Since 2014・Volume 7
thINK by O. Lebron posted June 16, 2020
book review: Ballpoint Art
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Ballpoint Art : Complexity from Simplicity is the third book to spotlight the use of ballpoint pens in the making of fine art. The first two were written by those in a better position to tell us 'this is what's best and this is why' but nonetheless fell just short. Writers of both seemed suspiciously eager to introduce artists working within their own spheres, even as any definitive book on the subject had yet been written — Wikipedia's Ballpoint Pen Artwork page and The Ballpointer website notwithstanding.
Matt Rota did justice to the medium in the first official book on the subject, The Art of Ballpoint (2016), but dedicated too many pages to basic drawing exercises and used a better part of the remaining pages focussing too narrowly on the New York art school crowd — students and instructors; academic circles in which Rota is active — even as many artists synonymous with the medium who are neither based in New York nor graduates of its art schools had yet to see publication.
Trent Morse's 2017 book Ballpoint Art missed the point altogether, with too loose a consideration of what constitutes 'ballpoint art'. Artists simply 'using' the pens made up the majority of Morse's presentation, showing very little of the ballpoint wow factor which has only recently provided the medium its cachet. Line drawings by Yoshitomo Nara, an overrated art star from the 1990s whose inclusion was more about the star than the art, and whose oeuvre has as much to do with ballpoints as Bob Ross, were among the WTF inclusions which could only be appreciated by the kind of would-be art scholars who might make up Morse's target audience.
It's a disservice to the medium to promote artists simply 'using ' ballpoint pens while there are so many who've shown long-term dedication to the medium and created substantial bodies of ballpoint artwork. Anyone doing any drawing since the 1950s has surely 'used ' ballpoints, from grade school doodlers to artists with work in museum collections, but most are using them to create what can be achieved with any number of mediums, while only a relatively small, identifiable number of noteworthy artists are mastering ballpoints in ways that are unique to the medium. Other artists' ballpoint pen drawings are, well, just drawings in ballpoint pen. Tan and her team show an understanding of that distinction, and present the best selection yet of artists working wonders in ballpoint.
Boston-based JooLee Kang's ballpoint work marks the narrow margin where mastery eclipses 'use '. Though the Korean-born artist's work is drawing, plain and simple, she also happens to have mastered the flexibility of line weight and opacity that a ballpoint and its ink allows, infusing expressiveness into what with any other pen would be flat lines; results are achieved not just by drawing skills, but by ballpoint drawing skills, which in Kang's case join the technical with the highly imaginative (pictured). Being featured in Complexity from Simplicity grants Kang the distinction of being the only artist to be featured in all three ballpoint art books published thus far. Similarly, the textures making up the drawings of New York-based Dina Brodsky, another featured artist, are woven from the kind of delicate halftone lines only achievable via expert handling of a ballpoint pen (pictured, HEADLINES 2). Reduction for publication tightens Kang's and Brodsky's line work, but the subtle beauty of those ballpoint lines when viewed face to face is the real treat; step in for a closer inspection if you ever have the opportunity.
Tan & Co combed the internet to come up with the bulk of their featured artists: ''When we searched, we saw output from amateurs and average people. On the other hand, we noticed some great artists whose works are well-received and exhibited frequently.So when selecting the artists for this book, we tried to cover both sides.'' That fairness also extended to geographical consideration: ''We also paid attention to avoid too many artists coming from the same country or cultural background,'' Tan adds. The earlier ballpoint books were also among the editors' resources, as was The Ballpointer, from which Tan admits to finding several artists who'd be featured in Complexity from Simplicity. continues on HEADLINES 2 page ...
Ballpoint Art : Complexity from Simplicity
Published by Sandu Publishing Co. Ltd. ・ Guangzhou, China
Hardcover, 256 pages ・ Editorial director Jessie Tan
Editors at Sandu Publishing in Guangzhou, China, might not know ballpoint pen artwork but apparently they know what they like, and even a cursory flip through their recently published Ballpoint Art : Complexity from Simplicity shows they've got good taste. I only mention that they 'might not know ballpoint art ' not because I think so, but because Sandu editorial director Jessie Tan admitted as much. ''Ballpoint art is totally a new field for me, to be honest,'' Tan conceded during an email exchange about the production of the book. In this case, however, any shortage of background with the subject works to their benefit — sometimes an outsider's eyes see clearer than those standing closest to their subject, and the very publication of 'Complexity from Simplicity ' proves Tan possesses an editor's eye for a book-worthy topic.
Tan led a team of six editors in the production of Complexity from Simplicity, which went into development mid-2018 and went public in January, 2020. Some might argue that the process of choosing art for publication should be a matter of 'this is what's best and this is why' by someone in a position to say so. For Tan it was a team effort, content by consensus, and together they manage to pull it off without suffering from too many cooks in the kitchen. ''The book is not to claim those included are the best artists in the field,'' she explains of their choices. ''It’s to show the readers that ballpoint pen has possibilities to create work in various styles with different concepts.'' Proof of Team Tan's success in doing so is in print: page after page of ballpoint pen artwork the editors deemed worthy of attention. ''It’s one of my favorites among all I’ve edited so far,'' Tan says of the fifteen books she's been involved with during her time at Sandu (2016~). I'll add that it has become my favorite among all ballpoint art books published so far, so any criticism conveyed here should not imply otherwise.
From top : Ballpoint Art : Complexity from Simplicity bookcover, showing the artwork of Nuria Riaza;
JooLee Kang, Twisted Nature lll, 2017, 131 x 163cm ; Ebrin Bagheri, People You May Know lll, 2019, 89 x 89cm, on board). All artwork ballpoint pen © Respective Artists.
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