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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