Ewan Gibbs



In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Ewan Gibbs born 1973
Ink on paper
Support: 419 × 297 mm
Presented by the Patrons of New Art (Special Purchase Fund) through the Tate Gallery Foundation 2000


Presented by the Patrons of New Art (Special Purchase Fund) through the Tate Gallery Foundation 2000

Gibbs makes drawings based on photographs using black ink on graph paper. Every square of the graph's grid is filled with a symbol of varying tone. The tonal differences follow the shades of light and dark in the photograph and result in the abstracted representation of a scene. Gibbs's symbols were originally inspired by knitting and crochet patterns. Since he graduated from Goldsmiths College in 1996 he has been developing his personal range of simple forms. These include diagonal lines, crosses and, in Window and Wall (Tate T07597), circles with or without a dot in the centre. A spectrum of tones is created by using thicker and thinner nibbed pens and applying more or less pressure. The forms and compositions are becoming progressively simpler. Earlier drawings were made up of a combination of different symbols. Recent drawings, like Wall and Window, are made up of only one type of symbol. Initially Gibbs worked with found images of interiors, usually, but not always, empty of human presence. In 1999 he was working with photographs of hotel rooms selected from holiday brochures advertising package tours. More recently he has based his drawings on photographs of hotel façades which he has taken himself.

Window is an image of a window behind twin beds in a hotel room. The image is dominated by broad dark stripes on the bedcovers. The stripes form parallel lines extending diagonally across the drawing from the foreground in the bottom right corner towards the window in the upper left corner. They are echoed by two planks forming the headboard of the bed. The window is partially covered by a section of curtain. It is vertically bisected by a dark 'line' representing the frame, which meets another dark horizontal 'line' representing the windowsill. To the right of the curtain, an indecipherable picture hangs on the wall behind the beds. A night table and a chair are shadowy forms in the space between the beds and between one bed and the curtain behind it. The entire image is rendered using the symbol of a circle with a dot in its centre. Gibbs varies the tone with the thickness of his line using all possible combinations of circles and dots (fine dots in the centre of both dark and light circles; big, dark dots in both light and dark circles, etcetera). The word 'Chartwell', the brand of the graph paper, is printed at the top right corner of the page. The graph's grid is based on imperial, rather than metric, measurements. The lines are one tenth of an inch apart, resulting in circles each one tenth of an inch in diameter.

While the grid and repetitive structure of Gibbs's drawings evoke computer printouts, the circles themselves, individually drawn by the artist, have an organic, hand-made quality. The drawings are the result of hours of intense concentration and careful observation. They are reminiscent of a series of untitled drawings on graph paper made in 1967 by German artist Eva Hesse (1936-70), which consist of uniform blocks of circles and crosses drawn into the grid. The technique of reproducing a photograph through its tonal gradations rather than by line was pioneered by American artist Chuck Close (born 1940). In the early 1970s he began exploring the dissolution and recreation of photographic portraits in a series of black and white drawings using the grid format and a range of greys, derived from a combination of ink and pencil. His Self Portrait Etching 1977 (Tate P07387) is made up of diagonal lines contained in the small squares of a grid. Gibbs's drawings are based on colour photographs and therefore require another stage of translation into black and white tones. With their subtle gradations, the drawings appear most clearly defined when viewed from a distance. Close up, the symbols form an abstract patterning hard for the eye to focus on. Gibbs's technique dissolves the clarity of the image, resulting in ghostly effects. Based on images of impersonal spaces, Gibbs's automated method heightens the atmosphere of emptiness and rootlessness already present in his found images of bland, standardised hotel rooms.

Further reading:
John Tozer, 'Within these Walls', Art Monthly, no.209, September 1997, pp.32-4
Roy Exley, 'Sites of Absence', Contemporary Visual Arts, issue 20, 1998, pp.62-8
Facades, artist's book, London 2002
Surfacing: Contemporary Drawing, exhibition brochure, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London 1998, unpaginated

Elizabeth Manchester
August 2002

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Technique and condition

This work by Ewan Gibbs comprises of ink on cream, machine-made, printed graph paper. The images for this and Wall are selected from holiday brochures advertising package tours, focusing particularly on bedrooms. The artist has drawn ink circles in every one of the small squares within the grid and a small dot in each circle. Each circle occupies the square to its edges. In order to give the impression of depth and definition the artist has used different size pen tips to give fine or heavy circles.

On acquisition the work is in good condition.

Jo Gracey
September 2000

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