View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
This print by the Welsh artist Cerith Wyn Evans features abstract black marks on a rectangular sheet of white paper that has a circular hole cut into it, with a brown-coloured background showing through the hole. The largest of the black marks is positioned in the centre-left of the composition and broadly resembles a number seven. Further splatters of black appear in a rough diagonal line across the left side of this form, and two circle-type shapes are visible below its tail. Unlike the scattered dots, which look as if they were applied when the larger shape was produced, these lower circles of black appear to be separate marks, giving the impression that they were added by means of an additional isolated gesture. Most of the work is made up of expanses of white, especially at the top, bottom and right side of the piece, where no marks have been applied to the composition. The neat circle that is cut out of the paper, leaving the print’s brown backing exposed, lends the work a sense of depth and texture: the hole is cut through both the white paper and the large black mark, so that the brown area becomes the ‘background’ and the white space appears to be a main feature of the drawing.
Wyn Evans created Automatic Ink Drawing, Kyoto (2011) as part of a commission from the London-based gallery and arts organisation Studio Voltaire for its 2008 print portfolio. He designed and printed the work at K2 Screen, a small fine art printing studio in London. The composition was first executed in ink and then screenprinted onto the paper, after which the hole was cut into the sheet.
The title of the work consists of three components. Since undertaking a residency at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Kitakyushu, Japan, in 1998, Evans has been fascinated by Japanese culture and ink painting, and the words ‘Ink Drawing’ and ‘Kyoto’ in the title reflect the fact that the work was made using long, thin brushes and strokes that are traditionally associated with Japanese ink paintings. Secondly, although the work was created in 2008 Wyn Evans included the year 2011 in the title in brackets. The artist has added dates that are yet to come to the titles of several of his works, claiming in 2011 that ‘the implication is that either there has been some kind of typographical mistake or the piece has been made in the future’ (Wyn Evans in Obrist 2011, p.152). Finally, the word ‘Automatic’ refers to the practice of automatism that was popular with surrealist artists and writers during the first half of the twentieth century, a technique that involved writing, painting or drawing without conscious choice by allowing the hand to move freely and randomly across the page. The reference to this technique in the title for the print suggests that Wyn Evans produced the design without planning it, rather forming the composition as part of an instinctive creative process.
Automatic Ink Drawing, Kyoto (2011) was inspired by a set of drawings that the artist created after visiting Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in 1998 and seeing its collection of drawings made by Japanese and Chinese Zen Buddhists in the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries. In 2011 Wyn Evans said of the Zen Buddist objects:
These things that seemed to be crypts, encryptions, script and things that were so outside of my comprehension of what it could really mean to make a gesture, make a mark … what I’m really looking at are these marks, black ink on cream vellum … so the first ink drawings came from an attempt to do some myself.
(Wyn Evans in Obrist 2011, pp.173–5.)
Although the artist was aware that the cultural significance of the Zen drawings in part relied on the words that were incorporated into them, he chose to see the elements of this ‘script’ purely as black forms on a white ground, and to make drawings that reflected this. As his work with this type of drawing progressed, Wyn Evans began to cut shapes into the paper that interacted with the forms on the page, stating in 2011 that ‘now I’ve started, in a more physical sense, to interrogate these pieces, so I’m cutting holes in them’ (Wyn Evans in Obrist 2011, pp.177–8).
Wyn Evans started his career in the late 1970s as a filmmaker, but the 1990s saw a shift in his work towards conceptual sculpture and installation art. Automatic Ink Drawing, Kyoto (2011) is not typical of Wyn Evans’s work, which mainly consists of large multimedia installations that combine excerpts of famous texts on philosophy, literature and art theory with modern technology such as neon strip lighting (see, for instance, In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni 2006, Tate T12314).
Cerith Wyn Evans: Cerith Wyn Evans, exhibition catalogue, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt-am-Main 2004.
Cerith Wyn Evans: Bubble Peddler, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthaus Graz am Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz 2007.
Hans Ulrich Obrist, Hans Ulrich Obrist & Cerith Wyn Evans: The Conversation Series, Cologne 2011, pp.172–80
Supported by Christie’s.