Professor Deanna Petherbridge

Contact details

Professor Deanna Petherbridge
Position/Fellowship type:
Associate Fellow
Warburg Institute
Email address:

Research Summary and Profile

Research interests:
Summary of research interests and expertise:


Deanna Petherbridge CBE, is an artist, writer and curator whose practice centres around drawing, although she has undertaken public commissions and theatre design. She has published widely on drawing theory and practice, and historical and contemporary issues in art and architecture. The monograph Deanna Petherbridge: Drawing and Dialogue accompanied her drawing retrospective at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 2016-17. Her current drawings explore political themes and The Destruction of the City of Homs triptych is on display at Tate Britain in 2019. Professor Emerita, she has held three professorships in drawing including the Royal College of Art. She has curated trans-historical exhibitions for Hayward touring, National Galleries of Scotland, The British Museum and The Courtauld Gallery. She was an International Scholar at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles 2001-2; holds an honorary doctorate in design and is an Honorary Fellow of the RIBA.


The practice of drawing is theorised in The Primacy of Drawing: Histories and Theories of Practice through a series of thematic chapters on the economy of materials and techniques and the strategies and psychology of making, illustrated by historical and contemporary examples. The book argues for drawing as a theoretical and practical continuum encompassing text and image, preliminary sketch and autonomous work, academic study and caricature, linking history and contemporaneity. It accesses western drawing histories of artistic training; figural centrality and self-reflexive practices; and problematises the association of drawing with ‘authenticity’, ‘primitivism’ and the gestural.

The critical relationship of contemporary drawing to current art production will be investigated in a forthcoming book project which endorses the transformative potential of drawing as visual metaphor in a post-conceptual age. Issues of the democracy and hybridity of practice, media and materials; relational aesthetics, participatory and performative practice; technophilia and historophobia will constitute the nexus within which contemporary drawers deal with the crises of war, environmental destruction and changing attitudes to the body and imagery.

A non-aligned feminist approach to body politics in association with an interest in artistic training was the motivation behind the curation of the UK touring exhibition The Quick and the Dead: Artists and Anatomy, 1997 (expanded as Corps à vif? Musée d’Art et Histoire, Geneva in association with C. Ritschard and A.Carlino, 1998). Body politics were also the dynamic in researching the demonization of female ageing in the exhibition Witches and Wicked Bodies at the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2013. A graphics version was re-curated for the British Museum in association with Giulia Bartrum, 2014-15. Negative trans-historical representations of female ageing have been subsequently theorised in conference papers, publications and podcasts.

The pedagogy of drawing from workshop to academies was investigated in The Primacy of Drawing, 2010 and proposed as a key factor in self-portraits and images of studio practice in the trans-historical exhibition Artists at Work, The Courtauld Gallery, London 2018. Contemporary pedagogical theories were examined in detail in the recent publication The Drawing Experiment at the Royal College of Art, 1995-2001, 2018, which situated drawing as a culturally discursive and critical practice relevant to all aspects of the ever-expanding visual economy.

The fraught but profound relationship between text and image is the basis of my joint practice as artist, writer and teacher.  One aspect of my ideas-based studio output is that the predominantly architectonic form of my pen and ink drawings acts as a structural metaphor for complex subjects. For example, my early drawings commenting on war and weapons of destruction, such as The Iron Siege of Pavia, 1975 and The Concrete Armada, 1978 are now followed by works dealing with urbicide, forced migrations and the threats of populist politics. Current large-scale multiple panelled works on paper include The Destruction of the City of Homs, 2016; The Destruction of Palmyra, 2017; and The Wall, Blood Crossings, City on the Edge of the Abyss, Crossing the Abyss, 2019. A selection of these works can be found below, the rest can be viewed here. (Opens in new window)

Selected Works


The Wall, 2019, ink and wash on paper, diptych, c. 1050 x 1480 mm (each panel c. 1050 x 740 mm)


Blood Crossings, 2019, ink and watercolour on paper, triptych, c. 740 x 3150 mm (each panel c. 740 x 1050 mm)


Migration 1, 2018, ink and watercolour on paper diptych, c. 1050 x 1480 mm (each panel c.1050 x 740 mm)


The Destruction of the City of Homs, 2016 ink and wash on paper, triptych, framed dimensions 1277 x 2520 x 50 mm, Tate Britain collection

Selected Publications


Witches & Wicked Bodies, Edinburgh 2013 (exhibition catalogue)

The Primacy of Drawing: Histories and Theories of Practice, New Haven and London, 2010

The Primacy of Drawing: An Artist’s View, London, 1991 (exhibition catalogue)

(edited) Art for Architecture: A Handbook on Commissioning, London, 1987 (Research project commissioned by the Department of the Environment)

Articles, essays and chapters:

‘The Drawing Experiment at the Royal College of Art 1995-2001(Opens in new window)’ in The International Encylopedia of Art and Design Richard Hickman (Editor), John Baldacchino (Associate Editor), Kerry Freedman (Associate Editor), Emese Hall (Associate Editor), Nigel Meager (Associate Editor) (14 August 2018), pp.1-32

‘Leaking, Shrieking and Venomous Bodies: European Witch Imagery in the Sixteenth Century, in D. Zamani, J. Noble and M. Cox (eds), Visions of  Enchantment: Occultism, Magic and Visual Culture, (Papers from Visions of Enchantment International Conference, Cambridge University 2014) 2019, pp.51-66

‘Playful Images of Allegory and Actuality’ in Deanna Petherbridge and Anita Viola Sganzerla, Artists at Work, K.Gottardo and R. Sloan (eds),London 2018 (exhibition catalogue), pp.10-29

‘Some Thoughts on the Social Co-Option of Drawing’ in Studio Research, 4, Brisbane Australia, 2016 (Special  issue: Drawing International Brisbane Symposium Papers, W. Platz ed.) pp.4-16

‘Abject Bodies and Places of Enchantment’ in Black Mirror 1, J. Noble, D. Shepherd, M. Cox (eds), South Petherton, UK, 2016, pp.75-100

‘Graphic Intersections: Erga, Parerga and Pro-Erga(Opens in new window)’, RIHA Journal 0085 (27th March 2014) (Special Issue: When Art History Meets Design History, eds A.Puetz and G. Adamson), pp.1-20 

‘Wild Humours versus Graphic Inventions: The Drawings of Romney & Gainsborough’, Transactions of the Romney Society, 19, 2014, pp.12-19

‘Some Thoughts on Flaxman and the Engraved Outlines(Opens in new window)’ in Print Quarterly, 28,4, 2011 (Special double Issue in honour of Antony Griffiths), pp.385-91 JSTOR

‘Nailing the Liminal: The Difficulties of Defining Drawing’ in Writing on Drawing: Essays on Drawing Practice and Research, S. Garner (ed), Bristol and Chicago, 2008, pp.27-41

‘Constructing the Language of Line’ in John Flaxman 1755-1826 Master of the Purest Line, D. Bindman (ed), London 2003 (exhibition catalogue), pp.6-13

‘Art and Anatomy: The Meeting of Text and Image’ in Deanna Petherbridge and Ludmilla Jordanova, The Quick and the Dead: Artists and Anatomy, London, Berkeley, Los Angeles, 1997 (exhibition catalogue), pp.6-99/ ‘Art et Anatomie: La recontre du texte de de l’image’ trans. George Goldfayn in Deanna Petherbridge, Claude Ritschard and Andrea Carlino, Corps à vif: Art et anatomie, Geneva, 1998 (exhibition catalogue), pp. 15-48

Back to top