The two artists who spring to my mind who used back drawing are Tracey Emin and Paul Klee. In my researches, I found references to Cezanne using it but sadly I have been unable to find any specific works.
Tracey Emin’s commentary on events in her life using the technique, are, to me, some of her least interesting works. The significance lies in their autobiographical content, and their author, rather than in their pictorial qualities. The medium has lent itself to a spontaneous expression and the results are very immediate. It is rather like viewing a series of ‘post-it’ notes where she has conveyed an idea to us in the most direct and emphatic way. She could have just sketched these but producing a print gives them more significance, permanence and solidity.
he has combined back drawing in oil based media with watercolour backgrounds. I am intrigued as to how he balanced the requirement for fairly thin paper to produce the fine crisp lines and paper which could withstand water colour washes. his lines are very crisp, in fact, I suspect that some were added after the print stage. I imagine that he printed first and then developed the background, because that would be the lower risk approach. Otherwise he would have risked spoiling the backgrounds which I imagine took laonger to produce. The combination of richly coloured support and delicate print works particularly well. We are drawn into a colourful fantasy world where he explores themes such as weightlessness. His backgrounds are almost as important, if not more important than the drawn element. They appeal to my love of colour and texture.
By contrast, Ann Desmet’s prints are densely drawn and use no background colour. Indeed, she often does not use colour. She does a lot of work in linocut and woodcut, and the precision she uses there is carried over the print linked below print. I cannot imagine that this precise and elegant drawing of the Umbrian countryside was done from life. The tone in the sky had obviously been carefully and regularly hatched. I think this must have been done using either a photograph or a previous drawing attached to the back of her support. It is beautiful, but it feels very controlled.
I was trying to find an example of a spontaneous, loose back drawing print, and came across this print by Mary Adam. I emailed her to ask about the work, and if I could reproduce it, and received a very kind reply. She tells me that this was drawn from life. I particularly like the background texture which is clearly two layered prints in analogous colours. These create an atmospheric background for the freely drawn figure, also in an analogous colour. The colours create a calm, reflective mood. I can understand the appeal of the tonal qualities of black, but the colour here links the subject with the background and is more subtle and interesting than black would have been. I like the spontaneous nature of the drawing and the fact that the two background layers are not accurately registered only adds to this.
The spontaneously drawn line seems to me the best use of this technique and so perhaps I have come back to Tracey Emin’s works full circle. Whether you like her works or not, back drawing was just the tool for the job.