More Than Drawing

Lopoukhine Gallery / Boston

(Originally published in Art New England, Volume 5 Number 4, March 1984.)

This recent exhibition displayed large drawings by contemporary Miroslav Antic, Fritz Buehner, Nan Freeman, and Mags Harries. Buehner’s calligraphic contemplations on bodies fill and divide the page with large, curving gestures. The hand mimics the eye, following the seen forms and pulling out lines, as in Matisse or Utamaro, but elusive, no longer connecting them back to images but putting them on paper as the record of seeing. His drawings recall Arshile Gorky’s drawings from plant forms, but they are looser, more fluid. The charcoal dances around the forms, leaving smudges and erasures like footsteps.

In Buehner’s and Freeman’s drawings the page is a place where things happen, like a field, a bed, a stage, a threshing floor. In Freeman’s work the visual experiences which inspired the drawings have been filtered through layer upon layer of sensibility – a kind of dance of the seven veils. In the three- and two-part inventions from her Great Palaces and The House of Dr. Henry series, lines break like waves against rectangular panels which barely contain them. Bits of handwriting murmur among the lines. Freeman has a repertoire of marks which she plays like a solo performer coaxing an incredible range of sounds out of a violin. Her line dances, stretches, yearns, arches, and glides across the page. It is like a wilder, more abandoned line by the nineteenth century French artist J.A.D. Ingres (1780-1867), a distilled sensuality charted upon an invisible, ineluctable grid. The color in the Dr. Henry series is her richest, most resonant yet.

There is Ingres in Harries’s precise, delicate drawings of gloves, too – not Ingres the sensualist but Ingres the author of cruel, exquisite portrait drawings. The gloves, empty of the hands which have left their mark on them, are vessels for the pencils marks. The gloves are filled with the body’s absence, as Buehner’s abstractions are filled with its presence. Sharp little lines follow the gloves’ hollows and contours and the light shining on their rumpled surfaces. These are ironic icons. The pleasures of looking emerge here not from what is observed but from how it is rendered; not the image but the artifice.

Antic is a neon neoromantic. His drawing is inventive and illusionistic. It is drawing as a picture making, story telling, dream machine. In two of his works, pale men on horseback, insubstantial as smoke, appear through a veil of small, heavy spheres suspended in air. In another, a De Chirico-like torso appears as an eerie, psychedelic light. He conjures up images like a magician calling up spirits.

Why are these more than drawings? Ingres said, “Drawing is everything, it is all of art.” Close to writing, close to touch, drawing is a language with its own literature and its own laws.

by Rebecca Nemser for

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