Since 2014・Volume 7
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.
With the heightened interest surrounding ballpoint pen as an art medium, the remaining blanks in ballpoint pen art history are slowly but surely being filled in. To those who have followed the medium with more than just a passing curiosity, Matt Rota's recently published book The Art of Ballpoint also helps fill in some of those blanks. To those newly introduced to the medium, the book may even be revelatory. I looked forward to reading this book and had high hopes for it, being the first of its kind. I am also all-in to support anyone writing at length about ballpoint pen art, and Rota seems to know a thing or two about it — or at least did his homework on the subject — but does he know enough about ballpoints to be the writer of the-book-that-needs-to-be-written? With his freshman foray into the world of publishing, Rota ambitiously crams three books into one; a ballpoint pen history book, a ballpoint pen art history book and a how-to book. Therein lay The Art of Ballpoint's biggest shortcoming. In being all of the above, all of the above suffer...
thINK by O. Lebron originally posted June 16, 2020
book review: Ballpoint Art
thINK ARCHIVE by B. Neufeld originally posted May 9, 2016
book review: The Art of Ballpoint
Written by Matt Rota・Published by Rockport Press
thINK ARCHIVE by B. Neufeld originally posted Nov 8, 2015
2015: A Year in the Pen
Exclamation Points・WHYs & Why NOTs
Broad and thoroughly informative, if somewhat clinical and negligibly incomplete, introduction to and overview of the ballpoint genre. Given the confines of encyclopedic acceptability, the article's lack of personality is forgivable. Just the facts, Ma'am. Its first incarnation, as "Ballpoint pen drawings", appeared in 2011 as one poorly written, unsourced, 2,000-character paragraph. The article went through various self-promotional, free-for-all incarnations until finally given deserved respectability and taken to fruition in 2012 by wiki contributor "Penwatchdog", who turned the paragraph into the 40,000-character, fully sourced, encyclopedia entry it remains today.
ARTNEWS・Making Cutting-Edge Art with Ballpoint Pens・Trent Morse・January 8, 2014
Followers of the genre might feel ARTNEWS simply jumped the bandwagon to prove that they-know-ballpoints. Mr. Morse likely read the wikipedia page and tweaked it to suit ARTNEWS bias in an unsurprising act of exclusionary art politics to comandeer an unexploited and otherwise ignored corner of contemporary art. Academics drawing a line in the sand, so to speak? Maybe its merely another case of ill-informed coverage. Understandably, they've got their own agendas to serve, but: an article chronicling the history of ballpoint art with no mention of Lennie Mace? Morse even bypassed the ballpoint photorealism (and viral overkill) of Juan Francisco Casas in favor of naming the "Portuguese lawyer" who reportedly achieved the same (ballpoint photorealism and viral overkill) "as a hobby".
The Age (Australia)・Are Melbourne's commercial galleries becoming an endangered species?・Lucinda Schmidt・June, 2014
Troubling Truths: this article about the state-of-the Art Scene in Melbourne, Australia touches upon a topic familiar to many world-class "art" cities. "Why buy what I can get for free?" and "Why leave the comforts of home to see art I can see from right here on my sofa?" Buying what you can get for free shows you actually care enough to support it, and leaving the comforts of home is underrated.
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 the ARCHIVED page ...
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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.
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.
My Ballpointer bosses made the mistake of giving me a key to the mailbox; access to all incoming correspondence. At least once a month The Ballpointer gets a message accusing the site (or me) of unfairly installing itself (or me) as some kind of quote-unquote ''ballpoint police''. ''Ballpoint Big Brother'' is another accusatory term that's been used ...
Top FAQ from readers: ''Why haven't you featured so-and-so.'' Unfortunate truth: not everyone is anxious to talk with The Ballpointer. I've been given permission to name names as long as I show some restraint with my own assumptions or opinions. ''Let readers know which artists we've approached without stepping on any toes and scaring those artists away,'' were my instructions. Familiar names to ballpointers: Casas, Yanovskaya, Shohei, Lee, among others. All have been solicited for interviews. No success. I can't speak for the WHYs and why-NOTs but unresponsiveness leaves room for conjecture, the realm of this column. What kind of artist turns down an opportunity to talk about their art? Niche artists not cooperating with niche media? Those who haven't been featured can't blame the site for ignoring them. The Ballpointer encourages artists' cooperation to insure quality and coverage of the artwork as it should be. Some contributing editors may choose to simply bypass unwilling artists and move onto others. This column sweeps up behind them. Freedom of the press. With or without a subject's blessing, there's always something to report ...
Just as so many presumptuous or naive ballpoint prodigies tripped over each other to have you believe they 'came first', so came the race for First Place in formally documenting ballpoint pen art history. Interestingly, Wikipedia got there first, roundabout 2012, with an incomplete but fair overview of the genre. That ersatz encyclopedia's account, however, seems to have fallen short of art world acceptability and might've actually been the spark that set subsequent writers on their respective courses of corrective surgery. Among them was Orlando Lebron, a ballpoint art collector and writer, who, with the expressed intent of ''creating discourse, no strings attached '', began publishing The Ballpointer in 2014 as a kind of trade journal chronicling noteworthy goings-on in the medium...
thINK ARCHIVE by B. Neufeld & R. Bell orig. posted Aug 1, 2016
REALLY ?・Hype & 'Hyper '・Act I
A lengthy international flight allowed The Ballpointer publisher Ronald Bell and thINK columnist Bruce Neufeld ample time to butt heads, as they often do, about all things ballpoint. Alcohol was involved. I put in my two cents occasionally but mostly kept out of it, content to record the proceedings from relative safety across the aisle. This segment of their lengthy discussion was spent debating Photorealism in ballpoint pen art. It's amazing how much two aging intellectuals can ramble on about a dead end topic. Now they had fourteen hours to kibitz. Somewhere over Canada ...
Ronald Bell: So it's just this new, fashionable 21st century rebranding as 'Hyper-realism' that irks you?
Bruce Neufeld: It's never just one thing with me, you know that. (RB nods in agreement while laughing.) We're talking figurative art and Photorealism , two terms that describe their subjects perfectly. When I hear 'Hyper-realism' I think realer-than-real. I think Don Eddy, Richard Estes, Chuck Close; names from art history. Back then (late-1960s into the 70s) it was enough to simply call it what it was: Photorealism. Seamless, technicolor painting that could truly be mistaken for a photograph. It was a full-fledged art movement. More importantly, a first of its kind. Compared to what those artists were doing, today's so-called 'Hyper-realists' don't even come close!
RB: You walked five miles to school barefooted, didn't you? Maybe they don't teach Photorealism in art school anymore. Or art history ?
BN: This reboot as 'Hyper-realism' is just art-speak hype by Generation X, Y, Z or whatever letter at the end of the alphabet we're on now.
Orlando Lebron: What comes after 'Z '?
RB: Mayan prophecies come true; skies fall.
BN: When I'm looking at a drawing — a drawing where crosshatching is clearly visible, even from ten feet away, and the only color used is blue — sure, it might be a fine photorealistic representation, but what's so 'hyper-realist' about a blue line drawing? Nothing seamless about that ...
thINK ARCHIVE by B. Neufeld originally posted June 30, 2017
book review: Ballpoint Art
Written by Trent Morse・Published by Laurence King Publishing