Drawing with Politics, Drawing with Science

Raquel Serebrenik Sultan

This article focuses on the technical, political and social aspects of Johannes Itten Colored Sphere from 1920 and Susan Hefuna’s Drawing from 2009.

Although both drawings represent a great importance for their time periods, they focus on different aspects of society. One looks to showcase an investigation on color, the other looks after uniting and question our perspective on other cultures.

The Bauhaus school was one of the major art and design schools of its time. The Bauhaus influenced many artists such as Carlos Cruz Diez, architects such as Walter Gropius and one can even conclude that the Bauhaus served and keeps serving as a platform for modern and contemporary design. Simplified geometrical shapes that used the elements of design in order to include functionality as one of the main purposes of it.

Sadly the Bauhaus was dismantled by the atrocities of the second world war and most of its professor´s and students escaped to Israel and North America. In today's society, you might travel to Tel Aviv and walk by a street in which Bauhaus is the only design in it. Or you might combine your clothes by analyzing that orange and blue are opposites. This drawing is relevant in today's society as it depicts years of research and mind changing ideas about color, its technical elements, its functionality, and movement. Even at major Art and design colleges, the research from great Bauhaus minds such as Albers and Itten is still taught.

Color has always been part of our life. However, we imply that it is just part of our routine. Few are the times in which we actually stop and look around for the different color that surrounds us. The Bauhaus movement with Johannes Itten on its lead was determined to express that color was part of our functional routine. If a designer decided to paint a chair red and add green dots on it, it would create a different movement and feel that if he painted the chair grey and added yellow dots. Itten allowed creative minds to understand the importance of color in the design and creation process, one can almost call it color science.

If this specific drawing was to be produced today, it would not have the same impact. It will still demonstrate research, great drawing skills, color investigation on movement and so on, but it would just be another paper trying to explain the color phenomenon. Technical drawing in today´s creative world is mostly done by a computer which already has the determined shapes and colors in it. However, what I found fascinating about this drawing is that it showcases the ability of thinking and doing at the same time. Almost as if Itten was writing his ideas at the same time as if he was drawing them. That element, I believe will make the drawing stand out from other technical drawings.

In terms of the political environment at the time this drawing was produced, we have greatly changed as a society. the 1920´s the world thought they had seen everything after the first world war. Europe was crossing a tough time. Fascism and Mussolini, as well as the Nazi party, were on its rise to political dictatorship. Germany was under great pressure from taking a great part in initiating the first world war. Poverty and hunger filled the streets of the Bauhaus country.

In some elements, I would say society has drastically changed. Since the Weimar Republic until now women have gained their right to vote in different countries, colored television was discovered, the United Nations was created and the United States gained major recognition as part of the allied movement. Nevertheless, there are many facts that demonstrate that we, as a society, in fact, have not changed politically and are bound to make similar mistakes as our past. Dictators are still on the lead of many countries, concentration camps around the world can be seen, and first and foremost, from a political standpoint, the war continues to represent a major income for the world's economy.

On the other hand, we have the drawing by Susan Hefuna. By just looking at it the viewer can understand that the drawing goes beyond the technical qualities and trespass to the content realm. This means that the intent of the drawing acts heavily on the technical aspects of it in order to understand it.

The materials used are fairly “normal”, ink, pen, and pencil as well as the scale and placement of it. However, there is no need, from the artist, to depict its intention in a realistic way. As a contemporary drawing, it moves forward in terms of abstraction and making the spectator analyze its content rather than giving it to him or her at first sight. Hefuna is more concerned on the experience the viewer can have by looking at her work than the technical aspects of it. The position of the drawing in its space is central and allows the viewer to completely focus on the main character which is the carpet like figure.

It seems at first sight that the drawing´s process was based on the application of layers.  As viewers, we can appreciate how Hefunna might have worked with three or four different layers. Difficulties might have risen when the artist decided a layer was finalized and proceeded to the next one only to find she wanted to go back to the layer in the background. Nevertheless, this allows the process to be somewhat experimental rather than technical.

Additionally, the artist might have gone through a deep thought process of how to depict two cultures through an abstract drawing. The drawing was produced in 2009. During this year there were not only political changes but also economic changes. Around the world, people were still suffering from the devastating 2008 economic crisis. The drawing is based on a trip Hefuna made in New York. She noticed that the streets of the city were very similar and reminiscent of the gridded architectural details in Egyptian and Arabic architecture, especially the Mashrabiya windows. Having various cultural backgrounds Hefuna, in this drawing, represents the similarities in not so implied characteristics between two cultures. A year later the so-called Arab spring started, cultural identities started fighting against each other. Hence, the importance of this drawing in reminding us that although we might think we have nothing in common with each other, it is in the details that we as citizens of the world are akin.

These two drawings share many details, some of which are technical such as the use of line to convey a message and the use of rhythm and movement to depict an active subject. Nevertheless, their most important similarity is their importance in their time periods. One, from a scientific point of view. The other one from a social perspective. On another note, both share more differences than similarities. In Itten’s drawing the viewer can perceive writing, technical specifications, color and arrows that direct the viewer's eyes. These represent the intention of the drawing, which is to depict a theory of color.

On Hefuna’s drawing the intention is to connect two cultures based on the architectural qualities of each. She used lines and points to create a grid. Both drawings seem to have depth applied to them, in the Colored Sphere the sphere has a three-dimensional sensation and in  Hefuna’s drawing the layers allow the drawing to have some kind of perspective to it. Apart from point, line, and rhythm, both drawings contain value, texture, unity, and variety.

Although the difference between the two artists is present at first sight, I believe both of these drawings will influence my work greatly. Itten’s work has influenced and keeps influencing my work in terms of the technical aspects of color, how is color functional? What does it represent? What would be the impact of using one color instead of the other? These are some of the questions I ask myself when creating a design piece, drawing or painting.

Hefuna’s work, being honest, awoke some hope in my creative mind. Sometimes, especially in today's fast-moving world is difficult to disconnect from the digital world and appreciate the small details, make connections and find empathy for other traditions. I believe Hefuna’s drawing will inspire me to notice these details in every place I visit.

In conclusion, Itten’s work touches on the technical aspects and scientific elements of color and how to represent it by using drawing elements and principles such as color, emphasis and rhythm. Hefuna’s work touches on the social aspects of her various cultural backgrounds by depicting similarities between these through the use of line and point.