Display Cases in the Great Hall: Exhibition Archive

Drawings by Benjamin Cottam

March 21, 2015 - April 30, 2015


Benjamin Cottam’s drawings have the vaporous quality of plumes of smoke, captured against a fine and delicate azure sky. Using techniques favored by many artists of the 18th century, Cottam excerpts images taken from the headlines or news snippets, and converts them into riveting and intense studies. Delicately rendered in white crayon against a blue page, they are silky threads of memory. Recording moments of journalism, depicting pieces of people, bodies, and the residual effects of mindless, senseless killing, Cottam draws what is reported on the news. The raw contrast between the pathos of a dead child’s body, and the delicacy of his drawing, speaks to Cottam’s intuitive sense of the historical and tragic record of a life, depicted on a paper so thin that it can fly away, like the soul of the tiny body that lies before us.

Working with images of war, much like Goya, Cottam draws and then scrapes back his images, creating and destroying a layered surface. As a result, many of the drawings have a transparent quality, because of the shimmering white crayon against thinned blue paper. The metalpoint that he uses to scrape away the surface also adds polish and sheen to the skinned paper, and mineral spirits added to the crayon create areas of wash. The technique is about layering and destruction, using methods that reflect an inherent need to remove the creation from its support. Choosing a paper renowned for its luxury, Cottam works on Smythson Featherweight stationery, laid and watermarked, with a soft dove gray-sapphire color. The sheets serve as blue skies to vapors of imagination, with cloud-like and fleeting images.

Case One: Collateral Damage, 1,2,3; Road Marker, 1, 2
Case Two: Drone Strike; Firing Squad; Staged Kill, 1,2,3

Variable, from 6.25 x 6.25 inches (15.88 x 15.88 cm) to
6.25 x 8 inches (15.88 x 20.23 cm);
White crayon on Smythson Featherweight paper.

All Works Courtesy of the Artist and Gasser Grunert GalleryOpen link in new window
Curated by Lisa A. Banner