Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

Mark Making

by Adrian Clement

15 Jun 2011

‘Mark making’ is a term used to describe the actions and intentions of artists who work in painting and drawing. We all have a fair idea of what this means in a traditional sense—whether it be pen on paper, or paint on canvas—but as art evolves, so does the means by which artists make marks.

In the 1970s, Richard Serra started drawing directly onto the walls of gallery spaces using black paint-stick (a crayon comprised of a mixture of pigment, oil, and wax). When viewing the photographic documentation of these works it is easy to mistake them for Serra’s steel structure installations because of how similarly they command space in the ways we thought only successful works of installation art were capable.

Works like Serra’s exemplify a new mode of art making. It is one that stretches drawing and painting into the realms of installation art and sculpture. One can think of it as ‘spatial drawing,’ a term used by artist Margaret Roberts, who draws in space using adhesive tape.

Rachel Park, a Sydney based artist, uses toilet paper as her drawing impetus to navigate through and engage with space. In an email Park sent to me in May, she stated that it was her intention to realise toilet paper in its full aesthetic potential, attempting to alleviate it from its base connotations, and redefine it in the process.

Even though Park is attempting to cause a change in the perception of audience’s response to toilet paper, I think it is especially difficult for people to let go of preconceived emotional and psychological attachments to materials that have base connotations.

In an interview with ABC Radio, Parks said, “A lot of people call me the ‘Toilet Paper Artist.’”[1] This is hardly a surprise to me, because whereas an artistic idiosyncrasy develops from an engagement with something specific for a long time (such as Joseph Beuys and his use of felt), a stigma can be attached to an artist through a combination of unconventional material use and short-sighted public reaction.

This can be historically evidenced in the public criticism and ridicule of work by Carl André, described by André’s uncle Raymond Baxter as, “ignorant, bigoted and cheap.”[2] The criticism originated from André’s choice of bricks as the material for his work. Because bricks are often thought of as a working class material for labourers and construction workers for the purpose of building housing structures and so forth, many people rejected the idea that a piece of fine art could be made using the same materials.

I think a lot of people believe that artists are what they make. That is to say, an engagement with a material or subject matter to make a ‘mark’, whether that be a painting or a novel, can also be the catalyst for an audience to mark an artist in a certain way. In some ways it is a gamble between artistic vision and stature.



[1] ABC Radio, Smart Arts, April 1, 2011.
[2] ‘Set in Stonehenge: Raymond Baxter on Carl Andre”, Tate ETC. (2006)