MAstars 2011: Andrea Cotton, MA Fine Art

MAstars 2011: Andrea Cotton, MA Fine Art Andrea Cotton, Tin Opener, 2010. Pen and ink drawing. A4

Kathryn Welford selects Andrea Cotton from Liverpool John Moores University for MAstars

Andrea Cotton's drawings are made using a rotary pen and black ink on plain, A4 inkjet paper. Two of the drawings are of photocopied notices, written in upper case, Times New Roman.

The thread-like lines of the letters mark the taut hand of the artist; the effort in keeping to a straight line, of laboriously and accurately replicating the word-processed script by hand.

The specificity of the language suggests these texts are authentic; that they have been taken from a context where they had meaning and authority. The hard-to-read capitals read like loud, incomprehensible instructions. Monochrome and produced with materials easily available from any stationery kiosk, the drawings suggest signs blu-tacked on to the walls of shabby institutional corridors.

Andrea is one of nine artists exhibiting as part of the first cohort of MA Fine Art graduates at Liverpool John Moores University. Her work is remarkably quiet and still. The drawings have a precise formalist aesthetic. But there is a suggestion of history, of context and of a human voice.

Andrea has worked in prisons for the last nine years. Her drawings are representations of the signage and visual markers of prison life; a photocopied sign of when a tin opener is available; laundry instructions sewn into HMP produced clothing; information about when the spring/summer Argos catalogue would be available.

One drawing is in white ink on black A4 paper; a pleasing inversion of the black on white 'signs' drawings. It comprises an arrangement of black rectangular shapes, with short lines on an outer rectangle, suggesting slightly ajar doors of a room plan. It is beautiful in its minimal exactness. Like a mathematical equation whose aesthetic is based on what it perfectly denotes, the 'cell drawing' is more beautiful for the alarming truth of what it signifies.

When I met Andrea, the tendency was to talk about prison as much as the art. Prison has an abject and macabre appeal. In prison, everyday objects gain a different currency and meaning; are reconstituted into cigarette lighters, tin openers, alcohol. Everything is counted; the men, the time. Regime is structure. There is time to obsess.

Andrea shows me file paper resembling sheets of copper leaf, drenched in the repeated marks of biro ink. She fills books with doodles, obliterates their meaning with a new indecipherable language. She creates lists, she orders and re-configures information.

The meticulous attention to detail, re-invention, labour, restraint and repetition are part of Andrea's artistic process. These characteristics are not dissimilar to those engendered by prison.

The drawings, rather than being voyeuristic opinion pieces on prison life, appear to be a manifestation of it. Her process of working and subject matter are precisely conjoined. Obsession, order and the quiet, insistent human voice are both the experience and means of expression.

Selected by Kathryn Welford
Published January, 2011

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