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Drawing No Conclusions

The Artists in School 33's Show of Drawings Aren't Necessarily on the Same Page

See Me: The work of William Downs is voyeurism of the best kind.

By J. Bowers | Posted 8/6/2003

Declaring Space: Recent Drawings by Baltimore Artists

School 33 through Aug. 16

Lemon juice, engagement rings, used fast-food coffee cups, and giant flopping fish. It would be an understatement to say that the seven artists featured in School 33's Artscape 2003 offering work with wildly diverse media, methods, stylistic inspirations, and creative intentions. That said, the 18 pieces collected by curator Peter Dubeau for Declaring Space: Recent Drawings by Baltimore Artists give viewers exactly what it says on the box--a collection of local works that use simple line drawing as a primary technique, represent interesting uses of physical space, and declare their creators' individuality.

The exhibit begins with five self-portraits by Claudia McDonough, titled "Lemon-Fire Study With Dress," that were created using an age-old science-class trick. McDonough began by painting the life-sized outline of her body onto white paper sheets with lemon juice. When the works were passed over an open flame, the resultant chemical reaction produced spectral, tea-colored images of the artist. The addition of spidery water spots heightens the images' ghostlike effect and expands upon the lemon juice's natural color variations, adding texture. Finally, the charcoal accents around the outlines of each figure highlight McDonough's drawing ability, as she transforms her potentially abstract lemon-juice images into recognizably human forms with little more than a few soft, well-placed lines.

James Rieck's charcoal "3 Rings" triptych draws on the artist's fascination with advertising, depicting three diamond engagement rings with an almost Warholian flair. The images are overwhelming, materialistic, devoid of any romance or emotion--like a De Beers ad minus the happy human silhouettes. Rieck's bold drawing style contrasts interestingly with the work of Michelle La Perriere, who uses watercolor, crayons, graphite, and the aforementioned used "to go" cups to illustrate similar subject matter. Where Rieck's rings are stark, La Perriere's "Groom (Glass Slipper)," "Bride (Bird)," and "Mysteries of the Rock"--that's "rock" as in wedding ring--use softly shaded pencil to sketch underwear, bridal bouquets, and genuinely pensive human faces. It's a shame that Rieck and La Perriere weren't featured on the same floor of the building, as their drawings seem so eager to converse with one another.

The abstract works of Kay Hwang and Ann Rentschler also fit together well. Hwang's three "Schematics" drawings present strange, primary-colored clusters of cylindrical shapes, rendered in acrylic pencil on a base of Denril vellum. Hwang's attention to detail and rigid focus on geometric form provide an interesting counterpoint to Rentschler's trio of untitled charcoal works, which use tangles of thin curlicues and grids to examine the fine line between visual order and disorder. Rentschler's works suggest a sense of playful openness despite their dense composition--their random, doodlelike nature speaks to the universal appeal of drawing as an artistic form.

Brian Ralph's comic-strip drawing "Fish Food (for Thought)" tells the story of a boy, an anthropomorphic alligator, and the giant, distended-looking fish that ultimately destroys their swamp-side shanty. Ralph employs all the traditions and conventions of Sunday comic strips, however his 12-by-8-inch panel possesses a lively sense of movement and narrative flow that suggests early black-and-white animation--no small feat for a piece done on plain paper with simple, clean ink lines.

Though the artwork hanging in Declaring Space is interesting, inventive, and consistently noteworthy, the centerpiece of the exhibit belongs to William Downs. His mixed-media installation, titled "Sometimes the Body Needs to Collect and Recollect Itself," is an incredibly honest, intimate experience that allows the viewer to pore over the artist's memories, dreams, and random thought processes through a series of 405 manila file cards, stuck to the gallery wall with straight pins. The cards are arranged in columns around a wooden bench, which gives the viewer a place to collect his or her own body while they inspect Downs' collection of drawings, which often use shy-looking lowercase text to caption themselves.

Details include a clipped Gucci advertisement, a skull juxtaposed next to the words "i love you"(a mantra repeated throughout the installation), an alphabetical list of women in the Bible, and the words "sam sat here" next to a drawing of a stool. A cartoonish man surrounded by endless stairways is explained with the caption "he is the walking man he walks away from everything." There's even a piece of flash fiction or two, but the work's major emotional power lies within Downs' shorter, more poetic phrases.

From "my hands are for you," to "i wish you would stay with me tonight," and the mockingly bitter "my life sucks," each typewritten text element complements the drawings that surround it and invites the viewer to read the installation like a diary or, at the very least, like a pile of hastily scribbled notes and sketches in an artist's living room. It's voyeurism of the best possible kind.

Taken in as a whole, Declaring Spaces is an excellent testament to the vibrancy and vitality of Baltimore's 2-D art scene, and the diversity of the drawings is striking enough to allow viewers to experience each individually, without applying any overarching theme. And even while it's interesting to compare the artists' drawing techniques--ranging as they do from the meticulous to the florid--with a lineup this appealing, one hardly needs to bother.

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Textural Orientation (6/6/2007)
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