How Can I Tell What I Think Till I See What I Say: Sally Madge

Port of Tyne Gallery at The Customs House, South Shields
5 September - 4 October 2015

Not so much an exhibition of drawings, more an installation about drawing. Sally takes her inspiration from a child’s picture of a house and asks questions concerning the nature and significance of drawing as activity and event. The installation might be interpreted partly as a personal archive but also a ‘design for living’, and aims for a playful yet serious approach to the subject.

The title for this exhibition is taken from Aspects of the Novel (1927), a treatise on writing by the English novelist EM Forster – Sally came across it when reading Marion Milner’s 1950s classic study of the nature of creativity and the forces which prevent its expression, On Not Being Able To Paint. The quotation has been used as part of a discussion of Milner’s ideas about the interplay of inner and outer reality in art and everyday life.

Taking her inspiration from a child’s drawing of a house, her aim is to weave a series of visual narratives through the space of the gallery, and so this is less an exhibition of her drawings or an exercise in drawing virtuosity than an installation about drawing. The intention is to explore the nature and potential of the medium, the way being able to do it or not being able to do it is indicative of received cultural norms and practices (as in “I can’t draw a straight line”, and the notion of ‘genius’), as well as how the defining principles of drawing might be reformulated to fit a range of creative needs and aims.

The main gallery becomes the site for an experiment in ‘interior design’, and the walls are marked, papered and hung with a selection of artist-produced, found and collected drawings. A large, sculptural piece which takes centre stage engages with the child’s drawing and references various art historical precedents. ‘How To Draw’ manuals spanning several decades are laid out for reference, and the small anteroom off the gallery operates as a more intimate and unformulated ‘studio’ space. The installation might thus be interpreted as part museum, part personal archive and part ‘design for living’.

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