Passionate About Drawing: Roger Malbert Unveils Hand Drawn Action Packed – Clare Henry

Drawings curated by Roger Malbert Hunterian

For 34 years the wonderful Roger Malbert headed up Hayward Gallery Touring, overseeing literally thousands of contemporary art exhibitions that toured to public galleries & museums outside London & were seen each year by half a million folk in over 45 places. An amazing career, & a hard act to follow.

But Malbert, modest to a fault, has avoided a big send-off, meanwhile determined that his last hurrah would be a show he really wanted to do

‘Hand Drawn Action Packed’ is a fabulous exhibition & lives up to its invigorating title. Featuring 12 senior international artists, (from India, Turkey, China, Europe & North America, many well known outside GB,) it involves storytelling in both traditional & digital methods, leaping from charcoal to video, watercolour to animation. “It’s a very broad look at drawing. Challenging. Modern. Nothing conventional. I hope it will attract the young,” he told me.

William Kentridge 2002 Untitled
William Kentridge 2002 Untitled

Malbert is passionate about drawing. “The weird thing is it can often be seen as a poor relation. Yet it’s an age-old, universal language. Now you can even draw with your finger on your phone. Yes. I am on a mission to promote drawing.”

He himself draws, preferably with an old-fashioned dip pen & a bottle of ink, liking the scratchy feel on rough handmade paper. He is now aiming at one drawing every day, uploading it onto Instagram. Way back he studied drawing & has written a wonderful book, “The Human Figure in Contemporary Art”, with a second commissioned by Thames & Hudson. There are surprisingly few books on contemporary drawing despite renowned draughtsmen like Kara Walker or Louise Bourgeois.

As a powerful, key British curator, Malbert has over the years championed shows that inevitably influenced millions across the UK, yet he is averse to, even suspicious of, the recent trend of Curator as King, referring to himself as “a humble midwife in relation to the work.”

Yun Fei Ji
Yun Fei Ji

This attitude has endeared him to many. The famous William Kentridge has lent a series of 9 charcoal drawings from his personal collection, while 73-year-old Nalini Malani, India’s first contemporary artist to have a retrospective at the Pompidou, shows 3 reverse paintings on mylar plus a lively line animation.

Inci Eviner, representing Turkey at the Venice Biennale, contributes an unforgettable video where multiple figures gyrate and dance in an urban underground cross-section while above surreal figures float in and out. The drawing is superb; the technicalities impressive. More digital wizardry from New Yorker Amy Sillman, whose split-screen is a loop of semi-abstract fluorescent colour.

Subversion and humour are never far away. Yun-Fei Ji’s gentle dreamy calligraphic landscapes hide horror & suffering, skeletons & vultures. Raymond Pettibon’s irony rages across his deliberately awkward ink captions. What would he make of Brexit?

If you can’t see this riveting show, get the wonderful catalogue designed on a pittance – well it is the arts council – by Stinsensqueeze. Malbert’s text is as ever clear, concise, lively, his writing always superb.

Now fancy-free, he is off to Utah on a road trip with a friend. “I have never done anything like this!” he laughs. I guess he will take his pen & iPad and draw as he travels?

HAND DRAWN ACTION PACKED is at Glasgow’s Hunterian till June 2nd; then Swansea’s Glynn Vivian Art Gallery 15 June – 1 September

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