Monday, September 19, 2016

Outside the Lines

Outside the Lines

By Tom Wachunas

“Drawing makes you see things clearer, and clearer, and clearer still. The image is passing through you in a physiological way, into your brain, into your memory - where it stays - it's transmitted by your hands.”
― Martin Gayford, A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney ―

“We who draw do so not only to make something visible to others, but also to accompany something invisible to its incalculable destination.” ― John Berger, Bento's Sketchbook

EXHIBIT: Drawing Invitational – works by Noelle Allen, Jean Alexander Frater, Joseph Karlovec, Anderson Turner, Josh Welker, and Patricia Zinsmeister Parker / At Main Hall Art Gallery on the Kent State University at Stark campus / 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton, Ohio / THROUGH SEPTEMBER 30 / For more information, contact Jack McWhorter at 330.244.3356 or

   Many viewers of this exhibit might be challenged to wonder how some of the pieces - in a show clearly listed as drawing – are even “drawings” at all. The term itself can bring to mind all sorts of traditional (which is to say culturally conditioned) preconceptions, assumptions, and expectations concerning “draftsmanship,” media, or the nature of representational art. 

   But the works presented here constitute an expansion of the parameters of the term – a gestalt, if you will - such that we could rightly consider “drawing” as an ideation greater than the sum of its obvious parts. Think of drawing as essentially configuration. That is, the manipulation, organization, or  structuring of many possible elements which need not be identified with, or limited to, a specific medium, material, technique, or for that matter, even two-dimensionality. From this perspective, drawing can be rightly appreciated as a conceptual and practical foundation for making any work of visual art, so that one could consider, say, a full-color abstract painting on canvas, a free-standing sculpture, a ceramic vessel, or a work of architecture, as “a drawing.” 

   With crayon, graphite, or watercolor on unusual surfaces such as resin or Mlyar sheets, Chicago-based Noelle Allen renders membranous “pictures” that suggest organic cross sections, microcosms, or the workings of morphological structures. These fascinating, ghostly images are teeming with myriad tiny marks and shapes that sometimes appear to be suspended in pools of viscous liquid.

   The pieces by Jean Alexander Frater, also based in Chicago, are deconstructions and reformulations of stretched or framed raw canvas. The uniform 2D surface that we normally associate with supporting paint becomes a sculpted entity in various states of disruption. Call it a 3D meditation on the intrinsic components (malleable textures and patterns) of materiality itself.

   Joseph Karlovec is currently an Exhibit Technician at the Akron Museum of Art. His “A Simpler Time” looks a bit like a storyboard sketch for a scene from Jurassic Park. The work combines two mark-making methods which might be metaphors for two epochs of life on our planet. There’s an interesting tension between the carefully contoured style of the delicate floral arrangement at the top of the scene – like you’d find in a coloring book - and the more visceral, double-lined (accomplished by holding two pencils at once) rendering of the crocodile (?) in the low foreground. Meanwhile, the photo-transfer of greenery around a pavilion-like structure nestled in the middle ground could be a commentary on the encroachments of “civilized” living - human kind’s managed and manicured landscapes vs. the primordial wild.  

   There’s a coloring book simplicity, too, in the sketchbook illustrations by versatile artist, curator, and writer (including art reviews for the Akron Beacon Journal), Anderson Turner. While some are framed and under glass as “finished” pieces, most are tacked to the wall with a notes-to-myself sort of randomness. See them all as steps in a process -  selected  ideas related to a larger, ongoing “fantasy” narrative about an underwater culture populated by “Mermen.” Anderson’s  images – sure-handed, quick and somewhat whimsical - often have a dimensionality that suggests they could be designs for future sculptures.

   Fortress” is a very large black and white work on okawara (a Japanese printmaking-grade paper) made with graphite and ink, by Josh Welker, currently based in Upland, Indiana. The piece is indeed a formidable and altogether mesmerizing series of maze-like layers comprised of ornate, repeated shapes, patterns, and visual textures. For all of its sheer linear density, the work is nonetheless strangely airy, with an intriguing sense of spatial depth. There are many intricate passages in this vast matrix that harken to the complex geometry of “carpet” pages in illuminated manuscripts, or the 3D filigree and intarsia techniques from the Middle Ages.

   And “matrix” might be a good way to get a handle on “You Could Hear a Pin Drop,” a gloss enamel and collage work on paper by Patricia Zinsmeister Parker. For many years, Parker has been one our region’s most eminently accomplished painters, having honed a unique, expressionistic language often characterized by aggressive color dynamics and mark-making that can be at once startling, bold, and enigmatic.

   Here, her drawing is a painterly field (you could call it a system, matrix, or implied grid) comprised of discrete units, each supporting some variant of unabashedly shiny, broad, and very blue gestures and marks. It’s a progression that seems dictated not so much by a pre-planned logic per se, but rather Parker’s immersion in the moment of making and seeing one mark, then intuitively responding to it with the next. 

       This eye-popping progression, this continuous declaration of primal marks, looks like it could go on forever.  And interestingly, it also feels like an affirmation of the history of drawing itself, even back to those prehistoric communal gatherings of individuals who put pigment on cave walls. As if to say, I am here, I have seen, I am seeing.

   PHOTOS, from top: Ghosted, by Noelle Allen; Canvas Fall From Rectangle, by Jean Alexander Frater ; A Simpler Time, by Joseph Karlovec ; Assorted Sketchbook Works, by Anderson Turner ; Fortress, by Joseph Welker ; You Could Hear a Pin Drop, by Patricia Zinsmeister Parker

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