The draw of nature

Paul Evans at his exhibition, The Paper Museum, at the Graves Gallery
Paul Evans at his exhibition, The Paper Museum, at the Graves Gallery

As part of Museums Sheffield’s Drawing the Summer programme the Paper Museum is an exhibition at the Graves Gallery by local artist Paul Evans exploring the idea of ‘true to life’ representations in drawing.

The Paper Museum brings together the artist’s ideas and work from many years of passionate engagement with the mysteries of nature.

The centrepiece is a life-sized drawing of a spade-toothed beaked whale – an extremely rare, deep diving, species and that has never been seen alive.

The only evidence is a cow and a calf that were washed up in New Zealand in 2010 and Evans has created a life-sized picture of the calf.

It is the fourth in a series of life-sized whale drawings, one of which, Leviathan, was seen in the Under the Sea exhibition at the Millennium Gallery in 2012.

“It’s about connecting with something bigger than us both physically and in sense of being,” he says.

By contrast the exhibition also features a series of much smaller weird and wonderful skeletal drawings of creatures which may only exist in the imagination.

“It started off with drawings I did during a residency at Cardiff University in the osteography department working with archaeologists looking at material evidence of the existence of wonderful creatures,” the artist explains.

“The whole concept of the exhibition comes from the idea of the medieval bestiary and to make a kind of cabinet of curiosity.”

They are arranged in an A to Z with an accompanying short poem by Scottish poet AB Jackson, currently studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. “We have a shared interest in beasts and fabulous animals and he agreed to provide four lines for each individual drawing,” says Evans.

Elsewhere in the exhibition are sketches of some nasty parasites (“but there’s something beautiful about them”) and The Animal, a composite drawing of representatives of all the categories of animals made into one creature based on research at the University of Sheffield’s Alfred Denny Museum.

Finally there are three poignant pictures, entitled Benjamin, Martha and George. These were names attached to the last surviving example of three now extinct species – the Tasmanian Tiger, the Passenger Pigeon and the Pinta Tortoise.

The Paper Museum poses a simple but profound question: what does it mean for a drawing to be ‘true to life’?

For the artist, who has a studio at Yorkshire Artspace, putting on a show at the Graves Gallery is special. “I’ve known this gallery since 1980 and learned so much from it over the years and now I run life drawing classes and when I was offered an exhibition I got quite emotional,” he admits.

The Paper Museum is running in conjunction with Drawing the Line, an exhibition of drawings and sketches from city’s collections. Both continue at the Graves Gallery until August 16.