Live drawing and return to performativity

Drawing is an profoundly performative act. The hand is physically mediated by the drawing tool and surface, but at the same time, the gesture can transmit more directly than anything else the raw emotions of the artist in the moment of creation. The finished drawing is only the residue of this process, and taken away from the temporal (performative) narrative from which represents the final stage, it becomes an independent object with its own dynamics (the spacial relationships between shapes and forms, the visual pattern of colors, etc.).

I’d like to draw an improbable arch spanning thousands of years. Let’s first consider the cave paintings from pre-historical man.


Today we are able to see this remains of ancient practices, thanks to the technical resources available to us. But I think it is reasonable to ask if these drawing-paintings were meant to be looked at after their creation, or they rather represent the outcome of a one-time ritual, being the enactment of this ritual (drawing the prey) the sole goal of descending into the almost unreachable, unlit areas of the cave. It is usually said that the cave paintings are among the first artistic manifestations of humanity (which left physical trace), however these artworks are paintings that cannot be seen. The left object is not important, but the act of its creation is.

During centuries the visual arts (in the western world) were focused in the final object that results form the creative process. The 20th century witnessed a dramatic change in this focus, towards the processual nature of art (for instance fuxus and happenings during the 60’s). The following two examples can still be inscribed in the realm of object-oriented art, but show the increasing importance of the gesture and the ephemeral. Jackson Pollock’s action paintings are probably more about the movements and gestures that the artist made over the canvas than about the resulting, static painting. These paintings seem to exist at a crux between the object and the gesture.


In Le mystère Picasso, a documentary by H. G. Clouzot released in 1956, we can see, among other things, the transformation in Picasso’s painting between a fish, a cock and finally a human face. This transformation is probably more fascinating that the final painting itself. Maybe part of this fascination come from the fact that he is Picasso, but we can see nonetheless live painting (or drawing) as a potentially new art form that combines performance (and even ritual) with older traditions and techniques of visual arts.

Live drawing certainly is also closely connected traditional animation. However, the fact that the line is created in “real-time” in front of the audience creates a number of unique narrative and visual challenges and opportunities. For instance, the act of drawing the line becomes the animation itself, or at least part of it.

Digital media greatly facilitates the practice of live drawing. Real-time capture and digitalization of video and hand gestures allow to build systems for real-time animation. The collaboration between experimental animator Pierre Hebert and sound artist/composer Bob Ostertag is a good example of the possibilities of live drawing/animation:

With the widespread accessibility of laptop computers, graphic tablets and low cost cameras, the practice of digital live drawing can be found in different parts of the world (look for example at Argentinean visual artist Marcella Rapallo or NYC-based British illustrator Shantell Martin). It is also interesting to note how the form of live drawing is interacting with other (audio)visual performative practices such VJ’ing or live cinema (film).


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