Urban Lines: Jack Coates

Port of Tyne Gallery at The Customs House
24 January - 6 April 2015

During 2015 The Port of Tyne Gallery at The Customs House is hosting a ‘year of drawing’ – so, every exhibition and event part of its programme will explore drawing in as diverse a way as possible, with some activity challenging traditional perceptions of what drawing is, can be or should be.

Artist Jack Coates started off the year with an exhibition of new architectural drawings made on paper and canvas. The latter, being a medium not traditionally associated with drawing practice and one which provoked a degree of self-analysis and enquiry for the artist.

Comparing earlier drawings with later work produced specifically for this exhibition, there is a clear transition Jack has made from very tight, controlled and almost precise works to ones which are more fluid, gestural and expressive. This development parallels Jack’s own progression working from photographs to drawing from his sketches made in locations across Newcastle, thus taking his drawing practice back to line and shade rather than colour and focusing on what interests his eye.

Jack trained as a draughtsman at Liverpool College of Art in the 60’s and spent over 30 years teaching Art & Design in high schools. Since his retirement, he has fast established a strong working practice from his studio in Newcastle. He has spent a year creating new work specifically for this exhibition branching off into areas of drawing which have presented major personal challenges, not least because he has up-scaled from working on A3 paper to 5ft canvases.

Jack’s focus has been, and continues to be, about capturing the detail of a building as you look up at it, the shape a building makes against negative space “it’s about the shape of the building against the sky as much as anything”, he explains. However, don’t expect to see a perfect blue sky in any of his drawings, as colour – for the most part – has become unnecessary within his work. What is seen, are intense marks made with charcoal or ink against more gestural and playful notations made as more spontaneous response to both his subject matter and medium.

The draughtsman in him may have loosened up and embraced the unfamiliar territory of working on a larger scale, and even allowed himself to not ‘over work’ pieces, enabling an element of chance and ‘moment’ of action to be left but in essence his acute tentative control and precise observation hasn’t left his hand entirely. So what forms, are beautifully rendered compositions that have a freshness which remains, as if the work has been made fresh for the viewer to see. For this exhibition, he also created some very large scale site specific drawings, another departure for him; working again to embrace a whole new approach to making architectural drawings.

He was invited to make a short residency in the Gallery leading up to his exhibition and start the year off by having drawings that related to the building, so the exhibition has some direct connection and relevance to the gallery itself. What was created were a series of monumental site specific life size drawings of the 150 year old Customs House building, but uniquely made from within the main Gallery space. Jack has spent time getting to know the building, working with it and understanding its structure, character and contours as he’s sketched and embraced the challenge of these impressive works.

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