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In Repetition…

In April, I started taking part in the #100DayProject on Instagram. As discussed in my previous blog post, I am very interested in Peter Dreher’s ongoing project, ‘Every Day is a Good Day’, which is a philosophical as much as an artistic undertaking. I was fascinated to discover what I would learn from making a picture of the same object over and over again and thought the 100 Day Project was a good opportunity to explore this.

I decided on a small liqueur glass as my object to study over 100 days.

Liqueur glass
The small liqueur glass I decided to draw 100 times. Photographed in my studio.

Being a full-time artist and illustrator with a living to earn, and not knowing where this project was going beyond being a personal exercise in perception and discipline, I couldn’t devote hours each day to these drawings, so this glass was a good fit in its simplicity; I would be able to draw it each day by spending no more than 10 or 15 minutes on each drawing, also forcing me to make drawings that would be very focused.

01:100
The first drawing of the glass

I am now half way through the project. There have been a few days where I haven’t drawn the glass, so I am a little bit behind the project as a whole, but I have kept going and am gradually catching up, and I have now completed 50 drawings of the same glass.

Grid - 10-18
Drawings 10 – 18 (bottom right to top left, respectively).

In the repetition of production I have noticed a change in how I see this object overall, as well as phases of a difference in my seeing.

Very conscious of my desire to capture the essence of this particular object, I spent a long time looking at it before I drew it for the first time. By the time I’d drawn it ten times, I had stopped ‘seeing’ it and had to challenge my perception which, by this point, believed that I knew what the glass looked like and thought it no longer warranted further examination. Any First Year art student will recognise this as the difference between looking and seeing, and even the most seasoned of artists occasionally have to check themselves over the extent to which they are really looking at the object of their study, but to experience this as a consequence of repeatedly drawing the same object was interesting in itself because, in pushing past it, I started to understand very intimately what this particular glass looks like, and I then arrived at a place where I started noticing tiny details I had failed to see in the first few drawings. By the time I got to drawing no. 16 I could discern a jump in my perception that felt as though I was looking at the glass with a previously unknown clarity and the drawings began to look cleaner and calmer. I’d pushed through into the simple joy of a line.

20:100
Drawing no. 20. By this point I had started to look at the glass from a number of different angles to examine what effect that had on how the glass would be seen and translated through line.

Not long after this, I became aware that I was beginning to think of this glass as a particularly precious object and I worried about what would happen if it broke. It is, after all, small and delicate and competes for space in my studio with, amongst other things, numerous jars of paintbrushes, piles of books and canvases, an hourglass, and a cast-iron hare holding a magnifying glass. The reality is that I have another five of these glasses but, by now, because of how well I had come to know this glass, I considered it to be one of a kind — the other five in the set were completely different glasses as far as I was concerned. The manufacture of the ‘same’ glass peculiarly mirrors repeatedly drawing the same glass and makes us ask, at what point does repetition transform the sameness it attempts to create into just a lot of singularity?

38:100
Drawing no. 38. A very quick drawing made with a biro.

I am still unsure what I will do with the drawings once I have finished all 100 of them but, at the moment, that’s not an important aspect of the project. It’s an exercise in what happens when we see and, because of it, I have already learned more about what it means to use an object to make a drawing, as well as about my own processes of creation. I have also had to get even more closely acquainted with my perfectionist streak. I am unhappy and dissatisfied with most of the drawings, and there are ones I actively dislike for their ‘wrongness’. But I have resisted the temptation to, for example, put drawing no. 14 through the shredder and pretend it never existed, and have made myself accept it as the drawing I produced of the glass on that particular day, because that is the point. The project has nothing to do with creating ‘perfect’ images; it is about what goes on between the hand and the eye in a very limited few moments in time, and what happens when a small creative ritual is established. I have learned that simple repetition has a still beauty of its own.

50:100
Drawing no. 50.

And I have learned that there is always more work to be done!

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Painting Invisible Pictures

Peter_Dreher (1)
Peter Dreher (b.1932). I.Neuendorff [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D
In 1974, the German artist Peter Dreher (b.1932) decided to make five or six paintings of the same, empty drinking glass. 

Embarking on this project came about from the desire to make “an invisible picture.” According to Dreher, a painting, once repeated, immediately “loses its relationship with reality,” and so in making these paintings — and by completing each one in a single sitting — Dreher was exploring the nature of reality via the permanence that stands inside the change that is inevitable across time. These five or six paintings would surely be a fascinating exploration into an enduring artistic and philosophical question.

However, once Dreher had completed the six paintings, he realised not only that he did not want to stop, but that he felt the need to continue, and was far from “the end.” This was partly, he says, simply “the joy surrounding the object” as well as the continued motivation to repeatedly paint “the simplest thing possible,” each time approaching it as if it were an object never before seen. Dreher knew that he would “call it a day” on these paintings “when the motivation stopped.” To date, he has made more than 5,000 paintings of that same drinking glass. Clearly,  the motivation has not stopped!

What results is a stunning visual diary of the every day, enabling us to see the acute beauty in the fleeting lost moments we tell ourselves we haven’t seen. It is a reminder to not seek comfort in the familiarity of what we know but to see what is actually there and to pull on the thinking that happens around our identification of “things.”

6    383    1891

The pictures are, in some ways, identical, and yet each one is unique. Painting #6 shows the yellow tinges of a thick, practical drinking glass under artificial light; #383 is much darker, the reflections barely noticeable; #1891 reflects the shape of the window that must be on the other side of the room, intriguing the viewer about the space in which the glass exists outside of the edges of the painting.

These paintings, though, are not a series. They are both a single work (collected together under the single title, Every Day is a Good Day) and several thousand individual paintings, each one unrelated to any other in its distinctness and its containment of that “invisible” single breath of the ordinary. They speak to the Aristotelian question of properties in asking “What is this thing?” They are an exquisite essay on focus.

One painting of one glass is just that: a painting of a glass. But more than 5,000 paintings of one glass is a conversation with the medium and act of painting itself and its relative ability to effectively communicate the gap between the humanity of the painter and that of the viewer. It is this conversation that Dreher describes as his “addiction” and we can only hope that he never finds a cure.

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Further Reading

Bauermeister, Volker, and Obrist, Hans-Ulrich, et al. (eds.), Peter Dreher — Tag um Tag guter Tag (Freiburg, Germany: Modo Verlag Gmbh, 2008). (German language)

Dreher, Peter, Anthony Spira (ed.), Just Painting (London: Occasional Papers, 2014).