The Elemental Force of Charcoal: Drawing at the Borough

23 October 2015 – 13 February 2016

Private View: Thursday 22 October 2015, 6.30-8.30pm. To RSVP please click here.

“[David Bomberg] really believed that drawing was important because it can help you understand certain things in a way nothing else can … A good draughtsman finds things out by drawing”
Miles Richmond

Drawing is a central element of image making, whatever the medium. David Bomberg was an inspired draughtsman, and drawing formed the foundation of his classes at London South Bank University (then Borough Polytechnic) in the 1940s and 1950s. These classes were attended by a number of young artists including Dennis Creffield, Cliff Holden, Edna Mann, Dorothy Mead and Miles Richmond. These students were among the members of the Borough Group, and their work, alongside Bomberg’s, makes up A David Bomberg Legacy The Sarah Rose Collection. Richmond has stated that Bomberg talked mainly about drawing, and held the classical awareness that, “drawing underlies painting as bones underlie the flesh.”[1] It is through drawing that Bomberg first grasped the fundamentals of his approach to image making – his will to tangibly evoke the substance of a thing within an image.

Life drawing was an essential discipline of art teaching and for Bomberg, a vital experience in its immediacy. Bomberg’s approach to drawing, and subsequently painting, was a radical turn from the orthodoxy of perspectival drawing practiced in art schools at the time. Rather than drawing which objectified and distanced the subject, students at the Borough were encouraged never to draw at arms length, both physically and conceptually – Bomberg was keen for his students to find their own feelings within the form. Although commonly used in the life room, in charcoal – itself an element – Bomberg and his students perhaps found a medium that lent itself to an exploration of visual form that focused on physicality, urgency and sensation.

This selection of drawings from A David Bomberg Legacy – The Sarah Rose Collection and London South Bank University’s art collection demonstrates the strength of the drawings produced by Bomberg and the Borough Group over a considerable period. The works selected range from some of the earliest in A David Bomberg Legacy – The Sarah Rose Collection, Sappers (c.1919) and Unknown (1914) by Bomberg, through to the most recent, Jerusalem Wedding (2009) by Dennis Creffield. Hung chronologically, the works in the exhibition show both the development and consistency of the use of charcoal, whether depicting ecclesiastic structures, figures and portraits, or London landmarks. One drawing by Edna Mann details London’s skyline; seeking life beyond the walls of the classroom, this work was drawn on the roof of the University, a site which Bomberg readily utilised in his teaching.

Today, drawing is recognised as an immediate means to capture an image, as well as a primary practice in its own right. This exhibition follows Borough Road Gallery’s first Artist Residency with Susan Sluglett, which took place between December 2014 and February 2015. For three months, Sluglett was based in a studio in the Gallery making new work inspired by A David Bomberg Legacy – The Sarah Rose Collection. Although Sluglett considers herself a figurative painter, she found herself drawing whilst in residence, often daily, rediscovering charcoal and ink – materials she had not used in years. Following the Gallery’s summer exhibition, which included work made by Sluglett alongside works from A David Bomberg Legacy — The Sarah Rose Collection, this exhibition turns its focus on drawing, which for so many artists as well as other creative vocations – from architecture to product design – is a crucial component of their artistic process and practice.

[1] Miles Richmond, 2007, talk given to accompany the exhibition David Bomberg at Boundary Gallery, London

Image Credit: ‘Beauvais Cathedral (East End II)’, by Dennis Creffield, 1990 © London South Bank University