Design Review: Volume 5, Issue 2 (May-June 1953)
Art Review — The Work of John Drawbridge
The Work of John Drawbridge
John Drawbridge is an artist in his own right as well as being an art-adviser employed by the Wellington Education Board. He is young, enthusiastic and sincere. Born in Wellington in 1930, he was educated at Karori School and Wellington College, going from there to the Teachers' Training College. A third year at Dunedin completed his training as an art specialist, and he now travels around the primary schools in the Wellington Education Board area in this capacity. This means a great deal of moving about in which John sees much of the country and meets many people. He finds teachers helpful and co-operative, which simply shows that he has the art of getting along well with people. This we can well believe after the time spent with him talking about his own art and his work in schools.
Educational Work: He was enthusiastic and animated as he talked about the work with school children. The peculiar circumstance of his visiting so many schools and dealing with children of different ages and periods of development, gives him a better idea of a child's development from infancy to maturity than is available to the average teacher. A teacher may take children approximating to the same age year after year and thereby fail to get the same overall view as John, of the development of a child's art work.
Apart from showing the normal development of a child, art work is a useful therapy for the maladjusted child, and doesn't it come out plainly! John finds that the best abstract pattern in children's work comes from exciting emotional experiences. Thus you can, for example, get a child worked up about an exciting fight with an octopus under the sea, and the resulting art work will be a good and exciting abstract pattern. Here we have, if I may be allowed to moralise for a moment, the explanation and justification of much modern abstract and semi-abstract art. All art is the invention and making of a symbol that will translate to a spectator the same emotional excitement that spurred the artist to work in the first place. Possibly the lack of understanding of most contemporary art arises from a loss of that ability, noticeably present in the child, to remove our emotions from a dormant state to one of excitement. In the same way, John finds that children seem to want adult criticism and approval of their work, but that adults too often try to adjust a child's way of seeing to theirs.
Art Training: Apart from the training already mentioned, John Drawbridge has attended night school to model in clay from life and the grasp this has given him of seeing things in the round, he has found most helpful. At the present time he attends an informal life group in which he draws from the model in company with other Wellington artists.
John has never held a one-man show of his work, but it has been exhibited, two or three pictures at a time in the main centres of New Zealand. He is not very anxious to exhibit to the public; he feels that for the time being he just wants to paint. He senses a dangerous influence from the public's reactions and their expressions of opinion; that they like this and don't like that. This, he considers, might tend to limit his work and confine it within bounds, whereas at present he wants to try everything and find his own way. He realises that an artist cannot work for himself alone and that it is difficult to continue without hearing what people have to say. However, for the moment he prefers to show his works to friends and discuss them, rather than to find what the public has to say at an art exhibition. Sometimes he wishes he had the audacity and boldness of his schoolchildren, who will tackle the wall of a room with crayon and paint without a moment's hesitation.
His Own Work: John Drawbridge keeps himself abreast of modern European art as well as he is able through such reproductions as reach this country. He has no particular preferences for any one artist but admires each one for what that artist is trying to do. He admits that from time to time he has been attracted by the work of some one artist, but while he feels he may derive something from a study of his work, he has tried to avoid being unduly influenced. To observe the work of other men may, he considers, help him in his own way without it becoming obviously derivative.
After seeing a considerable body of John Drawbridge's work several salient points emerge.
The texture of a painting has great importance and fascination for him. Some of the most interesting are monotypes, in which paint is applied to glass and transferred by pressing on to wet paper. His interest in texture is again apparent in the wide and novel array of media that he uses—greasy crayon, conté, gouache, litho, pen, brush and knife. Most interesting results have been derived from the use of greasy crayon in which form was defined and developed by removal of the crayon with a razor blade.
Up to the present at any rate, his best and most interesting work consists of rapid spontaneous studies. Those works which take time to complete are well below the standard of his swiftly executed pictures. There is an almost explosive movement in his best work, as though the picture is bursting from a central point. This is not perhaps clear from these reproductions, but we had to choose ones that would reduce well to half-tone. Something of this effect may however be seen in the picture of a clown.
I will not finish with the trite dictum that we shall see more of John Drawbridge. I will say that he is a sincere, gifted and enthusiastic artist working in a common sense way with both feet firmly planted on the ground.