James Chute — My Collaborative Drawing Projects

James Chute, talking & drawing with Avy Claire, 8x8” inks on paper, 2012

In the years 2012 through 2015 I conceived and executed four collaborative drawing projects. These projects provided conceptual contexts for the improvisational drawing practice I had been concentrating on for the previous several years, and also incorporated social and performative elements. In retrospect, they can be seen as a progression.

The first, talking & drawing (2012), was based on Lee Lozano’s Dialogue Piece (1969). Lozano invited other artists, mostly male, to her loft for private conversations. From her notebooks we know who she talked with, but not what was said. I had been intrigued by this concept (a conversation indicated but not recorded) since I first learned of it. After a couple of years contemplating if and how to attempt something similar, and having benefited from sage comments from friends Lucinda Bliss (“you have to find a way to make it your own”), Ronnie Wilson (“well, why don’t you draw while you’re talking to them?”), and Virginia Rose (“you have to do it”), I launched talking & drawing in late February 2012. Between March 9 and August 9, 2012, I had conversations with 53 female, Maine-connected artists. During the course of each conversation I made an abstract drawing. My conferees were offered the opportunity to draw as well, and 16 did so. Other than the fading memories of the participants, the drawings are the only record of these conversations.

The first batch of invitations was sent out via e-mail at the end of February 2012 to a list of 30 artists compiled off the top of my head.  Thereafter, additional invitations were made by e-mail, in person at art events, and in several cases, upon chance encounters in the street.  A handful of people declined for various reasons, a few did not respond, and in one or two cases it just wasn’t possible to arrange a meeting.  Most of the meetings took place in studios, theirs or mine, and others in homes, coffee shops, and in the garden behind the Longfellow House (there would have been more in this delightful urban oasis, but it was a rainy spring in Portland).

James Chute, talking & drawing with Lauren Fensterstock, 8×8” inks on paper, 2012

Conversations varied in length from 30 minutes to 2 hours, most in the 45-90 minute range. All conversations were begun with the same question, but they were not conducted as interviews. I did not start drawing immediately, but let the conversation develop first. Sometimes I had no idea what i might draw, other times I had something in mind based on my knowledge of the other person and her work. I think the earliest I made a mark was 7 minutes in; often 15 or 20 minutes would pass before I started drawing. I used the timer on my phone so that I wouldn’t forget that I was supposed to start making marks. Conferees were invited to make their own drawing during the conversation, and about 30% chose to do so and contribute that piece to the project.  Some later said “I wish I had drawn”. Conversations would slow down a bit while I was drawing, or if both of us were drawing, but not cease.

I learned a lot about art and its making, the lives of women artists, the art of conversation, and about myself.

In addition to being an altered re-performance of Lozano’s Dialogue Piece, it also constitutes an unwinding of her General Strike Piece  (withdrawal from the New York art scene) and her Boycott Piece (refusing to speak with other women) because it had the effect of deepening my connections with the art world and engaging in dialogues with only women. (For further information on Lee Lozano, see H. Molesworth, “Tune in, Turn on, Drop out: the Rejection of Lee Lozano”, Art Journal,  vol. 61, # 4, Winter 2002.)

The entire suite of 69 drawings was shown at Rose Contemporary in Portland during November 2012. An excerpt, consisting of 16 of my drawings and 9 by my collaborators was shown at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell in 2014.

My experience (or I should say the collective experiences of myself and 53 other artists) with talking & drawing had one disappointing aspect: only about one third of my collaborators took the opportunity to draw during the conversation. Hence, in considering the structure for the next project, I decided that drawing would be mandatory and that talking would be optional.

James Chute, Rhombi drawing with James Marshall, 8×8” inks on paper, 2014

In the second project, the Rhombi (2013-2014), my collaborators were required to draw but had the option to remain silent. The Rhombi generated 59 drawings over the span of 11 months.

This is how it worked: we met somewhere, usually studios, homes, and coffee shops, occasionally bars and public parks. We both drew on the same 8″ square piece of paper, initially oriented so that each of us is facing a corner rather than an edge. We both used identical drawing tools, provided by me (there were two exceptions to this rule). The other person had to make at least one mark. The duration of the drawing session, within the limits of 1 minute and 1 hour, was chosen by my collaborator, who also chose whether we drew simultaneously or took turns, and had the option of choosing to talk or remain silent, and to specify other ground rules if he or she thought that would be conducive to the process.  The shortest times were 5 minutes, the longest 59 (in silence) and 60 minutes. In most instances my collaborators chose to talk, sometimes with interesting limitations: “procedural talking only”, “no talking about the drawing”, “if you want to say something, you have to address the dog”. The first of 59 drawings was made on 28 April 2013, the last on 19 March 2014.

James Chute, the Rhombi as installed at PhoPa 2016

Over the course of the project I came to believe that the most interesting drawings were created when we took turns drawing. On several occasions the resulting drawing revealed a composite style that was unlike the individual mark-making habits of either of us. On the other hand, when two of us drew at the same time we tended to each have our own territory within the sheet of paper and work in our accustomed styles. The Rhombi was shown at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell in 2014,  at PhoPa in Portland, and at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth in 2016.

In the process of recruiting collaborators for the Rhombi, I found that a number of potential partners begged off citing lack of time. So, for the third project, I decided that I should devise a structure that required very little time for the execution of each component. This was blind eye contact contour (2014).  Myself and another artist would draw on the same 7”x5” piece of paper for 60 seconds while maintaining eye contact. BECC generated 63 drawings over the span of 11 months, beginning in January 2014.

As before, meetings took place in studios, homes, coffee joints, etc, preferably a quiet place with a table.  The 7×5″ paper was oriented so that each of us was facing a short edge. I used fountain pens, my collaborators could use any drawing tool they chose from their own supply or from a box of colored markers that I brought along. We signed our names near the edge of the paper closest to us. My initial concept was that we would draw in silence for one minute while maintaining eye contact, making allowance for normal involuntary blinking of course. There were no restrictions on what either of us could draw, but our intent was to keep our drawing tools moving for 60 seconds. Early on I found that some of my partners found the experience sufficiently strange that they could not resist commenting on it, so the requirement of silence was dropped. I usually tried to draw a portrait of the other person, but since one cannot look into another person’s eyes and also at that person’s eyes at the same time, this attempt was usually abandoned in favor of abstract mark-making. A few of my collaborators produced reasonably accurate portraits of me (perhaps they cheated). BECC was shown as a work in progress at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell in 2014.

The fourth project, talking & drawing 2, was executed in 2015. It returned to the format of talking & drawing, but in this iteration my collaborators were all male artists. There were 20 conversations from February thru December. We used 9”x8.5” sheets of toned paper, tan for my drawings, gray for those of my collaborators. Sixteen of my conferees chose to draw. Talking & drawing 2 has not been exhibited.

James Chute laying out BECC, photo by Mitchell Rasor at his studio

I had custom clamshell boxes made for each project, to protect the drawings and to present an attractive object for display. The boxes for the two iterations of talking & drawing were made by Crystal Cawley, the other two by Mullenberg Designs.

James Chute, Freeport, Maine 2018