Whether through mischievousness or indulgence, the imagery in ‘They call us lonely when we’re really just alone’ is cut with adolescent fantasies of violence, music or adventure. This could be dismissed as banal or naïve, yet the cornerstone of art production, it has been mooted, is a propensity to play and eschew utilitarian demands. Such retrogression, then, is not so unconstructive a notion, as it indicates a questioning that borders on dissent and a potent imaginary undiluted by responsibilities.

The surly exterior of obsessive teenagers may mask goodness knows what demonic thoughts, which if cultivated could develop into real evil; on the other hand, if the sheer intensity of process were channelled towards more external concerns, it may yield some tantalisingly peculiar outcomes. This all sounds dangerously like occupational therapy, but it also raises interesting issues around authenticity in art. All four artists here execute with emphatic deliberation what can be broadly described as drawings, although each employs a distinctly different language, from Graham Dolphin’s wrist-achingly dogmatic lettering to the almost autistic bluntness of David Mackintosh’s gouaches. Collectively the work reads like a record of attention spans and forces of conviction – but some fundamental doubts still linger regarding genuineness. Are these artists really obsessive or simply role-playing to manufacture an aura around the artwork? Immersion of an artist in his work (and, tellingly, these are all male artists) is perhaps a Romantic notion that contradicts the contemporary image of the artist-producer who employs a manufacturer to construct an artwork. It is possible, by extension, to imagine an artist outsourcing the aura of immersion wholesale. The work here, though, is definitely hard won; there have been no short cuts, no hired help. The medium of drawing suggests the work of dedicated loners, but then we don’t really place such demands on our artists these days – authenticity is no longer vehemently linked to time spent on crafted objects.

It takes a moment to think about how Graham Dolphin goes about his circular drawings. Does he write the lyrics backwards, starting from the centre and working outwards until a number of complete songs fill the desired amount of space? Or does he start from the outside, scribbling inwards? Dolphin’s subject matter is, by proxy, the content of the lyrics he copies out: the tribulations of anodyne songsters deliberating lost loves, fading youth and other platitudes. This has the potential to be doubly sad – it is one thing to sit in your bedroom writing such songs, it is quite another to reproduce them in coloured pencil or felt tip or with a soldering iron – but Dolphin somehow pulls them round into joyous graphic matrices. The crabbed text has an immediacy that prevents the words from instantly surrendering their emotive meaning, literally like a pop rendition of concrete poetry.

As a digital counterpoint, Andrew McDonald’s drawings are made on a computer but, despite their technological remove compared to Dolphin’s hands-on marathon, McDonald’s etching-like finesse indicates a similar assiduousness. A headless man bobs around in a petulant sea, a vaginal fissure is embedded in a rocky dell, a slab of terrain is scarred with the word ‘mine’ – a double-edged word when considered in the context of land.

McDonald’s sea- and landscapes seem endowed with animism, a need to communicate to or assail any human that might stumble upon them. Nature here has been rendered alien, malevolent even, and language, like the lone figure, is left truncated, useless. It is interesting how throughout the show language is deseeded or defused, as if in frustration or anger at its shortfalls. David Mackintosh continues the fascination with all things severed in his sparse gouaches: in Yellow and black legs (2003) a pair of disembodied legs stands akimbo in yellow trousers, casting a shadow on the white paper ground. Unlike the internal malevolence of McDonald’s images, there is no assailant in Mackintosh’s scenarios, but rather a mischievous creator. These legs look like they could still stride around, as if the brain that controls them exists in another realm.

Another of Mackintosh’s drawings, Part (2004), could be read as a pictogram of a cocktail glass which is impossible to put down because the base is missing. On the other hand, it might be the thighs and bikini of a luscious young woman. Mackintosh recognises the darker associations that the brain brings to an image and confronts us with an ambiguous symbol that is deliberately provocative. The apparent offhandedness of his painting suggests that we might be seeing mischief in innocent incidental marks; he is like one of those people who, when you laugh at their double entendre, tell you what a dirty mind you have for finding it funny.

Morten Schelde’s fantasies, on the other hand, are more overtly onanistically authored. His pencil drawings reference Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, shipwrecking the artist within his own pictures. Self-portrait as 7 pirates who get themselves seriously together (2005), for instance, maroons cowled figures in a skiff on choppy seas – an imaginary self-duplication that bathetically apes its digital equivalent. Yet the charm of Schelde’s megalomaniac flights of fancy lies precisely in his low-tech execution, compared to, say Paul Smith’s über-laddish montages of multiple Robbie Williamses. Schelde’s drawings have a robust self-consciousness that unashamedly draws attention to their own fictionality, with no attempt at hoodwinking us.

Schelde’s approach is literary, in the metafictional mode: he inserts his own presence into Stevenson’s story, thereby emphasising the construction of both; similarly, his pencil marks homogenise cover image, title and author’s name into the same representational level. This complex layering of authorship and fictionality is the adherent throughout ‘They call us lonely when we’re really just alone’. We are aware that these meticulous artists, obsessive nerds – call them what you will – are conscious of the aura their work conveys. We are possibly also aware of their awareness, and they of our awareness of their awareness, and so on in an infinite regression of regard and self-regard. The ontology of the artwork is delicate and terrible and should never be named, but these compulsive drawings go some way to intimating the strata of double bluffs it entails.