Persimmon Life Studies

Drawing Lines – Kate Beck

 Untitled,  Graphite on Arches, 42x72 inches, 2008

Brent: Kate, your pencil line drawings, either vertical lines or horizontal, always not the two together [?]: The framing device, the format and its edge seem to create the plus minus balance. How do you work on them? I noticed on your homepage that you had an image of quite a large one sitting flat on a bench top.

Kate: Shape is very intriguing to me and sets the scale for each piece, which is specific to each individual surface. All of the line work is in response to shape. When I first started making these, Brent, I spent a lot of tedious time drawing boxes – four connected lines – trying to perfect the exact size and shape within the surface before working the line. I was always at odds with my material because, you know, beautiful paper has an aspect of life in it; it’s not perfect. Trying to force a perfect line went against the nature of the material. This created a false tension on the drawing surface because the white space – the space not marked within the surface – is a critical component to the works, it’s not simply left out; empty. To get closer to my work, I have had to let go of creating these pre-shapes which has allowed a more natural relationship to transpire between the paper, and my hand. I think the resulting shape and scale is both more sensitive, and dynamic.

Kate Beck - Studio 2008As you saw in the photos, I do create my work on a large table. I lay out drawing paper and cover the edges with thin, brown postal paper, which serves as protection to the underlying white space and also acts as a boundary which, when in place, reveals a core white shape. I mark into the white shape. My first lines are very spare, made with a mid-tone pencil; purely in response to that white shape. I use a metal straight edge. Each successive line is in response to the one made before it. These first few lines set the entire body and pace of the eventual finished work. I guess that’s my initial perspective.

Brent: What is the simple explanation for creating the drawings on a flat horizontal surface?
I think that I have it that you work on one window ‘an opening of white’ at a time, or do you shift the windows after you have worked on an area for a while?

Kate: First, it is functional. I have more flexibility to manage the materials on a flat, horizontal surface. Initially, I did work from the studio wall vertically – which is how I paint and how the work is meant to be viewed, as well, so it seemed natural to me. This turned out to be very different, though. The on-going line resolution in the drawings can be intense and I found I just couldn’t hold the perspective I needed – neither physically nor visually. It was very awkward. The flatness of the table allows me to work from multiple directions at once so that the piece has a more continuously thorough resolution overall. It flows. And I really like that. I move around quickly – both on my feet and with my hands – so it gives me incredibly more freedom. That’s not to say it isn’t challenging. I’m leaning over the table for long periods of time. I usually finish a studio session with yoga to relax my neck and shoulders. I swim, also, which helps.

 Untitled,  Graphite on Arches, 42x72 inches, 2008But you’ve brought up the white…. I think it’s important to note that I perceive my drawings as objects; concrete elements of structure. So it’s interesting to me that you observe an ‘opening’ of white. I use white as a color and as a definer of space, and thus shape. It is simultaneously color and form. In my drawings, the unmarked passages are as incremental to the whole as is my tonal line. The white signifies fullness and color, as opposed to emptiness or colorlessness. In the drawings, I use line tonally to further explore and heighten that conceptual response to shape. In this sense, I embrace white as an element possessing both the ability to open up and to negate space at once. I think that’s rather amazing, and indicative of the truly powerful nature of color. Ryman, with his early white paintings, took this implied notion of the relative none-ness or nothingness typically associated with white as a color and basically blew it apart. He allowed us to experience such an incredibly dynamic presence within the ‘empty’ surface. White is not pure, nor static. It is ever-changing. We ‘see’ it only through light, by nature of our physical and emotional vision.

So far, most of my drawing has involved only one central shape that is marked into so I have been working the entire surface all at once. My new work, however, does contain multiple shapes set within certain trajectories, or shapes within shapes. With these, I work each shape individually keeping an overall evenness to the progression of the drawing so that is stays balanced.

Brent: I’m thinking of the materials too, as you mention them: The soft imperfect white of the paper; pencil, the initial one – not hard, not soft; brown paper; a metal rule. They are like the characters in a play. And of course, the metal rule would be the one that is unyielding, steady and firm. In every play there are lines. Though here they are very quiet. Do you hear the lines—feel the different materials as you move them around?

Kate: Your parallel to ‘characters of a play’ gives me an opportunity to discuss process, and my feelings about the connection between process and drawing. Yes, I think my lines are quiet, but not, perhaps, understated. They are very deliberate. My husband speaks of the space between notes of music; how powerful silence can be. I often listen to piano or cello music when I am working. The breaking down and building up of my materials is very similar. The work arrives through attention to the materials and a given space, and to the systematic manipulation of those materials within that space. In this case, the marks that I introduce to a white shape are drawn, erased, and re-drawn over and over, leaving traces of the journey of the mark throughout the shape, which also exists within the white space of the paper. I am quite infatuated with this act of refining the tonal line relative to each mark and to the shape as a whole. The drawing is both conceptual, and sensible. Visual thinking; figuring out. I am very caught up with this.

Brent: Let’s keep on that track of music: Do you make mistakes?

Kate: Well, I do … Perhaps there are different kinds of mistakes to be made. The most unforgiving is when the paper itself is compromised. This is an on-going battle… Once a mark is down, it never leaves the surface entirely. Depending on the density and surface quality of the paper, the sharpness of the pencil lead, the pressure with which I am marking… Occasionally I am working so quickly and intently that I inadvertently fling the pencil and it dances end-over-end across the paper, leaving marks and dents as it goes. Miserable…

Untitled,  Graphite on Rives, 30x22 inches, 2008Within a broader, even existential context, however, there is a question of truth – which is not rightness, nor wrongness. Mistake implies corruption; wrongness, and yet it is implicit in the quest for truth. My work is not about perfection. It is about resolution. In the drawings, the resolution of the line is subject to the environment in which it is bound. The more it evolves, the more the architecture of the shape is defined, thus the drawing is evidenced; it exists. That environment is comprised of dual perspectives: vertical and horizontal. From these opposite directives, I attempt to reach a point of balance or suspension. For instance, I may find that lines I thought were straight from one perspective turn out to be entirely off the mark when seen from the opposite direction. So that is a mistake I try to correct. It is a continuous back-and-forth, give-and-take, working in the round. Ultimately, any differences from the two perspectives become pulled together more closely as the drawing evolves. I’m not sure that makes it right, though, or correct.

I draw with the support of a straight edge, but I do not measure. Although my line and shape may appear to be concise and rational, they are actually tempered with a high degree of softness and color. People often think they see other color within my surfaces, even though I work quite purely in black and white. And to music? I don’t know. But it is the spaces in between which hold a certain power: the word that is not said, the sound that is not heard, the line that fades away only to return again; that pause which allows room, perhaps, for the individual. I think the most meaningful response I’ve had to my drawings is their likening to poetry. It was from the painter, Judith Linhares.
I was moved by that.

4 thoughts on “Drawing Lines – Kate Beck

  1. This is a fantastic insight into both Kate’s philosophy and working process. Kate, if you, as I understand it, work in the round drawing from every side, at what point do you make decisions about top bottom left right or is it purely aesthetic?

    I need to read this again too.

  2. Very impressive interview, Kate. Now that I know you do not “measure,” I can see all sorts of organic rhythms in the pieces. At first the lines look exactly parallel to each other and perfectly perpendicular to the boundary of the white shape. Utterly amazing work!

  3. Pingback: Kate beck | Cateringforme

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