beyond the Zentangle
March 30, 2019 7:26 AM   Subscribe

What are some examples of people who became obsessed with drawing particular visual motifs for months or years?

I'm looking for examples of people who independently became interested in drawing or reproducing (by hand) a particular simple visual motif obsessively, over a long time period, and personal or biological explanations of why they felt compelled to do it.

I'm thinking about Yayoi Kusama and her lifelong obsession with drawing polka dots as a form of self-obliteration. I'm also thinking about the folks in this podcast about Bolero who took up obsessive painting of circular motifs for years as they developed a particular neurodegenerative disorder, and wondering if it could be a larger phenomenon. Hypergraphia could also be related.

The phenomenon doesn't need to be pathological/biologically-linked at all; these are just the examples that come to mind for me. If you've personally experienced this, I'd be very interested to hear about it.
posted by icosahedron to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
There's a lot of these kind of practices that have been categorised into 'outsider art'. There was a good exhibition at The Hayward Gallery a few years ago with many examples.
posted by 0bvious at 7:43 AM on March 30, 2019

Ask cortex about Menger Sponge
posted by fluttering hellfire at 8:11 AM on March 30, 2019 [23 favorites]

Best answer: I haven't found a link for the audio – it's only 15 minutes – but track down BBC Radio's "Elastic Planet" episode "The Shape" in which a kids' show presenter draws an odd shape with four and a half equal sides on a blackboard and strange things ensue.
posted by zadcat at 8:29 AM on March 30, 2019

What about Piet Mondrian? Although his work is more of a progression deeper and deeper into rectangular compositions, and his work evolved over time.

I'd also consider Jackson Pollock to meet your requirements. His work is pretty singularly one thing.
posted by cleverevans at 10:51 AM on March 30, 2019

Chuck Close is pretty much all self portraits.
posted by yoga at 10:56 AM on March 30, 2019

MC Escher got really into tesselation, as he called it "regular division of a plane."
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 11:09 AM on March 30, 2019

Best answer: Momoko Sudo's Linescaping seems to fit.
posted by Lexica at 11:25 AM on March 30, 2019

Best answer: During times when I am suffering the effects of my mental illness I soothe anxiety/desperation by drawing ovals that tip to the right, one after another, sides touching, just slender ovals over and over, for pages and pages of lined notebook paper. (Using lined paper works best for uniform height but is in no way necessary.)

When I draw the same tipped ovals when I am feeling fine they don't turn out the same, it's like I try too hard or something.
posted by mcbeth at 1:25 PM on March 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

Hilma af Klimt (currently exhibited at the Guggenheim) was a classically-trained painter that went big into theosophy & spiritualism and started doing automatic writing and drawing, and a lot of her stuff has recurring motifs.
posted by Rat Spatula at 1:25 PM on March 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Judy Chicago and her work with concentric / yonic motifs may fit the bill.
posted by fifthpocket at 3:47 PM on March 30, 2019

Best answer: Louis Wain and his cats!
posted by donut_princess at 4:26 PM on March 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

American Museum of Visionary ArtI gave you a link to their permanent collection. If you look at the links you can see the works of individual artists that may be what you are looking for.

You might also find the works of Adolf Wolfli interesting. He created a whole internal world of maps and landscapes, many of the works I find really beautiful.
posted by effluvia at 9:36 PM on March 30, 2019

in Oakland, there's a graffiti artist who goes by GATS (Grafitti Against The System) who uses variations on the same mask-like face in his work.
posted by murphy slaw at 10:51 AM on March 31, 2019

Frida Kahlo. There's a great show up at the Boston MFA right now, and I was lucky enough to take a tour with the curator last weekend. She pointed out Kahlo's leafy and botanical backgrounds as an example of a repeated motif in her work.
posted by acridrabbit at 12:52 PM on March 31, 2019

Best answer: Jean Cocteau did a LOT of these kind of drawings.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 5:02 AM on April 1, 2019

Pierre Bonnard's many many paintings of his wife Marthe.
posted by JonJacky at 9:59 AM on April 1, 2019

Jenny Lawson draws what she calls doodles to keep from self harm. A lot of them start with the same size circle. All of them get filled in with intricate patterns.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:05 PM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Look for Martin Thompson of Dunedin NZ. I'd seen this old guy wandering around town for years clutching an armfull of A3 graph paper and ballpoint pens. But this is Dunedin so lots of unusual folk wandering here* - then Iwas talking to a gallery director and he explained Martin's work - these look like they come out of a plotter, but look closer and you seen ten of thosands of hand-drawn filled in ballpoint squares.

some auckland art blog I've never seen before

Dunedin Art Gallery 2015 Archive

James K Baxter spent a lot of time here...
posted by unearthed at 12:50 PM on April 4, 2019

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