Lines of Empathy Exhibition Review

Lines of Empathy | 3 Jun – 22 Jul 2023 | Close

Lines of Empathy, was conceived by Italian, London-based, artist Giulia Ricci in the spring of 2020.  Coinciding with the first Covid-19 lockdown, it developed from a series of conversations into a publication with the same name.  Containing written interviews with 16 artists the questions, focusing on the materiality and process of hand-made work on paper, arose from her own hands-on experience as an artist . 

The title ‘Lines of Empathy’ comes from a synthesis of its two main themes that, according to Ricci, are ‘lines as mark making in the process of working on paper, and empathy as the act of reaching out into someone else’s experience’.1  The latter being how the works on paper included by the artists might embody personal experiences that become shared when in the physical presence of their artwork.

First showing at the Patrick Heide Gallery, London, Lines of Empathy has its second showing at Close, a contemporary art gallery founded and directed by Freeny Yianni set in the grounds of Close House, Somerset.  In addition to the 16 artists featured in the publication, the exhibition also includes two artworks by Ricci herself.

It is Ricci’s two artworks, Order Disruption 66 and Alteration/Deviation (Copper), that greet you as you enter Close with the v-shaped motifs of Alteration/Deviation (Copper) immediately striking you as a reflection of the architecture of the gallery roof. The artwork’s structure is composed of a grid of isosceles right-angled triangles meticulously painted in copper-coloured gouache that switch and change direction to create a simple yet dynamic composition. 

With a line of symmetry down its centre, it is an arresting image with its abstract qualities almost becoming representational. Its relationship with the gallery’s architecture goes beyond the v-shapes to resembling a flat-pack scaled down version of the space.

With the reflective surface of the copper gouache it is an artwork that benefits from having a pause at multiple viewpoints, both from the sides and from above, as different patterns appear to emerge from the clarity of the overall composition.

Giulia Ricci, Alteration/Deviation (Copper), paper, gouache and pencil, 120.4 x 100.4cm, 2020 (Image courtesy of the artist)

Next to Ricci’s artworks is Untitled (476) by Louise Hopkins, where the conventionally unwavering grid is appropriated and modified. Starting with a piece of metric graph paper, Hopkins responds directly to its grid pattern by adjusting and painting over the original lines in the same colour creating areas that waver or appear glitched. I

empathise with the concentration required and the steady hand needed for the minute interventions created by the artist. With its subtle flaws the grid has the qualities of being human.

Louise Hopkins, Untitled (476), metric graph paper, acrylic ink, 29.7 x 21cm, 2003 (Image courtesy of the artist)

Opposite the main entrance is Lucinda Burgess’s Borderlines. The most sculptural piece in the exhibition, Borderlines consists of a large roll, 170cm long and 175cm wide, of 200gsm white Fabriano paper that is supported against the wall with steel brackets and a pole. The paper is left to hang vertically so that 30cm is allowed to drape on the gallery floor.  Burgess has repeatedly drawn horizontal lines with a 6B pencil back and forth over its surface together with vertical lines over the top. With a machine-like regularity in both directions a dense layer of graphite is created contrasting with the underside of the paper that is left completely untouched.

Lucinda Burgess, Borderlines, White Fabriano 200gsm paper, 6B pencil, 170 x 170 x 32cm, 2017 (Image courtesy of the artist)

This solid grid-like criss-cross of lines creates patches of a consistent leaden-like but reflective metallic surface where the individual lines are not always visible. This reflection, that buckles and wavers due to the application of the pencil lines, causes a change in the paper’s surface materiality and tone as the viewer moves across the work. What is at one moment a grey graphite surface changes into a deep matt black and then a bright reflective white depending on your position.

The artist’s labour-intensive activity translates into calmness that slows down the viewer’s time-based movement across its length yet encourages the need to move back and forth to fully appreciate its qualities.

Mary Griffith’s Telegraph 1 also has a luxuriously dense polished graphite surface. 21 x 29.7cm in size, a folded ‘band’ has been inscribed into its surface that appears to be semi-transparent, floating above the graphite giving an illusion of pictorial space. As the viewer switches back and forth in front of the work the polished background shimmers much in the same way as Burgess’s dense black roll. However, with no buckling of the paper the flash of reflective light is a lot more immediate.

Mary Griffiths,Telegraph 1 (2013), Daler Smooth Heavyweight 220gsm paper, graphite pencil, 21 x 29.7cm (Image courtesy of the artist)

The deep yet finely inscribed lines have their own behaviour depending on their direction of travel; sometimes receding against and at other times projecting from the highly-worked background. Similar to Borderlines, but even more so because of the inscribed lines, spatial movement begins when its dark areas retreat whilst the light ones push forward.

Phase 3 is a 3:4 rectangle comprising of a hand-drawn grid tilted at 30 degrees. Overlaid on its left hand side is a smaller 5:3 rectangular grid with its 30 degree lines running in the opposite direction. This smaller rectangle has been segmented in two with a small slither removed and displaced to its right. On the right hand of the 3:4 rectangle a narrow zig-zag segment has also been removed and displaced to its right. With an absence of structural lines all three phases have the appearance of digital cut-and-paste whose layers have been flattened. 

Wendy Smith, Avalanche (Phase 3), paper, ink, 57 x 67cm, 2013 (Image courtesy of the artist)

What at first appears to be a simple sequence is in fact quite complex and leaves the viewer with a lot of working out to do. Whilst the majority of artworks on show have a calming affect, I find the three drawings quite the opposite.  I imagine Smith has equal enjoyment in making us think as she does in her process of inquiry.

A very different but equally compelling processed-based artwork is Drawing 13.11 by Duncan Bullen.  At a distance, Drawing 13.11 appears to be a framed blank piece of paper. Approaching the artwork one can see individual pencil marks in evidence and a vague underlying composition. As the viewer gets closer the pencil marks appear to spread out like atoms in a gaseous state.  Closer still the viewer can examine the minutae of difference between the individual marks. These differences include the grading of the pencil used, the direction of the artist’s hand, the weight of each mark on the paper and the effect of the paper’s surface on the mark.  All these factors produce a composition composed of oddly unique, expressionistic marks each held in balanced equilibrium with its closest neighbours.

The viewer’s transitional journey is integral to the artwork.  Meditative is an often-used adjective in both the creation and viewing of processed-based artworks but Drawing 13:11 exemplifies an artwork that focuses your mind and invites contemplation.

Duncan Bullen, Drawing 13.11, Fabriano 5 Grana Satinata hot-pressed 300gsm paper, H and 2H pencil, 40 x 40cm, 2011 (Image courtesy of the artist)

Helen Cass’s Mapping Drawing 4 is a second artwork that is also directly engaged with the relationship between mark making and the paper’s surface. According to the artist, the artwork is ‘one of a series of 12 drawings…The paper sheet has been torn roughly in half, with the right half then crushed by hand and flattened…The two halves of the paper are then sealed back together so that the ground resembles an open book’. 2

Helen Cass, Mapping Drawing 4, white drawing/watercolour cold pressed 400gsm paper, black ink, 40 x 30cm, 2021 (Image courtesy of the artist)

Cass draws her first line from the top left of the paper towards the right following its top edge. A second line is added below and a third and so on. The sensitive touch of the nib travelling across the unspoilt left side, as well as the creases caused by the deliberate intervention down its centre and on the right hand side, reveals the paper’s surface texture. With this sensitive touch one can relive the sense of the pen touching the paper’s surface that reveals not only its gestural marks but examines its surface irregularities giving the artwork a heightened tactile quality that one is drawn into.

When ‘drawn into’ the artwork the delicacy of the pressure of pen on paper, the closeness of the lines’ spacing and the detail of each becomes more apparent and Cass’s concentration and pace is relived in its viewing.

David Murphy’s has also drawn fine, closely spaced lines in Untitled.  These are grouped and painted in four bands of white on a black background.  Each band is created by a single brushstroke with each individual line created by a separate bristle. A small wave is created within each band by a slight tweak of the wrist.

The resulting image reminds me of a personal experience standing on a hilltop above a beach in St.Ives photographing the waves rolling in towards the shore watching meditatively the movement from one wave back to the next.

David Murphy, Untitled, Somerset printmaking paper, casein paint, 38 x 28cm, 2015 (Image courtesy of the artist)

Each ‘rolling wave’ created in a single brushstroke stroke reminds me of those traditional Chinese artists who can execute, with masterful technique, a single ink brushstroke capable of conveying ‘life force’ or ‘qi’.  This quiet life force is evident in Untitled and Murphy’s technique has obviously been acquired through much patience and practice.

On the far wall, in between Cass’s Mapping Drawing 4 and Murphy’s Untitled, is Anna Mossman’s monumental Curved Lines. First began in 2012, starting with a single curved line in the top left-hand corner it was followed by a second line that attempts to copy the first. A third line then copies the second. This process was repeated until the lines reach the bottom right hand corner some three years and three metres later in 2015.

The two changes of direction in the composition were produced when Mossman disregarded her own rules by deciding to copy a line and placing it in a position not directly to the one before. These two breaks give the impression of tectonic plates pushing against each other; plates of layered strata composed of lines that were created during different periods in Mossman’s life. While giving the appearance of geological time these plates relate to human time and experience, with border scribbles on its edges noting the dates of key changes.

Anna Mossman, Curved Lines, Cold-pressed white drawing paper, ink, 151 x 304.5cm, 2015 (Image courtesy of Close Ltd)

In creating its physically demanding size, each continuous line is drawn either on the diagonal or near-to-vertical requiring Mossman a dexterity of bodily movement through space. This is in conjunction with the concentration required in copying the line before. This encourages the viewer to fully experience the artwork by moving in much the same way. In following a single continuous line in detail one can relive a fraction of the real-time drawing experience and Mossman’s movement. 

Although one has a sense of empathy with the artist it is difficult to imagine the commitment required in sustaining the mental and physical stamina needed to create to Curved Lines, particularly over a broken period of three years.

There are four artists exhibiting in Lines of Empathy whose drawings are rooted in landscape, albeit in different ways.

Kathy Pendergast, in Fuji has appropriated a ready-made 1:25,000 scaled contour map of Mount Fuji.  Pendergast has filled in the alternative bands created by the contour lines with reddish-brown gouache.  Like any map it it can be easy to get absorbed into the finer detail.  In addition to the implicit graduations in the geological terrain that they represent, the viewer’s experience is also rooted in what the overall image evokes. This includes rock strata, the growth rings of a tree trunk or a cross-section analysis of the human body all of which are evocative of some type of life-form.

Kathy Pendergast, Fuji, Waxed map, gouache, 45 x 56cm, 2022 (Image courtesy of the artist)

Fuji is based on factual representation of a particular terrain where no personal experience of the terrain has been included. Although similarly executed back in the studio, Rachel Duckhouse’s Stepping Stones at Lock Euphoirt iii  is a drawing of her personal memory relating to this place in the Hebrides, West Scotland.  A technical accomplishment in pen and ink her subjective impression captures the transitional patterns of falling sunlight and the flow of running water around stationary stepping stones.

Rachel Duckhouse, Stepping Stones at Lock Euphoirt iv, Heritage Woodfree drawing paper, radiograph technical drawing pen, 65 x 51cm, 2022 (Image courtesy of the artist)

A sense of place is fully evident in Onya McCauseland’s Tan-Y-Garn 51 degrees 46 10.01 N 3 degrees 59 05.93 W.  Providing the exact longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates in its title, Tan-Y-Garn is located in South West Wales and is the site of a former iron mine where rain water percolates from high ground through the cracks in the rocks absorbing iron minerals on the way. Eventually the water leaches out at lower ground where it oxidises.  When suspended in water, different colours ranging from bright orange to deep purple are visible dependent on the particle size of the minerals.  Back in her studio, McCausland undertakes an onerous filtration process by hand with the brownish-red dominating the final colour of the contaminated water.

Onya McCausland, Tan-y-Garn 51 degrees 46 10.01N 3 degrees 59 05.93 W, Somerset watercolour 350gsm paper, hand collected pigment, 120 x 150cm, 2016 (Image courtesy of the artist)

At the end of the process, as McCausland explains, ‘The large sheet of paper is laid down in a tray…the pigmented water poured over its surface, until it finds its place, reaching its limits where particles sink into the softening skin of the paper. Very slowly and carefully the paper is lifted out of the tray so water can drain from its surface, leaving behind the particles of colour that have settled into and become part of the paper’. 3

The form created by this process reminds me instantly of a giant mound and its colour and water marks reminiscent of Martian imagery with its dried river beds and tributaries etched into its surface. There are three different time scales compounded into the creation of the artwork.  Geologically; the landscape containing the seams was created some 300 million years ago. Historically; the mine was a product of human’s historical interaction with the landscape and, thirdly, the human time invested in the artwork.

In addition to its bold form and colour it is the combination of all three times contained in its creation that makes this drawing such an arresting and memorable image.

Similarly invested in a sense of place, is Simon Hitchen’s 06.57 Bankend 19.16 that appears to be a systems-based drawing with a title that refers to its time and location.

Speaking with Hitchens at Close he explains, “This drawing was made on a hill top at Bankend, Dumphries and Galloway, between sunrise at 06.67 and sunset at 19.16.  I placed a rock from the hillside onto my paper which is orientated north. Beginning with the first rays, I trace the shadows created by the sun throughout the day arcing from west to east. Each line what you see is a trace of the shadow of that particular moment. The white void is the shape of the rock itself”. He also adds that, “The size of the paper is pre-determined by the size of the table that I am able to carry to the top of the hill”.

Simon Hitchens, 06.57 Bankend 19.16, Fabrino hot-pressed Grana Satinata 300gsm paper, 0.3mm Rotring pen, 50 x 70cm, 2019 (Image courtesy of the artist)

Taking over 12 hours to conceive, it is another example of a drawing where a high degree of stamina and focus is needed for its creation. Like Tan-Y-Garn 51 degrees 46 10.01 N 3 degrees 59 05.93 W,  06.57 Bankend 19.16 also marries together three different time spans; human, geological and celestial. In combining his personal experience with the geology of the Permian landscape, in both location and the type or rock used, and the rotation of the earth under his feet, Hitchens has commendably maintained a consistency of line over 12 hours to create an engaging and memorable processed-based drawing where the drawing’s surface is so clean and line consistent it is hard to believe it was undertaken en situ. As he enthusiastically explains, “the drawing is there to generate further dialogue about our relationship and place within the landscape”.

Representing architectural space is Kate Terry’s Plan for W, an isometric drawing of a columned room drawn in grey on smooth brown paper. This space is intercepted by two sets of white pencil lines running from one side of pictorial space to the other creating dense white triangles where they intercept and overlap. The drawing is most likely an option for a proposed installation where the drawn white lines are substituted for threads running across and intersecting three-dimensional space.

Kate Terry, Plan for W, smooth brown paper, pencil and colour pencil, 38 x 53cm, 2009 (Image courtesy of the artist)

Peter Peri’s Star of Redemption also appears to be a proposed structure reminding me of many deconstructed Star of Davids created with thin lengths of interlocking balsa-wood; the type used in architectural model-making. The image is constructed by an accumulation of fine lines running across the width of each length.  These lines give energy to the structure and the plinth on which the structure sits, creating a particular tension between line and the volumes created.

Peter Peri, Star of Redemption, unbleached paper, pencil, 101 x 65cm, 2017 (Image courtesy of the artist)

Star of Redemption is also the title of a book by Franz Rosenzweig that assigns both Judaism and Christianity as having equally important roles in the world thus implying that the drawing could possibly be a starting point for a deeper theological discussion.

The final two drawings included in this review appear at first to be formally quite similar. Fay Ballard’s Untitled 16 is one of 40 circle drawings created by the artist. The outer circle, 48 centimetres in diameter, is formed of bands of concentric circles each five centimetres in width and filled evenly with dark 4B pencil with only a narrow two millimetre gap of untouched paper separating each.  

Fay Ballard, Untitled 16, Fabriano Artistico Traditional white hot-pressed watercolour paper, graphite, 56 x 77cm, 2021 (Image courtesy of the artist)

With a closer look one can see the labour of pencil indentations and the slight wonky edging of each band causing a little tension between one and the next.  Assuming that Ballard is filling in the circles from the centre out, each band takes a little longer to fill than the one before. With Untitled 16 it is the sense of increasing labour that I have the most empathy with.

If Untitled 16 is the physical outcome of movement executed in a precise and controlled manner,  Carali McCall’s Work no.1 (Circle Drawing) 2hr 48 min is a work on paper that is far more physically laboured.

Executed in an unbroken two hours 48 minutes, the filled circle has been created in graphite with successive revolutions of the arm that have overlapped to create dark areas that have warped, buckled and torn the paper.

Carali McCall, Work no.1 (Circle Drawing) 2hr 10min, Fabriano Academia 200gsm paper graphite, graphite, 150 x 170cm, 2016 (Image courtesy of the artist)

With such physicality evident, the drawing itself is as an act of endurance. As its title may indicate a performative activity, its viewing from start to finish may also have been an act of endurance for its audience who may have felt hunger and thirst or simply the need to move. There must also have been an element of anticipation as they see Ballard becoming more physically and mentally fatigued. Therefore, the drawing becomes a record not only of the artist maintaining their movement but also of the audience’s endurance, presence and behaviour. We, as a secondary viewer at Close, can have a sense of empathy with both.

In Lines of Empathy, what is most striking, with the exception of only a couple of artworks, is the meditative approach present within each artwork and the need for the artist to have sustained focus and stamina. With focused concentration and with each ‘line as mark making’ placed onto the paper, the artist is brought back into the present moment over and over again. This is also true in its viewing. When the viewer is at the same distance at which the drawing was conceived, their focus, and even perhaps their pace of breathing, becomes in tune with the artist’s mark making experience. This slowing and deepness of breathe has, in turn, the effect of calming and composing the viewer’s mind making us more receptive to the drawing in front of us. 

With perhaps the exception of those drawings rooted in a sense of place, no explanation is required for the artworks to be explicable as they speak for themselves.  The openness and level of engagement from the viewer is where the interest of the artwork is revealed experientially deriving its significance by facilitating a physical and emotional response.  What is most certainly true of all the drawings in Lines of Empathy is the greater the viewer’s engagement the greater the reward.


1.Pg 6, Line of Empathy, Giulia Ricci, 2022

2. Pg 35, Lines of Empathy, Giulia Ricci, 2022

3. Pg 44, Line of Empathy, Giulia Ricci, 2022