Sunday, July 17, 2011

Picked RAW Peeled: Drawing Expanse

by Kevin Freitas

Drawing Expanse, San Diego Space 4 Art’s first open-call exhibition, showcases a very broad and loose definition of drawing within contemporary art practice today, despite how limiting and restrictive that just might be. There have been some odd and curious selections made by the show’s two jurors, David White (founder of Agitprop in North Park) and Karen McGuire (Director of William D. Cannon Art Gallery in Carlsbad) who themselves make for an equally odd pairing of expertise in view of their politics and ambitions.
For the most part, Drawing Expanse is a solid exhibition with a wide range of good work and a few surprises. Those surprises are the “must-see” pieces but not so much for “the myriad ways in which drawing continues to influence and affect us” as the jurors state, but for the artists' unabashed frankness and pride in tackling their individual subject matter with such gusto, refinement, and a certain delicacy, delightfulness, and joy.

First, here’s a brief overview of what was not working in Drawing Expanse. For example, Sandra Doore’s Fragments, a large wall sculpture covered in eggplant-colored vinyl stitched and pieced together, its seams have been hand-sewn shut as if to try to keep what’s inside from breaking through the exoskeleton. Doore is known for these types of works and has in the past exhibited much more compelling pieces than what she has on display here. Is it a sculpture or a drawing is of no importance? The work’s incongruity in the context of the show and lack of presence already puts it at odds with the viewer.

K.V. Tomney - "Pool Info"

Signature works were also on display by Michele Guieu and May-ling Martinez. Martinez exhibited a previously seen work from a few years back and Guieu demonstrated her indefatigable (nondescript) production of reductive high-contrast silhouettes and figures – again.
K.V. Tomney also made the selection, exhibiting more “pool” drawings, but manages to change it up with one work that details the types of recreational pools that are available to the consumer – in or above ground. It’s hard to tell if Tomney is feeling the need to expand her pool repertoire, but it might be necessary in the not too distant future I believe. Hollis Swan, Chelsea Ramirez and Kirsten Rae Simonsen’s works highlight some of the more academic and contemporary trends in drawing which is either stylistically overworked or conceptually bland.

However, the most disappointing work on view might be Richard Keely’s and Anna O’Cain’s Snowflake Mandala. A mandala, most of you may know, is Sanskrit for the word circle. “In the Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions their sacred art often takes a mandala form. The basic form of most Hindu and Buddhist mandalas is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point. Each gate is in the shape of a T.” Furthermore, “in common use, mandala has become a generic term for any plan, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically, a microcosm of the Universe from the human perspective.” (Wikipedia) Carl Jung apparently believed the mandala was “a representation of the unconscious self.” Snowflake Mandala might be closer to a Yantra however, “thought to be the abode of the deity. Each yantra is unique and calls the deity into the presence of the practitioner through the elaborate symbolic geometric designs.”(Wikipedia) This would make sense given each snowflake’s geometric shape (hexagonal) and elaborate design.

Richard Keely and Anna O'Cain - "Snowflake Mandala"

Snowflake Mandala is a large drawing of a snowflake on a map of Camp Pendleton with particular attention given to – on this map – gun and mortar positions, impact zones, training areas, landing and drop zones etc. The map’s blatant use as a guide for military maneuvers is in sharp contrast to what the poet Holley Gerth believes is a representation of Christ – “Snowflakes gently cover the world in white and hide what's unlovely from our sight, showing us how He covers our sin and gives us His grace when we come to Him.” In other words, the snowflake is the perfect symbol to assuage the atrocities of man or to exorcise the demons (or to protect ourselves) on the way to spiritual wholeness from our “unconscious self” as Jung believed. Snowflake Mandala is an exercise in contrasts, a foil to the stark background of the military landscape. To make sure we fully understand the impact of this drawing and its overtly “political” message, Keely and O’Cain have employed burnt gunpowder to make the drawing and framed it within a border of decorative lace. The use of gunpowder, of course, calls to mind the early drawings of Edward Ruscha from the seventies.

So what is the intellectual misstep that makes Snowflake Mandala so infuriating? It’s the work’s heavy-handedness and overt message that leaves the viewer no room for interpretation let alone appreciation. It questions our belief system and values with a stereotypical – read moralizing – good vs. evil sort of dichotomy, with a certain complacency that condones without offering a solution to the problem. The artists could have painted Mickey Mouse on top of the map and it would have had the same effect – nothing trumps evil better than commercial icons or token symbols of purity. The conflicting symbols of war and spiritual unity do not mix well (not that they ever have) but the point is lost in Snowflake Mandala. The artist Sven Augustijnen might offer up some clues for Keely and O’Cain as to how to handle the weight of history and how to go about highlighting what truly is important in order to change it. Snowflakes and mandalas will not do this.

Thankfully, there are works in Drawing Expanse that come up to par. One of these works is Claire Zitzow’s Shadow Tracing #10 / 2 Framed Photographs. It is comprised of two photographs that document the video performance of Zitzow tracing the outline of a streetlamp’s shadow on the ground as the sun crosses the sky. The work resonates on so many levels that it is by far the strongest work in the show. Its major success is that Zitzow, compared to previous works I’ve seen, has streamlined her installation down to its essence – photograph, monitor, looping video. Gone is the messiness and junky quality of earlier works, the absence of detritus that only seemed to get in the way of the artist’s intent. The simplicity and directness of Zitzow’s piece – chalk in hand as she waddles her way up and down the length of the shadow – brings images of Charlie Chaplin to mind as well as some of the more absurdist art performances during the 1960s, Land Art, William Wegman’s earlier videos and to some extent, the work of Nina Canell.

And the end result is no less impressive. The final chalk outlines overlap in a cascading drawing of repetitive forms that definitely recall the celebrated chalkboard paintings of Cy Twombly. The only regret is Shadow Tracing #10 / 2 Framed Photographs should have been more prominently displayed within the gallery. A must-see piece indeed.

Claire Zitzow - "Shadow Tracing #10 / 2 Framed Photographs"

Another must-see work is entitled Dewdropic by Lea Anderson. It's a stunning work, one of many that can be found on her website. Dewdropic is impressive for its size (a large oval) and uncanny ability to rest passively on the wall (it’s not the first piece your drawn to in the show) until you come closer. Its cellular structure of hundreds of cut-out and reassembled colored pencil drawings begin to mutate and divide, swirling in a mass of amoeba-like structures that eventually pull you into its microscopic universe – resist we do not.

I’m not much for artist statements but Anderson’s, like her work, is succinct yet elusive enough to respect the viewer’s intelligence and imagination. “Through my creations, I convey the heightened sense of inspiration and wonder one feels when encountering the beauty and complexity of the natural world. However, mine is a ‘nature’ that springs from the psyche. Using organic forms, geometric patterns, and vibrant colors, I create works that live, breathe, and expand within one’s imagination. I desire not to imitate, but to demonstrate, and to celebrate, a sense of ‘being alive’.” And further, “this work is about the love of exploration, of discovery, of adventure. Possibility, Renewal, and Unity are common themes. Contrasts are woven together – the grotesque with the beautiful, the humorous with the solemn, the unique with the infinite. The vastness of nature provides an endless array of fantastic designs, life forms, and rhythms to investigate, as does the vastness of the mind." There is much joy to be found in this work.

Lea Anderson - "Dewtropic"

Lea Anderson - "Dewtropic" (detail)

Melinda Barnadas appears to have equal footing in both the scientific and art worlds, which might explain her drawing, entitled Gliding Ant – Cephalotes Pavonii. It is a simple black and white illustration of a gliding ant, which in the context of the show would seem a little out of place, if it were not for the contemporary treatment of the drawing itself (detail, line quality, etc.) and its intriguing presentation splayed out like some rawhide floor rug or wall decoration. It’s quirky and fun enough to get you to look as well as enjoy the drawing’s intimate qualities. Barnadas was an intern and scientific illustrator for the Field Museum in Chicago back in 2000 and is also part of the creative team of Magpie Studio. She is also responsible for probably the world’s largest “Paint-by-Numbers” painting on record.

Another work of note are Alexander Jackson’s Delineation of Space and Time: a large obelisk form lies on its side and is very reminiscent of the sculptor Masayuki Nagare and his iconic “Bachi” series of works. This form is taken from the bachi pick used to play the traditional Japanese Shamisen lute. One of Nagare’s Bachi can be found in the SDMA (San Diego Museum of Art) sculpture garden in black granite. Jackson’s drawing however, though not a sculpture, is deftly drawn with a series of small crosshatches in pen and ink that progress (left to right) in bands of diminishing opaqueness and density to nothingness at its very tip. The only drawback is, it was hung much too high and thus loses its immediacy and intimacy.

Melinda Barnadas - "Gliding Ant – Cephalotes Pavonii"

Finally, Tom Driscoll exhibited a Oldenburg-esque study in felt-marker on paper with an accompanying painted coiled tube in plastic pinned to the wall and casting a whimsical shadow. It was a fine example of gesture and line with a minimalist efficiency to it. Albert Atrillo and Jon Gomez both exhibit works wildly opposed in subject matter but no less compelling for their unique presence. Atrillo’s Soldier Boy and Boy with Machine Gun (from the series Three Patients) are narcissistic adventures into some unknown dark seedy underbelly reminiscent of work by the Chicago Imagists and notably, Jim Nutt, Karl Wirsum and Ed Paschke. Gomez’s Loteria: El Valiente taken from the board game of the same name is indeed a brave drawing. A beastly figure of a man emerges from the shadows, head held high, prominent nose and jaw emerging from a head full of wild hair calling to mind images from the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Gomez’s graphite drawing is bold and powerful; it expertly combines line, shadow, texture, and even erasure in a masterful work that is delicate yet valiant. Yet another must-see.

Jon Gomez - "Loteria: El Valiente"

Tom Driscoll - "Line Drawing" 

In the end, you’ll find Drawing Expanse to be a typical survey of artists working in this domain. As in most surveys and jury selections there are those artists who either did not submit or were not selected. This is a given – after all it’s the jurors’ choice. However, there are some absences felt, notably, among others, the drawings of Clayton Llewellyn, Lea Dennis, and even Linda Kardoff. Let’s hope SD Space 4 Art continues the open calls for submission, if anything, it is an opportunity to discover some new and exciting talents at work.

Kristen Simonsen - "Oops"

Article first published as Art Review (San Diego): Drawing Expanse on Blogcritics.

1 comment:

  1. Waht I like about this review is that it makes me want to see the work. Thanks, Kevin