when
attending night classes at St Martin’s School of Art whilst he
was also studying medicine
at University College Hospital, London during the day (Michael McNay, 2000).
Although this was Wells’ only formal artistic training, throughout his career
he exhibited his work at many mixed exhibitions around Britain and abroad. This
included at the Salon des Réalités nouvelles Paris, in 1949.  ‘The Salon des Réalités nouvelles
(new realities) was an exhibiting society devoted to pure abstract art founded
in Paris in 1939’ (Tate n/d).
Artist such as ‘Ben Nicholson’ were also part of this society, from research I
have found that Wells’ took influence and advise from artists such as
Nicholson.

 ‘In 1995
Wells associated this drawing with advice he had received from Ben Nicholson
(interview, 1995). ‘Ben said to me once’, the artist had recalled earlier (Lewis
and Fox-Pitt, 1981), ‘”you know, if you get stuck just draw a few
lines”. I’ve always done that, very evocative a few lines’.’ (Stephens 1996 a).

 

The difference in mood
in Creffield’s and Wells’ drawings is due to a number of components which I am
going to be researching and exploring. One aspect which differs the atmospheres
in each of the drawings is that Creffield’s drawing is monochrome, whereas
Wells’ uses warm colours with bold organisational black lines. Furthermore, the
addition of colour in Wells’ drawing makes it more expressive and vibrant,
provoking a bright and playful mood within this piece. The use of only
monochrome colours in Creffield’s drawing creates a more dramatic mood with a
sense of eeriness. The mark making techniques used also add to the atmosphere
of these drawings. Another idea which I want to explore further is the context
and purpose of the drawings and how line is used to portray this. I am particularly interested in exploring
this with Creffield’s drawing as it is created using strong charcoal lines
which vary in strength. I think this style is
very well suited to the Gothic Architecture of Peterborough cathedral which
Creffield has represented effectively in his drawing. Finally, I want to
explore the idea of abstraction within these drawings and discuss how this
challenges the way the drawings communicate with the viewer. Wells’ is much
more abstract in nature; Creffield is much more structural and slightly less
abstract.

Comparison

 

Dennis Creffield’s drawing ‘Peterborough:
Approaching the West Front’, was created in 1987 using
charcoal on paper. The work depicts Peterborough Cathedral, which is part of a
collection of drawings of all the British cathedrals. Creffield was asked to
produce this by Michael Harrison for an exhibition to tour the regions (Creffield
1987, p.5). The drawing is semi abstract but can be recorded from
direct observation. This is due to the bold lines that are used as a foundation
for the drawing. The use of line as a foundation for the drawing is my central
argument in the comparison of Creffield’s drawing with Wells’ drawing. John
Wells’ drawing ‘Untitled Drawing’, was created in 1952, 35
years before Creffield’s drawing ‘Peterborough: Approaching the West Front’,
this is significant because the abstract expressionism movement happened
between 1940s – 1950s, therefore, Wells’ untitled drawing may have been
influenced by some of the American artists from this movement. However, in my
opinion Creffield’s work, ‘Peterborough: Approaching the West Front,
1987’ may have also taken influences from artists from this movement, as
Creffield’s drawing includes free, spontaneous,
and personal emotional expression which is how the abstract expressionism movement
was often characterised (The
Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica 2016). Untitled Drawing was created using oil, pastel, coloured pencil and watercolour on paper and uses
line to produce abstract shapes. The two artists use line in similar ways but
create a very varying mood.

 

Creffield employs a variety of lines within his drawing, the variation of lines combined with the freedom of the mark
making techniques employed, creates a
very striking quality within the work, therefore making it more visually
interesting. The fast marks made within Creffield’s drawing create movement
throughout the piece, this establishes the drawing and brings it to life. In André Masson book it
states, ‘A drawing ‘outlines itself’, takes shape all at once, as you might say
of something that comes into being before your very eyes.’ (Masson
1987 p 51). This statement can be referred to
when studying Creffield’s drawing ‘Peterborough: Approaching the West Front’ because the movement
that is created by the lines are the aspect that, in my opinion, really bring
the structure to life. The free-flowing lines
in Wells’ drawing also add movement throughout his untitled piece. This is a successful
technique Wells’ has employed, as well as the addition of the more controlled
structural lines that have been added to ensure the eye is drawn around the
whole drawing. ‘Wells recalled in 1981 that Gabo had advised him, ‘if you
draw a line you must make it go somewhere’.’ (Stephens 1996 a). It is thought that Wells’ untitled drawing initially started
off as an abstract line pattern, which then transformed into more of a drawing
when the shapes within the lines highlighted the outline of a fish and a bird. In
both drawings, the
expressive quality of the line creates energy throughout, which is successfully
conveyed to the viewer through the movement and structures of the mark making.
However, due to the varying textural and tonal details of the marks employed in
Creffield’s drawing, and the harsh, thin lines with use of negative space in
Wells’ drawing, the mood of the pieces are opposing.

 

Dennis
Creffield achieves a textural quality in the lines within his drawing by using
the media charcoal. Using charcoal on paper as a method of working is very quick and is made effective by using
different amounts of pressure to apply the charcoal to the page. This creates
the tonal variation throughout, which is what leads to the sense of eeriness in
this drawing. Rubbers would have also been used to employ a sense of
cleanliness into the piece. David Bomberg, who taught Creffield when he was a
teenager (James Hyman Gallery n/d), also uses charcoal on paper as a media. This can be seen in
the drawing (figure 3) ‘St Paul’s and River’ (Bomberg, 1945). You can clearly see within this piece
Bomberg has achieved similar structural lines through the medium charcoal which
create a sense of eeriness as well as movement throughout the piece. I think
the media charcoal is a particularly suited to the Gothic
Architecture of Peterborough cathedral which Creffield has represented
effectively in his drawing, the use of charcoal to achieve the style of the
gothic architecture (Victoria
and Albert Museum 2016). In comparison, John
Wells’ employs harsh, thin lines using oil, pastel, coloured
pencil and watercolour on paper, this media allows shapes to be created within
the lines which is where the main body of the composition is produced. The
media Wells’ has used gives the drawing have a very childlike quality, in the
context of the abstract style this technique is very fitting and also makes it
particularly expressive. There are details added such as the small circles that
resemble eyes, this is an aspect that creates more of an image within the
pattern. Although the medias that the artists have used are different, there
are qualities that both artists have achieved, an example of this is texture.
Creffield achieves a harsh textural quality using charcoal, with fast bold
movements this works very effectively. 
However, Wells’ has achieved much softer texture through the marks made
with oil/pastels. Particularly in the colour washes in each corner of the
drawing, these create a textural background. In wells’ later work (figure 4) he
progressed his use of texture using media. ‘This ageing process is clearly evident in Painting 1957,
which the artist described as having a ‘terrific amount of texture” (Stephens 1996 b). This means that in the untitled drawing,
John Wells was beginning to experiment with background texture, before he began
ageing processes which progressed the idea of texture within his work to a new
level.

 

The only
colours used in Dennis Creffield’s drawing Peterborough:
Approaching the West Front are
tones of black and white. The use of these monochrome colours could come across
as limiting but the way Creffield has used the range of tone makes the piece
dramatic and eye catching. The
layering of charcoal on top of charcoal creates a busy scene, as there are no
completely clean spaces. The lines of white charcoal capture the viewer’s eye
and ensure that there is a sufficient difference between the foreground and
background of the piece. There are limited amounts of negative space in this
drawing which adds to the atmosphere as there is little left to the
imagination.  To describe this piece of
work I would say that it is quite vibrant and loud. However, the mood within Wells’ drawing is very contrasting to the mood
created in Creffield’s work, this is mainly due to the use of bright, warm
colours within Wells’ drawing. The warm yellow, orange and brown tones create a
vibrant mood, which is playful and engaging. The amount of white space that
Wells’ has left within his drawing is contrasting to Creffield’s. The white
space in this more abstract drawing allows the viewer to more easily view the
drawing as a whole as it is bordered, making sure the eye is focused on the
objects in the center of the page. This is stated, ‘Gabo was the most obvious influence, both in
the tautness of the composition of colour shapes and in the sense of space
which the forms inhabited.’ (McNay 2000). The black block colour triangle is a focal point due to its
varying texture to the rest of the drawing.

 

The abstract nature of
Wells’ drawing challenges the way the drawing communicates with the viewer in a
different way to how the viewers of Creffield’s drawings are challenged. Wells’
drawing is very personal due to the fact each viewer will see something different
within the lines, this makes the piece more of a challenge for the viewer to
interpret but also creates a stronger and more unique link between the viewer
and the drawing. Creffield’s drawing is semi abstract meaning the subject can
be recorded by direct observation, this is interesting because although you can
understand what Creffield is portraying through the structure of the work, the
more you look and it and spend time understanding the drawing, more aspects of
the work reveal themselves and come to life. There are strong links between the
abstract nature of the works and their titles. Wells’ work is untitled meaning
he does not want the viewer to be influenced by any language that would form
the title. This invites the viewer to respond only to the visual information
they are given. In contrast to this Creffield’s drawing is very specifically
titled ‘Peterborough: Approaching the West Front’ giving a very direct
subject and creating an idea in the audience mind about what the work maybe
before viewing it.

 

My final comparison
point is the difference in context and purpose. Creffield’s drawing was created
as part of a series of drawings for an exhibition that toured Britain.
Creffield wrote, ‘No
artist has ever before drawn all the English medieval cathedrals-not even
Turner. I’ve dreamed of doing so since I was 17 when as a student of David
Bomberg I drew and painted in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey.’ (Creffield 1987, p.5). Not only was Creffield
employed by Michael Harrison to create this series of drawings but
it was also his dream, meaning the context and purpose was something that
Creffield was really passionate about. I believe the passion is something that
you can really see in Creffield’s drawing, and something that adds to the
quality. ‘I wanted, if possible, to let the cathedral make the drawing.’
(Creffield 1987, p.6.).  The context and
purpose behind John Wells’ drawing isn’t as clear. The work wasn’t part of a
series. However, ‘In 1995, Wells was pleased to recognise his characteristic
semi-parabolic curve forming the head of the bird. He believed it was
particularly common in his work around 1952 and can be seen in Aspiring Forms and Sea-Bird
Forms’ (Stephens 1996 a). This statement shows that Wells thought
his untitled drawing was similar in its characteristics to his other drawings
and paintings around 1952.

 

Conclusion

 

‘Peterborough: Approaching the West Front’ by Dennis Creffield
and untitled drawing by John Wells, both use line as a foundation for their drawings. However, through the use of
line, e.g. mark making techniques, as well as other components such as media,
colour and context both of the artists create very apposing atmospheres.
Creffield’s drawing is dramatic with a sense of eeriness, whereas Wells’ drawing
promotes a bright and playful mood. Overall, I have
discovered a lot of information about ways in which these differences can be
obtained whilst using line as a foundation for the main structure in both
drawings.

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