By Brian Curtin

A line is a dot in motion.

I was told this during the first week of my first semester at art school, many years ago. Short, sharp statements I don’t quite understand tend to stick in my mind. Or, of course, I do understand how a line is created from a roaming dot but this definition remains faintly absurd to me. I wonder about the impoverished imagination of the person who wrote it. I think about the robust linear forms of the examples of cave paintings I show my students. This definition is so succinct it nearly doesn’t exist. Hence I don’t understand why it should.

The artist Tania Kovats claimed in The Drawing Book that the use of line in visual art is inextricably linked to drawing. No it isn’t, but Kovats can be forgiven for this assumption. Our understanding of line in visual art is wayward because we are usually caught in a tension between the fact that linear rendering typically functions as a preparatory study, and/or as an extra-artistic endeavor, and the potential of line to be valued as form in and of itself. Eva Hesse’s Hand Up (1966) springs to mind in regard o the latter: a frame from which a wire springs into space, symbolizing the unfettered nature of creativity.

The implications of Hesse’s precedent set an appropriate context for On the Edge. That is, the opening up, rather than closing down, of ideas about the use of line in contemporary art practices.

On the Edge explores art-making in terms of method by examining a certain fundamental aspect of picture-making. Line can function as the delineation of form or the track of mapping space and is definitively understood in contrast to plane. Moreover, following Kovats, the use of line typically denotes the practice of sketching. That is, the spontaneous and/or utilitarian. Line, in other words, can function as an edge and as a means, and is a distinct pictorial device. These functions have metaphoric implications in terms of limits, movement and the relationship between process and representation.

On the Edge offers an idiosyncratic showcase of the use of line I a variety of international art practices. Drawing, painting and printmaking are included but not all the artists work exclusively within these disciplines. On the Edge departs from the insight that line is a form in and of itself. These artists variously explore line in terms of graffito, the symbolic, the decorative and the descriptive, and the expressive.

Jonathan Gent employs a seemingly off-hand and spontaneous approach that belies his studious reflection on the sensations of personal memory and experience. In contrast, Chat Jenchitr’s meticulously executed lines and circles bespeak a metaphoric consideration of human growth and interaction, with colors that dazzle our perception. Thavorn Ko-udomvit cooly renders the semiotic dimension of line with sign of self-determined agreement and disagreement or approval and disapproval. These sign have particular gravitas in view of recent political upheaval in Thailand. Audrey T. Welch produces painterly responses and abstract equivalents to found images and emotional experience; her line maneuvers between its materiality, questions of signification and the uninhibited registration of the artist’s physical movements. Justin Miss, Be Takering Pattanopas and Yeni Mao provide a distinctly contemporary take on the dichotomy of the mechanical/hand-drawn, where both replication and repetition are key features of their use of line. Mills’s play with portraiture contrasts a graphic, near digitized , quality of line with painterly passage and a gold-colored ground, effortlessly melding the distinct forms of each. Pattanopas’s masses of dense ink lines suggest tangible and intangible phenomenon and disorient our sense of scale and place by appearing as both intimate and vast. Mao creates sharply drawn hybrids of human, animal, machine and plant life which belie a fragile beauty while hinting at the uneasy implications of how these different spheres of existence are mutating in our age of increasingly invasive technology. Finally, Ralph Kiggell’s exceptionally elegant woodcuts employ line to delineate forms which ove, turn and twist as they shift between abstraction and figuration.

On the Edge encourages an engagement with contemporary art that insists on an acknowledgment of the structure of the image/object itself, and how traditional formal decisions are being played ut across the plane of aspects of international current art.


Tania Kovats (2007) The Drawing Book, Black Dog Publishing

-Brian Curtin