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Go see it: Lines of Thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to Now

Comedian, actor and artist, Phill Jupitus, who officially opened the Drawing through the Centuries exhibition at the Ulster Museum Picture by Bill Smith.
Jane Hardy

PAUL Klee once referred to drawing as taking a line for a walk.

The artists in the superb exhibition at the Ulster Museum, Lines of Thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to Now, have given their lines in ink, pencil, charcoal and crayon a real workout.

In one of Michelangelo’s Studies for the Last Judgement (1534), a preparation for his vast Sistine Chapel masterpiece, we get the terror small scale.

There are the characteristic muscle-bound yet noble figures. There is even an angel strangling a damned soul that was possibly too harrowing for the final painting.

But there are some drawings that scarcely use lines. British Museum curator Isabel Seligman points to a Georges Seurat as an example.

It’s a study for his famous La Grande Jatte that shows a young man shouting across a river near Paris. Here we see the landscape with no people, simply a dog in the foreground.

“There are almost no lines at all here, Seurat’s working tonally.” Using a Conte crayon, Seurat has pressed into the textured paper, building up the dark tones of the lively dog. As his crayon reflects the bumps on the paper, it looks like the start of pointillisme.

Artistically, everybody is here. Rembrandt has a lovely sketch of an Asian Elephant plus religious themes, Bridget Riley contributes a shimmering piece of Op Art, David Hockney shows his command of portraiture. In Nick and Henry on Board (1972) all the essential details are there in his economical, expressive lines.

As Phill Jupitus, who opened the exhibition and started out as a cartoonist, says: “I draw most days but this is amazing. In Michelangelo, you get the physicality of thought.

“How you want it to look can only go so far, you have to commit.” He adds: “You see a Cezanne, then bang, there’s a Degas.” The Degas in question is a tender pencil drawing of a nude woman looking away from the spectator.

We are fortunate to have this British Museum touring show, with or without its sub-divisions. Go see it.

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