A landscape drawing featuring coloured dots in different sizes. There are four large red circles made up of dots. There are also smaller clusters of purple, pink and orange dots. Three jagged lines travel down the drawing intersecting with the dots.

An introduction to Art on paper since 1960: the Hamish Parker collection

By Catherine Daunt, Hamish Parker Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art

Publication date: 12 January 2023

This free display celebrates a gift received by the Museum in 2020 by the London-based art collector Hamish Parker. This blog, by curator Catherine Daunt, highlights six works from the show.

Art on paper since 1960: the Hamish Parker collection celebrates a group of around 150 works of art on paper (both prints and drawings) donated by Hamish Parker. Almost all the works in the gift were made in 1960 or later and many were made by contemporary artists who are still alive and working. Although the Department of Prints and Drawings’ collection has always included contemporary works on paper, it has only collected the work of living artists consistently since the mid-1970s. Today, however, this is one of the most dynamic areas of the collection.

Kiki Smith

The display opens with what is now one of the largest works of art in the Prints and Drawings collection, a two-metre-high drawing and collage on thin Nepalese paper by the American artist Kiki Smith (b. 1954). Smith made the drawing for an exhibition that examined the lives of female artists from cradle to grave. The composition is influenced by Christian imagery of the Annunciation in which the Virgin Mary receives news that she will give birth to the son of God. Depicting herself as an ageing artist, Smith uses the Annunciation as a metaphor for a moment of creative inspiration. Instead of a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit that can often be found in depictions of the Christian scene, Smith is visited by a bird with dark plumage from which a magical glittery cloud descends. Raised a Roman Catholic, Smith has frequently drawn on Christianity in her art, particularly art historical images of women from the Bible. Birds are also a common motif, sometimes appearing as a stand-in for the human soul.

Kiki etching

In addition to this drawing, the display includes two colour etchings from Smith’s 2006 portfolio Touch, a group of prints depicting bouquets of flowers received after the death of her mother, opera singer Jane Lawrence Smith (1915–2005). Capturing them as they begin to wilt and decay, Smith’s work is modern memento mori, both a lament to her mother and a commentary on life and death. 

Sylvia

Although Hamish Parker’s gift included work by artists from around the world, the display reflects his particular interest in American art and particularly American Minimalism, a movement with which Sylvia Plimack Mangold (b. 1938) was associated in the 1960s and 70s. Minimalist art is characterised by simple, pared-down imagery, often based around a grid, and often employing a repetitive pattern. Plimack Mangold was also associated with Conceptualism, a movement in which the idea is more important than the finished work of art. This print has elements of both approaches. The lines of the wooden floorboards reflect the repetitive lines of Minimalism, while the artist explores ideas around perspective and illusion through the trompe l’œil rulers.

Plimack Mangold began to make images of wooden floors in the late 1960s, using rulers and tape to delineate a particular area. In 1974 she began to add rulers to the images themselves. This print derives from one of her earliest ruler drawings. The lower edge of the horizontal ruler is true to size – exactly 12 inches – but the measurements on its upper edge and the vertical ruler are rendered inaccurate by the perspective. This is one of two prints by Plimack Mangold included in the show, the first works by this important artist to enter the Museum’s collection.  

Ingrid Calame

Also based in the US, Ingrid Calame (b. 1965) is best-known for her meandering map-like images that trace the physical remnants of human activity. Working with assistants, Calame begins her process by laying down sheets of transparent plastic to trace the stains, marks and graffiti in different environments including pavements, car parks and building interiors. She then layers the tracings to form the compositions of her often-monumental paintings and drawings.

artist at work

The artist and one of her assistants making some tracings
The artist (left) and one of her assistants making some tracings. Photo © Ingrid Calame.

trace 2 & 3

Ingrid Calame continued

This print is one of three colour etchings titled Trace 1⁠–3 that Calame made at Pace Editions in New York. To replicate the layering technique that she employs in other media, Calame created each print using four plates and five colours. Trace 1 was printed in black, yellow, bright green and pink (from a single plate) and fluorescent pink. In addition, a layer of thin Japanese paper was bonded to the sheet during the printing of the second plate, a technique called chine collé, which has the effect of softening the first layer of black. Hamish Parker’s gift also included a large-scale drawing based on traces taken at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona in 2006. 

Tiffany Chung

Contemporary artwork with lines and red dots.
Tiffany Chung (b. 1969), 'UNHCR Red Dot Series – tracking the Syrian Humanitarian Crisis: April–Dec 2012', 2014–15. One of nine drawings in oil and ink on vellum and paper. Courtesy of the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

 

Born in Da Nang, Vietnam, in 1969 but now based in both Vietnam and the USA, Tiffany Chung also makes semi-abstract cartographic images that trace human activity. Working in a variety of media including video, photography, drawing and sculpture, she produces art that is ostensibly calming and attractive, but which examines serious themes including conflict, forced migration and the politics behind human displacement. This is one of nine drawings donated by Hamish Parker that Chung made as part of the Syria Project, which she began in 2011. Based on statistical data, the images trace the movement of people across Syria toward Europe as violent conflict spread throughout the country. 

Line artwork with dots.
(As above)
Line artwork with dots.
(As above)
Line artwork with dots.
(As above)

Syria Project continued

As the weeks pass, the dots representing the refugees become more intense in density and colour. In total, the Syria Project comprised 40 drawings, which were displayed as an installation at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015. Chung has described her map-like images as 'traps', which attract viewers with their beauty and then confront them with unsettling truths.   

Marlene Dumas

Marlene Dumas was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1953, but has been based in the Netherlands since the mid-1970s. She is known for her portraits and images of human figures, which have a distinctive washy style with blurred edges and features that seem to melt into the flesh. Her starting point is often a found photograph, such as an image from a fashion magazine, or a still from a film. This lithograph, which derives from a drawing in ink and acrylic, is one of numerous works by Dumas that are based on erotic imagery. Dumas became interested in pornography when she moved to the Netherlands having grown bored of drawing the naked body from life models. She became interested in how women in pornography use their bodies as well as ideas around shame. Dumas has work in many museum collections, but this is the first work by her to be acquired by the British Museum. 

Alice Maher

Alice Maher’s works on paper are part of a wider practice that includes other media. Born in Ireland in 1956, she produces films, sculptures, photographs, textile works, installations and prints in addition to her drawings. Like Kiki Smith, she takes inspiration from the natural world as well as myths and fairy tales, art history and her own body, particularly her hair. This large-scale charcoal drawing is from her Bestiary series, which was inspired by the medieval Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516). For each drawing, Maher took a detail from Bosch’s most famous painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights (now in the Museo del Prado, Madrid), enlarged it as a silhouette and overlaid it with decorate elements inspired by a variety of sources including 18th-century wallpaper, panels from Pompeii and contemporary headscarves. The tent is from the central panel of Bosch’s triptych, complete with legs and feet poking out the bottom and branches sprouting from its sides. Like Bosch, Maher leaves us with an enigmatic image that is both humorous and unsettling. 

All the works of art highlighted in this blog post are currently on display in Art on paper since 1960: the Hamish Parker collection in Room 90 until 5 March 2023. Works from the Prints and Drawings collection, including others by Kiki Smith and Alice Maher, are available to view by appointment in the Prints and Drawings Study Room by appointment. 

Display info

Art on paper since 1960: the Hamish Parker collection is on until 5 March. 

Room 90.

Free, just drop in.