Catalogue entry

T04928 Untitled 1986

Pencil, black watercolour and white chalk on machine-made Arches paper 1213 × 804 (47 3/4 × 31 11/16); watermark ‘ARCHES FRANCE’
Inscribed ‘T W’ t.l., ‘1986’ on back b.l. and ‘Top’ on back
Purchased from Sonnabend Gallery, New York (Grant-in-Aid) 1987
Exh: Monumental Drawing: Works by 22 Contemporary Artists, Brooklyn Museum, New York, Sept.–Nov. 1986 (no number); Currents 33: Terry Winters, St Louis Art Museum, Feb.–March 1987 (5)

The principal motif of this drawing consists of a spiral shape divided into many segments. It is painted in solutions of graphite, made up in various concentrations. At the bottom left are freely drawn pencil lines over which the artist has applied white chalk. A number of circular marks have been left by the base of a wet bottle. There are also a number of random marks and smudges. The drawing was executed in the artist's New York studio.

The image is derived from a reproduction of a cross section of a botanical specimen which the artist declines to identify because he does not want to close down the possibilities of interpretation. He feels that identifying the specific source of one of his images is unimportant. He is more interested in the multiple associations which the motif may trigger. Klaus Kertess has written: ‘The growing variety of natural formations that has colonized Winters’ work since 1981 presents us with illusions of verifiable phenomena which, as his art has developed, have become evermore imprecise and mercurial. These illusions of verifiability are reinforced by the now universal experience of microscopic and telescopic photography' (‘Drawing Desires’ in Lisa Phillips, Terry Winters, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1991, pp.28–9). In an interview with the cataloguer held in his New York studio on 31 October 1988 and subsequently edited by the artist on 22 July 1994, the artist stated that the work ‘has lots of associations and in a way the least interesting of them is as a botanical diagram. For me the associations transcend any one specific source. I am looking for the interconnections’. Although he does not wish to name the associations the image has for him, the artist stated that they may range from ‘something microscopic to astronomical’ and that they are ‘to do with poetry and architecture’. They are informed by notions of the primeval, the universal and creation. Broadly speaking, much of his work makes reference to the origins of creation, both actual and metaphorical.

Winters explained that his primary objective is ‘to make [a drawing] into an interesting sheet of paper, a physical event’. The image does not depict anything specific but is an equivalent to a diagram which alludes abstractly to something in the world rather than depicting it. In this respect Winters's art reflects his interest in the arts of indigenous peoples as well as in advanced technologies. Commenting on how surprised he is when people who view his drawings identify specific motifs such as spores he stated: ‘There are configurations of paint that have accummulated into these ball-like structures and which might imply spores but which could imply other things also.’ When it was suggested to him by the cataloguer that T04928 could variously be interpreted as a target, a snail-like form or an architectural diagram the artist stated that all three interpretations were possible. At the same time he indicated his high regard for the work of Odilon Redon, particularly the latter's images of eyes - see, for example, one of Redon's most celebrated lithographs, ‘The Eye, Like a Strange Balloon’, 1882 (repr. Alfred Werner, The Graphic Works of Odilon Redon, New York 1969, no.13), with its mysterious, spherical image. Redon's decontextualisation and elevation of the microbiological image finds a parallel in Winters's work. The Redon print cited above was dedicated to Edgar Allan Poe, an author in whom Winters has a strong interest. Winters had intended to publish a portfolio of illustrations to Poe's essay about the universe, Eureka. Ultimately, he abandoned the Poe text and the prints were published in 1989 by Universal Limited Art Editions as ‘Fourteen Etchings’. The second print in this portfolio (P11897, another example repr. Phillips 1991, p.153 in col.) bears a strong resemblance to T04928.

According to the artist, the shape at the bottom left of the sheet was the beginning of another view of the object from which he derived the principal form. He decided to retain the image in its cancelled form because he considers that all marks committed to paper have equal value ‘in the same way that something like a gas is every bit as much a form as a tree’. They provide evidence of activity.

The artist stated that in some drawings he begins with a form in mind, but with others the forms are suggested to him as he proceeds. In the case of T04928, he began the drawing knowing what kind of structure he would depict. He said he ‘wanted to see how it was transformed by the act of painting ... The image takes on a certain personality, it develops in a way I could never predict. The actual picture looks very different from any idealised image in my head. It becomes a real thing in itself’. Many of Winters's previous drawings are richly coloured and highly textured. T04928, however, is painted in thin, grey washes. Commenting on his use of the medium, the artist stated that the wash ‘puddles in a way that is specific to the medium and that ends up generating an image which becomes a collaboration of material and process’. The amount of puddling, according to the artist, ‘depends on the ratio of water to graphite and gum arabic’. He grinds graphite with gum arabic and uses the water as a solvent.

Since making this drawing Winters has completed an etching of a similar motif, ‘Album #1’, part of the portfolio titled ‘Album’, 1988 (P20051, another example repr. Phillips 1991, p.124 in col.), and two drawings, one of which is in a private collection in Houston, Texas. The present location of the other one is unknown. Neither has been reproduced.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996