Destruction is an inevitable part of the creative process. Creative ideas are constantly shifting and evolving. Sometimes they become prints, paintings and sculptures or they can be lost and abandoned. Sometimes creative ideas return from the dead! During the start of lockdown last year, I came across a battle between creation and destruction being played out on a local suburban street and it made me wonder how artists had approached this theme in the past.
During a walk down a local street, a blotchy piece of fence by the roadside caught my eye. I wondered how this blob-like form could have been made. Surely it couldn’t have been a natural process! But what kind of crazy person would go around making abstract, cloud like shapes on suburban London fences!? I spotted a man wiping the fence using a cloth and some kind of cleaning chemical. He was cleaning the fence to remove and erase the spray-painted graffiti. His method only partially removed the graffiti and created a clean layer which stood out from the rest of the fence covered in mould and dirt. I observed this cleaning process over a couple of days and discovered that the graffiti tagger had come back to re-tag the fence over the cleaned area. This created another layer in a relentless cycle of creation and erasure.
The artist Robert Rauschenberg also explored the process of erasure in his work ‘Erased de Kooning Drawing’ from 1953. In this work, Rauschenberg literally erased a crayon, ink, pencil and charcoal drawing by artist Willem de Kooning. The work is framed in a simple gold frame with an artwork description label. It took him about two months to erase the drawing. In doing so, he made a sort of anti-drawing. Rauschenberg’s work often questioned the nature of art, authorship and he had previously experimented with erasing his own drawings. ‘Erased de Kooning Drawing’ is a record of an intriguing gesture. The very act of erasure opens up questions about Rauschenberg’s intentions, taste in art and his relationship with de Kooning. These questions always refer back to the original de Kooning drawing and this links both works and contexts together and create a new layer of meaning.
Both of these examples show how the process of erasing can be open ended and not simply thought of as an end point. Adding new layers, even if through erasure, creates a dialogue between contexts and artists. In these examples, destructive methods are an integral part of the creative process.
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