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July 11th 2013
I remember the first time I encountered Lia Anna Hennig's drawings in the Alexia Goethe Gallery in Bond Street. At first sight they looked like supersized illustrations from a crazy surrealist book. Ice-cream cones appeared alongside cutlery with bows, open-mouthed fish, giant cup mushrooms, floating broccoli and breasts with grapes. Then I looked again. There was also something super-intense about these images which made me think about them on a deeper level. It was hard to say what it was at first; the palette was surprisingly simple - usually only 3 colours - and the hues were dense but not bright, drawing my eye into the depths and detail of the image. This was disciplined, careful work, each part of the drawing seemed like a journey into another pattern and another passion. I concluded that what Lia’s art was really about was abstraction not illustration. And not the painterly abstraction we all know so well, but a new drawn one.

Lia Anna Hennig is a superb draughtswoman using the seductive genre of fairytale book illustration as a Trojan horse for wonderful, exhilarating and often romantic essays in line, pattern and abstraction. Born in Frankfurt in 1981, she studied under the acclaimed Mark Leckey at the renowned Städelschule, and then did her MA at Central St. Martins 2005-6. Since then Hennig has become something of an insider's tip, showing at the Peles Empire Gallery in London and nominated for both the Hans-Purrmann-Preis in Speyer, Germany (2009) and the Jerwood Drawing Prize (2008), where she came second. Lia currently lives in London, where she works as an artist alongside teaching at Central St Martin's.

For Eyestorm she’s made her very first print edition. Himmelbett (Eat Your Mattress) is a screenprint in crimson, ochre and black that depicts an intricate four-poster bed overflowing with the patterns of dreams. Clouds burst out of the canopy, lightning shoots down, the drapes have become rain and the bedspread is growing roots like trees, while across the bed a tumultuous natural world unravels, where pillows have the patterns of spiders webs and two breasts sit in a nest like eggs. It's beautiful and sinister at the same time. The inspiration lies in the title "Himmelbett", the word for Four Poster bed in German, but literally means 'Sky-Bed.'

Drawing is one of the new frontlines in contemporary art. Just as the 'return of painting' dominated the mid 2000s - as in Saatchi's 'Triumph of Painting' shows - now we’re in an age of drawing. In the nineteenth century, art theorists agreed that the sketch - the 'esquisse' - contained the true spirit of the artist, as it was created more spontaneously, more freely than a finished painting. For a hundred years artists tried to make their paintings as spontaneous as their drawings. Now, it's only a little bit of a simplication to say that they’re making their drawings as important as their paintings. Today you can't walk into an art district in the world without coming across a drawing show, and galleries are opening that specialise only in this medium. Their reasoning today is bolder than 150 years ago: that drawing is the foundation of all the arts, and that drawings should no longer been seen as preparations or rehearsals for works of art, but constitute in themselves finished pieces. I’m sure that as you look closely at Lia's beautiful and subtle print, you will agree.

See Lia’s print in more detail here
Guest Curator

Ben Lewis is an award-winning documentary-film-maker and art critic. He has written for many leading British newspapers including the Financial Times, Telegraph, Observer, Die Welt and The Times, as well as international art journals. He wrote a monthly column on art for Prospect magazine 2004 - 2009 and was art critic for the Evening Standard 2007-2009, where he built a reputation for his lively and outspoken views.

Ben is probably best known however for “Art Safari”, his cult television series about contemporary artists which has been shown in the UK and all over Europe, and won a bronze at the New York Television Awards as well as the Grimme Prize in Germany in 2007. He is also known for his contributions to the BBC's Culture Show and for his fearless investigation of the contemporary art market in “The Great Contemporary Art Bubble” (2009), which was shown on the BBC and numerous other TV channels across the world, and screened at film festivals in Montreal, Vancouver, San Francisco, Tel Aviv, Copenhagen and Derry.
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