12th Annual Boston Drawing Show

At the Boston Center for the Arts

(Orig­i­nally published in The Boston Phoenix, Summer, 1991)

If you want rivers and moun­tains, go to Nature. If you want marks on paper, come to me.”
– Tao-chi, 17th century Chinese artist

Up close, three draw­ings by Michael Mazur are a wild, sensual dance of char­coal lines across a great white sheet of paper. Water, wind, and light are all dissolved into a passionate explo­sion of marks. But from a distance, all those lines resolve them­selves into images that are memo­rable and deep. In Copper Beech, the great trunk of a tree, solid like a man’s torso, reaches its many strong limbs up to the sky.

The 12th Annual Boston Drawing Show, juried by Clif­ford Ackley, the Museum of Fine Arts’ Curator of Prints, Draw­ings, and Photographs, is very much a show about marks on paper. It’s a show that cele­brates the phys­i­cality of drawing — all those lovely lines and scrawls and smudges and jabs and touches of pencil, char­coal, crayon, ink. And it’s a show that values drawing as an authentic imprint of the artist’s person­ality — as an expres­sion of hand and mind and soul.

All the draw­ings here reveal the artist’s hand, and many of them evoke a human pres­ence. John Wilson’s powerful portrait draw­ings reach deep into the inner life of the people he portrays. Candace Walters’ small collages look like Tarot cards, rich with mystical signif­i­cances. Meryl Brater’s artist’s book Blue is a dozen sheets of hand­made paper, spread out like a fan. On each page is a drawing of a rectangle, or perhaps a stage, traversed by small, lyrical dark cut-out in indigo blue. The dark blue shapes look like a dancer, dancing across the pages of the open book — bending, turning, arching, leaping.

Chuck Holtzman’s geomet­rical construc­tions look haunted by the ghostly pres­ence of past possi­bil­i­ties, floating in a pale grey mist of erasures and empty lines. Cherryl Warrick’s dark, intense smudges of char­coal move across the paper like a musical compo­si­tion, with passages of silence and vibratos of sound. Charles Kanwis­cher’s virtuoso Picture Window shows a window looking out at winter trees and a black lake. Every square inch of the huge piece of paper is covered with ink, except a few tiny flashes of white paper showing through, which read as light gleaming on the water and stars glis­tening the night sky.

Three draw­ings by Gerry Berg­stein are bril­liant metaphors for trans­for­ma­tion — draw­ings into paint­ings, death into life, life into art. Each drawing shows pieces of paper covered with scrib­bles, scrawls, cross­ings-out, angry re-work­ings, mark­ings of struggle and doubt. On each one, a wonderful small passage of painted leaves, flowers and fruit emerges from the chaos of marks on paper; but these lumi­nous little still lives are already marked by the process of decay.

Gerry Berg­stein’s draw­ings remind me of the ending of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Soli­tude, when Aure­liano finally under­stands the book which tells the story of his life; but even as he reads, a warm wind blows and the paper begins to crumble away.

He began to deci­pher the instant he was living, deci­phering it as he lived it, proph­esying himself in the act of deci­phering the last page of the parch­ments, as if he were looking into a speaking mirror.”

Berg­stein’s draw­ings, like Marquez’s magical book, are visions of a world in flux, where every­thing is constantly changing, growing, living, dying, and being reborn. In the end, every­thing returns to the compost heap of the imag­i­na­tion — back to the drawing board.

by Rebecca Nemser for rebeccanemser.com

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