Charles Poulsen’s large-scale drawings are realised in layers of pencil, wax and gouache to create striking abstractions that capture the energy of drawing as a primary means of expression.
“With his Black Square painting of 1915, the Russian Kazimir Malevich announced the beginning of non-objective, geometric art. This was nothing less than liberation from the tyranny of representation (imitation). Art was to have a higher purpose, to be an end in itself. Today abstraction is no longer judged avant-garde, and the format of the square has become a modernist trope.
Charles Poulsen is well aware of the tradition in which he works and of his artist precursors. He embraces the square for its lack of association with the traditional vertical (‘portrait’) and oblong (‘landscape’) canvas forms. The square that he draws within the boundary of the paper sheet is a perimeter that both defines and contains the arena in which he works. It is also an edge that he may work against, transgress or escape from. His facture, his characteristic manner of execution, in this group of large drawings, embodies his interest in gesture as creative expression, in the manner made famous by American Abstract Expressionism and Action painting.
The drawings in this exhibition, which span a period of three years, are remarkable in their delicate beauty: and in their scale, which is environmental. One can lose oneself in their intricate rhythms and layered depths. In their variety they reflect the artist’s changing concerns, as well as his continuous exploration and invention – his is an adventure in mark-making and balance, with surprisingly restricted means. The various Series’ titles suggest order, control, repetition, yet as if to undermine the idea of stability, a note of the irregular, the erratic is introduced. The dates within each Series reveal the seasonal nature of this studio-based practice: the summer months being devoted to the outdoors and the physical labour of making sculpture. The specificity of dates is important in their clue to the particularity of light, colour and texture of the changing seasons, the environment in which he drew.
That Poulsen is also a sculptor is important. He works with the solidity of wood, the weight of lead and the malleability of wax (in 3D drawings). Moreover, he is a gardener – or rather a sculptor of growing form – whose preference is for order, repetition in planting and colour, and the training of tree branches and shrubs into unaccustomed geometries. These facets of his art require time, planning, control, and calculated form. His drawings on the other hand allow him enormous freedom and spontaneity. They are delicate, light and quick, often transparent, sometimes opaque, composed in constant movement and with panache in application. His mark-making moves from the systematic and repetitious, to the frenetic and even wild, as the dynamic of interrelation builds.
The materials he employs are deliberately limited: pencil (he favours a hard lead to begin, capable of creating grooves in the paper, but may turn to the very soft at the end of a drawing); gouache (opaque water-soluble pigment); wax (a ‘resist’ medium over which coloured wash can be laid, Poulsen sculpts a range of drawing edges from blocks of it). He begins and often ends with pencil. His process is one of layering, building form and space. There is an established sequence of his media: wax is usually the second to be laid down (where white is needed), then gouache (to provide light tones), then more wax, and so on, with the final application of gouache providing darker tones. However, as can be seen in the earliest drawings exhibited, the quiet delicacy of pencil lines, their repetition and variation can become centre stage.
When drawing, speed is key. He will step back to consider (for a single mark may make the difference) but it is Poulsen’s intuitive responses to his materials and to the evolution of the work itself, which drive the process, rather than conscious decision-making. When he achieves the point of balance (of stability in the composition) that he seeks, the drawing is complete, and his work done.” Lynne Green
Charles has shown his drawings and sculpture throughout the UK and his book ‘Charles Poulsen Drawing’ was published by Hughson Gallery in 2017. He lives with his wife, the textile artist Pauline Burbidge, in the Scottish Borders.