Back to the Drawing Board with Andrew Marr

Andrew Marr has produced a bracing, poignant book that is like no other. Entirely illustrated with his own drawings, it comprises an ambitious attempt by an untaught artist and highly successful journalist to explain how and why drawing, an ancient, currently unfashionable discipline, remains pertinent, life-enhancing and ennobling. For Marr, drawing has constituted a kind of parallel life, consuming energy and delivering rewards-possibly in part because he finds it “hard work” when, having read early and easily, he gets bored listening to others: “Even today I simply cannot sit still and listen to someone talking at me, however clever.”

A considerable talent is seen in his self-portraits-the first being made when only five years old-and in his study of a sleeping delivery boy in Shanghai. The witty, well-observed characterisation of the latter’s head shows familiarity with the great graphic humourist Phil May while the rickshaw’s construction testifies to a grasp of drawing’s economical power of reportage. The poignancy stems from the fact that talented young artists, like dogs, need firm masters if they are ultimately to find their own voices and not remain perpetually impressionable. In evident thrall to David Hockney, Marr has slid away from drawing proper into emulation (albeit to an impressively close degree) of that artist’s recent iPad full-colour pictorial experimentations, when his more astringent draughtsman-like early works arguably provide better models. Indeed, Marr perhaps subconsciously acknowledges this in his own perfectly well-founded and amply substantiated recognition that drawing is “proper, hard work, demanding full attention”.

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