New National Drawing Centre brings Australia in line with global trend

Where better than to punch out the parameters of drawing in our times than an art school? The National Art School takes the lead in establishing a centre for experimentation and engagement.

This week, the National Art School (NAS) – Australia’s longest-running independent fine art school – announced it was joining an international trend with the formation of the National Centre for Drawing (NCD).

A gallery spokesperson told ArtsHub: ‘It’s more of a concept bringing together lots of elements centred at NAS than an actual place, but we do have a new gallery dedicated to drawing.’

Where better than to punch out the parameters of drawing in our times than an art school?

NAS Director and CEO Steven Alderton explained the new centre would be a focal point for, ‘establishing national and international connections to educational and cultural institutions and organisations, galleries, art communities and practitioners, and to build audiences and public appreciation of drawing.’

His ambition is warranted.

The most celebrated example is The Drawing Centre in downtown Manhattan’s SoHo neighbourhood (USA), which was founded in 1977 by Martha Beck, a former curator of contemporary art in the Department of Drawings at the iconic Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

And then there is the Drawing Room in southeast London (UK), which was formed in 2002 as a not for profit by curators Mary Doyle, Kate Macfarlane and Katharine Stout. It holds one of the largest collections of titles on contemporary drawing in the world.

Both adopt a similar model that NCD has defined: an exhibition space, producer of printed and online publications, centre for research and new ideas, podcaster with in-depth conversations about drawing, bespoke public programs, and host to international and emerging artist residencies through The Drawing Exchange.

At the centre of it all is innovative contemporary drawing practice.

Largely these spaces are about living artists, and a medium that is very much alive – reaching back to the oldest traditions of studio practice to the most cutting-edge, silo-busting practice of our times.

Further, the NCD will remain embedded in its education roots, delivering the annual Margaret Olley Drawing Week with NAS students. Since its origins in 1873, NAS has been teaching the traditional discipline of drawing as a fundamental element of the school’s education.

NAS open day 2019. Image supplied.

Why drawing counts in a tech-driven world

We got a hint of this vision for the NCD last year, when NAS presented – for the first time in its history – the 21st edition of Dobell Drawing Prize, and extended it with a drawing symposium. It was a kind of think-tank/festival for fresh ideas to percolate a more rigorous, and arguably experimental conversation about contemporary drawing.

The inaugural keynote speaker was the unconventional provocateur artist Mike Parr. 

Read: Review Real Worlds – 2020 Dobell Australian Drawing Biennial, AGNSW 

Clearly it worked, and the response warranted a more persistent focus on drawing.

A feature of the new drawing centre will be the biannual event, The Festival of Drawing, to be launched in 2021 in conjunction with the next edition of the Dobell Drawing Prize.

It must be remembered that the Dobell Drawing Biennial (currently showing at the Art Gallery of NSW) and the Dobell Drawing Prize are separate entities that complement each other, both supported by the Sir William Dobell Foundation.

Yul Scarf, Drawing On Line, a new National Centre of Drawing project. Image supplied.

The centre also incorporates a new space at NAS dedicated to drawing exhibitions, The Drawing Gallery. The inaugural show for The Drawing Gallery will be, From the Mountain to the Sky: Guy Warren Drawings, will open on his 100th birthday, running from 17 April – 22 May 2021.

The first NCD event is this virtual exhibition Drawing On Line now live.

NAS will celebrate is centenary occupying the historic site of the former Darlinghurst Gaol in 2022. For more information on the National Centre for Drawing or NAS programs.

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina