Walking into “The Beginning of Everything: Drawings from the Janie C. Lee, Louisa Stude Sarofim, and David Whitney Collections” at the Menil, the physical arrangement of the exhibit provides a shock to the viewer’s eye. Relatively small framed portraits grace the space, and are dwarfed by the white expanse of wall so that it’s almost easy to become mindlessly lost in the negative space. But, eventually, the concentrated intensity of the drawings captures the eye with their almost incalculable beauty.
The installation features nearly 100 pieces created between the 19th and early 20th centuries, some from local artists. Its title derives from the quote by artist Ellsworth Kelly, “When I see a white piece of paper, I feel like I’ve got to draw. And drawing, for me, is the beginning of everything.” This idea of drawing as a starting point is infused throughout the exhibit. Certainly, the viewer is greeted with visually pleasing pieces that champion representational accuracy and compositional plenitude. Yet, they are paired with fascinating counterparts: canvases displaying underdeveloped figures and preliminary sketches with numerical dimensions. Some pieces even sport written plans for future pieces based on the sketch. These incomplete drawings functioning as blueprints are just as beautiful as “complete” pieces in the way they depict the human thought process and the creation cycle of an artistic piece. The drawing is anything but the final product in these cases. It is simply a beginning; the inception of an even greater endeavor.
Kelly Montana, the curatorial assistant, echoes this sentiment and offers her take on the nearly ubiquitous significance of the discipline in writing about the exhibit: “Drawing is particularly well suited to capturing immediate thoughts and impressions. It is an art form instinctively practiced by children and habitually used in architecture, science and choreography, among other fields.”
The career of Cy Twombly, one of the artists on display, attests to the integrative nature of the art. Twombly worked in multiple mediums including drawing, painting, sculpting and photography, and his work is known for being a crossroads of different disciplines. A lifelong intellectual, he drew inspiration from writing and poetry, history (particularly Greco-Roman), and even from his stint as a cryptologist in the army. His drawings embody a sort of heavily contemplated abstraction that speaks to the art form as a both a starting point and opportunity for sophisticated experimentation.
The ability to experiment in the medium of drawing And it is this “possibility of experimentation inherent to the medium,” as the exhibit’s webpage states, that lends such appealing diversity to “The Beginning of Everything.” Artists show no fear in testing boundaries by using ink wash, crayon, collage methods, string, and even correction fluid among other things to create various dimensions and textures. More often than not, they feature strikingly familiar everyday items or tasks, such as a white bed, a clothespin or a man stretching. Yet, one cannot confuse these moving interpretations of human life for mundanities. As Montana writes, “The creation of a drawing can come as easily as breath and be just as essential.”
Therefore, it seems only natural that in October, the Menil will be opening the Menil Drawing Institute in a new building as a hommage to the relevance of drawing. As the Menil website says, “drawing acts as a common language between creative cultures.” The Menil has long been one of the organizations at the heart of Houston’s art scene, and is now facilitating artists, art-lovers and anyone who has ever drawn to immerse themselves in this common artistic and human language. Together, we can experience what, for many individuals, is the beginning of everything.
You can visit The Beginning of Everything on display at the main building of the Menil Collection located on 1533 Sul Ross St, Houston, TX 77006. The exhibit will be available until June 18, 2017. And be sure to check out the new Menil Drawing Institute, opening on October 7, 2017.