A Cabinet of Drawings
September 2, 2008 – January 4, 2009
The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center's exhibition "A Cabinet of Drawings" explores the art of drawing, the fundamental, versatile and expressive art form for visual communication.
The exhibition—or "cabinet"—of 180 items from the Ransom Center's diverse collections will be presented as a series of mini-exhibitions and includes preliminary drawings, designs, book illustrations, illustrated letters, landscapes and portraiture by internationally recognized artists, architects, designers, scientists and literary greats. Many of these pieces have found their way to the Ransom Center through purchases and gifts, with writer-artists' archives being a particularly fruitful source of alternative drawings created outside the fine arts mainstream.
"'A Cabinet of Drawings' will provide a window to the wonders of the medium, as well as the unique character of the Center's drawing collection, which includes more than three centuries of art from Western Europe and the Americas," said Peter Mears, Ransom Center associate curator of art. "Acquired over the last 50 years or more, the Ransom Center's drawing collection has grown into a large and eclectic body of artwork whose significance is worthy of closer review."
Using almost any medium that will leave a mark—crayon, pencil, charcoal, chalk, pastel, pen and ink, gouache and watercolor—visual thinkers have produced a wide range of artistic images, from intimate expressions of the individual's innermost thoughts to highly refined master works.
"A Cabinet of Drawings" offers a framework to explore and investigate the numerous types of drawings found in the Ransom Center's literary and visual collections.
The exhibition is organized into four sections: "The Preliminary Eye," which includes drawings produced in preparation for a later artwork or design and sketches and studies from the Center's art, performing art and film collections; "Observation & Investigation," which includes portraiture/caricature, landscape, travel sketchbooks, modern artworks, science, photography and spiritual/devotional works; "Drawn to Words," which includes art by authors, book illustration, the art of letters, calligraphy/typography and books that are illuminated or simply drawn upon; and finally, "Sacred Signs and Visions," which represents a range of drawings either created for devotional ceremonies, from visions and spiritualists' gatherings or simply in celebration of life.
Notable artists in the exhibition include the visionary William Blake, pre-Raphaelites Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Sir Edward Burne-Jones and stone carver/typographer Eric Gill. Preliminary sketches and studies by these three generations of British artists, along with modernist studies by American designer Norman Bel Geddes and French filmmaker Jean Cocteau, offer viewers a broader appreciation of how paintings, sculpture and involved projects such as theatrical productions are visually conceived.
Viewers can compare various stylistic approaches to celebrity portraiture in works by Hollywood artist Don Bachardy, pop artist Andy Warhol and Mexican caricaturist Miguel Covarrubias.
Observations of the human figure and the landscape by Texas' best regionalists, Tom Lea and Frank Reaugh, will be included, while investigations into the nature of place and the human psyche are represented by the travel sketchbooks of Victorian architect Sir Thomas Graham Jackson and a rarely seen self-portrait by Mexican icon Frida Kahlo.
An interactive component accompanies the exhibition and allows viewers to browse through a variety of drawings including early figurative sketches by Houston artist and educator John Biggers, a 19th-century European travel sketchbook by Jackson, juvenilia by the French post-Impressionist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and a rare copy of American writer William Faulkner's 1920 hand-lettered and illustrated book, "Marionettes."