Drawings are traditionally admired for their directness, as the most immediate transcription—from eye to hand to paper—of an artist’s imagination. Over the past two decades, however, contemporary artists have moved beyond the quick sketch, compositional study, or memory aid to embrace drawing with new enthusiasm and ambition. The six artists in this exhibition— Mequitta Ahuja, Mary Borgman, Adam Chapman, Ben Durham, Till Freiwald, and Rob Matthews—exemplify this trend with different approaches but the same energized commitment.

The works in “Drawing on the Edge” expand the narrow boundaries that once defined drawing. Probing the intersection between drawing and photography, painting, video, textual writing, and computer technology, they introduce a sense of appealing complexity. They incorporate collage, exaggerate scale, or experiment with such surfaces as frosted Mylar, handmade paper, or a computer screen. Despite the variety in size, style, and mood in these works, all six artists show a commitment to make direct, immediate, highly personal marks on paper. Each of them employs a painstaking technique; their meticulous, repetitive actions result in a contemplative, almost meditative, engagement with process that adds a psychological depth to their work.

The artists of “Drawing on the Edge” focus on portraiture, interacting with real individuals while creating their work. While they variously include elements of narrative, fantasy, abstraction, personal memory, and social commentary, their primary impulse is humanistic: to interact with another or to examine the self.

This exhibition has been made possible through the generosity of the Rebecca Houser Westcott Fund for Portraiture Now; the Abraham and Virginia Weiss Charitable Trust, Amy and Marc Meadows; and the Paul M. and Christine G. Wick Fund.

The tour to Arkansas has been supported by The Stella Boyle Smith Trust.

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

November 16, 2012 through August 18, 2013

Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock

October 25, 2013 through February 9, 2014