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The Power of Suggestion
Narrative and Notation in Contemporary Drawing
Curated by Connie Butler
Museum Of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California

LouAnne Greenwald

Paula Hayes, Vermont Import Garden, Fall, 1996, mixed media

Including photography, sculpture, video, installation, and film, this exhibition of works by 13 artists expands the conventional definition of drawing to emphasize contemporary interests in narrative and notation. In this show the art object or image is a fragment of a greater whole. Meaning is not strictly contained within the object, rather the object points outside itself to the boundaries of its conceptual framework. In this way the work suggests a narrative that can be read from relations between objects, images and their context. Also evident in many of the works is an interest in notational strategies in which systems of representation are subjectively determined by the artist. Drawing, often affiliated with process, provides immediacy to the translation and variation of ideas. It records the activity of its making; it is a document of the artist's process. Breaking away from the traditional form of works on paper, drawing in this exhibition is a means of suggesting.

A re-creation of the storage shelves of her local nursery occupies a corner of Paula Hayes' installation. The shelves display various material transformations of the Vermont landscape: dried leaves and flowers, gourds, a map and postcards of Vermont, a jar of canned fruit. All are evidence of nature transformed both naturally and culturally and imported to Los Angeles. The gallery becomes a temporary storage space for her raw materials which continue to decay in its presence. Hayes' intervention of living matter within the museum emphasizes the decaying effect that the institution can have on art when it is removed from the world to be preserved as cultural artifact. Accompanying the installation are enlarged prints of handwritten notes that document the artist's thought process in developing her garden works. There is a suggestion in these texts of a romantic narrative that not only serves as her inspiration for the garden but also infuses the site, the materials, and the gardener with a seductive allure. "My job is to give you intense pleasure," she writes in her brochure. Such romantic inflection is a departure from the interests of the '70s Earth Artists whose works often marked the landscape in a monumental way, if only temporarily. In contrast, Hayes is intimately involved in the design and creation of a work that is both private and public. The garden is both a place for meditation and contemplation as well as a part of the cityscape. Hayes' installation is perhaps the most challenging in consideration of its role as drawing. She assembles fragments of materials and printed notes from her reflections that together suggest a setting and a character. It is through this assemblage of language and landscape that a romantic narrative is suggested.

Landscape is also the subject of the narratives of Perge Wilcox, Chard Fulsom and Laird Poole--all characters of Russell Crotty's invention. The diaristic illustrated texts of these disgruntled surfers reveal their lament over the influx of urbanization on the California landscape. Recording his observations of the surrounding environment, Crotty creates written journals and drawn typologies that depict unsightly technological interventions such as satellite dishes or antennas on rooftops. Drawn with a ball point pen (notable for its consistent line) the drawings have the character of doodles; quick, casual pen-drawn sketches. His larger wall hung drawings have the appearance of enlarged photocopies taken from the journals of his characters. Upon closer inspection, the speckled background of the page that looks like the effect of repeated mechanical enlargement is actually an effect drawn by the artist. The aged parchment-like surface mimics the quality of an old document, yet the texts are signed and dated '90, '92 and the paper is stained with coffee. Charting his observations of land, sea, and sky, Crotty's work shares the romantic concerns of 19th Century landscape painters. However, the lowbrow manner evidenced in his materials, style, and in the dialect of his characters is in stark contrast to the sublime nature of such works.

Like Crotty, Pauline Stella Sanchez assumes a character whose identity is engendered through her work. The "Sun Queen" is reminiscent of Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, who built Versailles in his reign. Designed according to a pattern of concentric circles, the floorplan of Versailles radiated from a central point that was the King's private quarters. Similarly, the Sun Queen's compositions of drawings take on a sculptural form radiating in a spiral on the floor then creeping up the wall, creating a floorplan far more complex than that of Versailles. In g wiz . . . pop, the center of the spiral is a tapered glass pedestal topped by the Sun Queen's golden yellow crown of mushrooms. The mushrooms burst organically from the crown. Their shape mimics the geometry of the circle while their organic form eludes any order. Sanchez's drawings are both computer generated and drawn by hand, depicting variations of geometric shapes and groupings that are reminiscent of diagrams for trigonometry and science. A similar dichotomy of organic and inorganic is present in the individual images that spiral outward in no apparent order, implying continuity rather than progression. The spiraling floorplan of pages ends in a stack of drawings suggesting that the importance of the process of drawing exceeds the importance of their actual image. The drawings that remain unseen suggest the significance of the activity of drawing as a means to explore variations as well as a means to celebrate the Sun Queen's endless configurations.

A similarly obsessive methodology is evident in the work of Ginny Bishton. At first glance, her dark abstractions of consistent weaving lines and folding planes have the look of stitched fabric. Upon closer inspection the densely layered strokes of her drawings reveal a multicolored palette. Smudges and smears of red and green mark the territory that she has left blank. The point of completion in these works seems to be intuitively determined. Bishton's act of drawing reveals itself as a repetitive and measured activity; a notation of work. As in stitching, each mark is uniform and the layering of marks constructs the line or plane that forms the composition. These drawings are at once ordered and unordered. The system of mark-making is eventually violated as a line turns in a different direction, or a pattern stops repeating itself. The drawings exhibit both a compulsion to labor and a compulsion to violate the fixed system of that labor. Pinned at various heights on the wall, they have an arbitrary relationship to the space of the viewer. Each drawing is evidence of the labor of its creation making each mark of the drawing visible.

The work of Frances Stark involves a re-inscribing of cultural texts through a subjective process of notation. Faint blue text, carefully drawn on paper, reveals the rather primitive form of reproduction that Stark uses as her drawing material--carbon paper. The nature of the carbon paper is such that the drawings are impermanent, fading over time like a memory. Their ephemerality suggests the temporal nature of a personal history verses the endurance of an acknowledged cultural history. The drawings appear to be literally copied from other texts, each tiny typewritten letterform is traced over by hand. The drawn mark is indexical in that it is a trace left by the pressure of the artist's hand. Simultaneously, it takes the form of a mechanical mark in that it mimics a typeset font. werther's letters is an abbreviated representation of text from a novel by Goethe. The actual text in the novel is comprised of many love letters written by Werther to a woman who did not return his affection. Stark represents this text by copying the decorative insignia of each correspondence and its accompanying date and leaving out the letter's content. This sparse notation omits the romantic professions of love that were the core of the letters' contents. Like Werther's love, the viewer's curiosity is unrequited.

Martin Kersels' tear drawings also suspend the viewer's curiosity by withholding immediate recognition of their content. Five framed sheets of white paper hang in a row as blank and empty as their minimalist predecessors. Upon closer inspection, however, subtle stains and wrinkles become apparent on their surface. Their title, tear drawings, suggests the origin of these marks and simultaneously invests the blank page with meaning. The surface is marked not by the gesture of the artist's hand but by the residue of his emotions. Inspiring a question of "Why was he crying?" the title also ironically assures that the artists' work is an expression of his emotions. The series of five drawings which evolved over the course of about nine months witness the patience of Kersels' process, as he waited for the appropriate feelings to materialize in order to create the work.

"The Power of Suggestion: Narrative and Notation in Contemporary Drawing" provides a framework through which relations between material, process, image, and context are delineated. These works represent a departure from the notion of a fixed and contained meaning by their reference to existing systems of meaning from everyday life. Other artists included in the exhibition are Sam Durant, Meg Cranston, Sowon Kwon, Aki Fujiyoshi, Matthew Antezzo, Joseph Grigely and Kathleen Schimert.

LouAnne Greenwald

Los Angeles, California

1997

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