Richard Serra

Since 1971, Serra has made large-scale drawings on handmade Hitomi paper or Belgian linen using various techniques. In the early 1970s he drew primarily with ink, charcoal, and lithographic crayon on paper. His primary drawing material has been the paintstick, a wax-like grease crayon. Serra melts several paintsticks to form large pigment blocks. The drawings do not function as preparatory studies but typically come after a sculpture has been completed, as a form of notating its spatial relationships. Drawings After Circuit (1972), for instance, followed an installation for documenta of four huge steel plates (8 by 24 feet each) jutting in from the corners of a room, stopping short of meeting in the center. In the mid-1970s, Serra made his first “Installation Drawings” — monumental works on canvas or linen pinned directly to the wall and thickly covered with black paintstick, such as Abstract Slavery (1974), Taraval Beach (1977), Pacific Judson Murphy (1978), and Blank (1978). The drawings Serra has executed since the 1980s continue the experiments with innovative techniques but are less monumental physically. In the late 1980s he explored how to further articulate the tension of weight and gravity by placing pairs of overlapping sheets of paper saturated with paintstick in horizontal and vertical compositions, often working on the floor and using a mesh screen as an intermediary between the gesture and the transfer of pigment to the paper.

At the 2006 Whitney Biennial, Serra showed a simple litho crayon drawing of an Abu Ghraib prisoner with the caption “STOP BUSH.” This image was later used by the Whitney Museum to make posters for the Biennial. The posters featured an altered version of the text that read “STOP B S .” Serra also created a variation onGoya‘s Saturn Devouring His Son featuring George W. Bush‘s head in place of Saturn’s. This was featured prominently in an ad for the website pleasevote.com (now defunct) on the back cover of the July 5, 2004 issue of The Nation.

For his 2011 exhibition of drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Serra reworked some of his earlier pieces on paper which had been damaged or destroyed, recreating them specifically for the show. The museum labeled the works with two dates: that of the original and that of the reworked version. According to Serra, however, it is not important whether audiences know which version they are seeing.