Tim Hawkinson: Drip Drawings
PRJCTLA, Los Angeles
November 13, 2021 through January 15, 2022
By GARY BREWER, December 2021
“You do not understand, these things did not exist, we were finding the contours of what was possible.”
To take a set of rules, a narrow bandwidth of possibilities, and create the myriad variations of what is possible: this is the creative endeavor that Tim Hawkinson set for himself in his Drip Drawings. In his mind, the totality of these drawings is a single work; something akin to a musical form of theme and variations. There are 72 drawings. They were done in a span of 1½ years and there may be more.
The Drip Drawings are a departure from what one usually thinks of in Hawkinson’s mercurial work: these are lean, elegant, idiosyncratic and methodical. They articulate an aspect of his imagination and expand the myriad guises in which he can express himself.
The initial inspiration came from a piece he did for an exhibit at the Getty Museum in 2007. Hawkinson made a large ink painting of a dragon: the ink dripped and he added more drips, becoming fascinated by how straight the lines flowed. Years later he created an image of a windmill using the drip lines. The paper had a subtle texture and caused the ink to travel on a slightly wayward path. Hawkinson wanted to find an extremely smooth paper to control the path of the drip, keeping it as straight as possible. Later he made special tools and found a synthetic paper smooth enough to achieve his needs. One of the tools he created is a small hand-held ink gun to dispense the ink; the other, a small vacuum gun to stop the ink drip at an exact spot.
There is a nostalgic quality to these precisionist drawings that harkens back to Op Art of the 1960’s. Hawkinson spent much of his time working on these while listening to the ambient, minimalist and quirky music of Piotr Kurek, whose synthetic Moog-like sounds share a nostalgic quality. Using the simple geometry of a circle and perpendicular lines, he creates optically electric articulations of volume and form. He generates the illusion of space using gradients, by setting his parallel lines at points located on an arc separated by 5 degrees. These are skeletal articulations of the rudiments of how our mind interprets space. The clear physical reality of ink lines on paper and the illusion of space is one of the delights of these works- they wink at you with wit and intelligence in their smart attire.
The regroupings and combinations of individual drawings that create more complex formal designs are wondrous. The drawings have a protean quality: shape shifting from pure volumetric form, to suggesting anthropomorphism, font design, sculptural forms, and architectural decorative embellishments. The larger horizontal piece Caryatid, looks like it could be an alien language from an extraterrestrial source or the arcane musical notation of an unorthodox contemporary composer.
Some of the titles are created from the suggestive quality of the forms within the works. Other titles have a personal connection. Both the title Ojalai and Camaradin are names his daughter made up as a child for imaginary spices. In Ojalai, a bold muscular serpentine design dominates our perceptions- then the rectangle of the middle section takes hold. There is an almost hallucinatory ambiguity of the positive and negative space oscillating back and forth; all the while the endless swells of a sea of volumetric forms are undulating.
In the drawing Camaradin, there is a beautiful interplay between the suggestion of font-like elements and the look of Polynesian sculpture, oscillating between anthropomorphic and zoomorphic visages. Curves and volumes musically dance within these strict formal constraints, seeking to burst into the world of three dimensions.
In the piece Four Lobed Drip Drawing, there is a formal power to the four circles clustered like a Tantric symbol, exerting a hypnotic force. They have the initial gestalt of a minimalist work of art, but with a beguiling complexity and an M.C. Escher-like sense of impossibility in the undulating contours of volumetric space. They are as engaging and bewitching as a mobius strip. It is a metaphysical conundrum: both clear as a bell and paradoxical at the same time.
The drawing Obonob, is the word for our closest primate relative: the Bonobo, spelled backwards. In this piece, the anthropomorphic quality is immediate: the big bright eyes and pronounced lips are an image that comes to mind quickly. Its appearance morphs a bit and the unmistakable visage of a monkey’s face shows itself. We look through the lens of a machine-like precision, made with the medium of a drop of liquid and gravity into the face of the past of an ancient ancestor of ours, who looks back at us, beguiled by the wayward path of life.
These drawings are many things: formal explorations; problem solving within a narrow range of possibilities; mining the interpretive qualities of mind; and seeing where this idiosyncratic path of inventing a language of line, form, volume and space will lead. In the hands of Tim Hawkinson, they lead into the uncanny: the strange edge of what is knowable by extending one’s reach into the inky blackness of the unknown. WM