Matt Madden: 20 Lines

It was the 19th century French writer, Stendhal, who first set the challenge of  ¨20 lines a day, genius or not.” Now, around 200 years later, this exhibition is a product of that very idea. Matt Madden embarked on this personal project for one year, during which he made a daily drawing using no more and no less than 20 lines. He was inspired by the book 20 Lines a Day by Harry Mathews (who was in turn inspired by Stendhal), which documents a period in which the author wrote 20 lines of prose every morning as a warm-up exercise.

Madden, a professional cartoonist, translates this exercise to his field. The result is an assortment of abstract, expressive, geometrical, and representational drawings that range from the very minimal to the more detailed, exploring different ways of representing images. The exhibition at etHall Dibujo Contemporaneo brings together 77 of these drawings, neatly lined up along the white walls of the small gallery, a testimony of just how much – and how little – can be done with 20 lines.

The exercise is an opportunity to get creative, reflect on the practice of drawing, and explore its limits and potentials – as well as getting the creative juices flowing at the start of the day. The drawings range from the very simple and obvious – 20 straight parallel lines – to the more elaborate and surprising – 20 facial profiles. They also come in a range of colours and thicknesses, a portrait of a man, for example, which is portrayed solely through the varying thickness of a series of vertical lines. While some drawings are angular and schematic, others are expressive and gestural, like a hand which is shrewdly suggested with a few carefully placed lines. And while most of the lines are marked with pen or pencil, Madden has also looked into other ways of mark-making, such as incisions and cut-outs, though this could have perhaps been explored further.

But it is as much an exercise in observation as in drawing itself. The drawings are evidence of Madden’s subtle perceptions, capturing a shadow, a negative space, or the casual shapes that form accidentally around us. Many of the drawings are vague or seemingly unfinished, leaving them open to the viewer’s own interpretation and surrounded by an air of mystery. It is a highly recommended exhibition, not all genius but certainly a fun and thoughtful investigation on the function, weight, qualities, and nuances of the simple but indispensable line.

20 Lines can be seen at etHall gallery until the 7th of November 2015

matt madden, et hall, barcelona