On View: Drawing on Imagination

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David Dupuis, If You Go Away, 2012 (Courtesy of artist)

Quick, what do you think of when you hear the words drawing exhibition? Small intimate works? Preparatory sketches for paintings? A darkly lit room you make a mental note to visit when you have more time? Forget all that. Falling Through Space Drawn by the Line is an exhibition now on view at the UB Art Gallery in the Center for the Arts that will expand your perceptions of the boundaries of drawing.

Co-curators Sandra Firmin and Joan Linder have assembled a broad array of work that one way or another falls under the heading of drawing. But there’s not a quick sketch or preliminary drawing to be found. These are fully realized and often highly conceptual works. Linder is a drawing professor at UB and an artist who is known for her own, often elaborate, drawings. Firmin, curator of the UB art galleries, stresses that it was not the organizers’ intent to expand the definition of drawing, but rather to create a dialogue around the current state of the practice in contemporary art.

The exhibition includes artists from Portland, Northern California, Montreal, Buffalo, New York City, and Chicago. “Drawing is fundamental and an activity that most people can relate to,” says Firmin, “so I think it will always have resonance.” Falling Through Space … should resonate with fans of contemporary art and anyone who admires skillful execution.

A good illustration of the conceptual aspect of the show is the work of Ellen Lesperance. Lesperance finds vintage black and white photos of women involved in direct action campaigns of the past. She looks for people who are wearing sweaters that somehow relate to the cause they are advocating. Then she painstakingly charts a pattern in gouache on gridded paper that represents what Lesperance believes the sweater would have looked like. The motifs are made to visually overlap, creating meticulously patterned abstract and semiabstract designs. Lesperance then reproduces the actual sweaters as she has imagined them from the photos, and they are on display with the drawings. The painstaking drawings are objects of beauty, and a remarkable record of a process leading to a remarkably ordinary end.

Another process-based artist is Tony Orrico, who uses his body as a drawing tool to make abstract patterns involving human endurance. Penwald: 2: 8 circles; 8 gestures (LP’II, CCCB, Barcelona, ES)is a large-scale work that occupies the Lightwell gallery. The monumental drawing was created by the artist lying prone holding two graphite sticks against the paper, his arms out straight, making repetitious arc movements while slowly rotating on his belly. In this manner, Orrico creates a dense pattern of circles that are a record of the artist’s ordeal: drawing as performance. There is a monitor on display that shows the work in progress. On October 3, the artist made a new work in the same gallery.

Other exhibited drawings include Saul Chernick’s slightly contemporized riffs on Northern European Medieval phantasmagoric woodcuts that incorporate elements of fantasy, religion, and anatomical studies. Though the ink and watercolor drawings are near-lifts of well-known themes, they seem oddly contemporary. Deborah Zlotsky uses powdered graphite on Mylar to create her own imagined biological studies that suggest organs, bone, and tissue, reminiscent of the forms in the paintings of surrealist Yves Tanguy.

Charmaine Wheately documents with comic-like drawings the everyday occurrences of life, each stamped with the date the event took place. Taken together, these drawings form a record of ordinariness in all its interesting forms. Toyin Odutola skillfully employs ballpoint pen to make densely patterned and engrossingly enigmatic portraits. Molly Springfield’s interactive archive includes a photocopier and a number of documents, but unfortunately, no instructions on how viewers should interact.

Ripley Whiteside makes fictionalized wildlife scenes that skew left of naturalist depictions of reality. Anne Muntges offers a compellingly elaborate full-sized slice of a Victorian home on which virtually every surface has been covered with textural marks. Stan Shellabarger dons graphite-soled shoes and paces around on paper to make a graphic record of movement, time, and space. Rosemarie Fiore makes dynamic collaged works that employ fireworks to achieve her uniquely colored effects.

There’s more, and it’s all worth a look. But hurry; the show ends December 8.
Bruce Adams is an artist, educator, and writer living in Buffalo.