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Drawing Power

Blurring the Lines Between the Traditional and the Surreal

Kim Owens' "Bridge--Fraternity"

By Mike Giuliano | Posted 8/7/2002

Everybody Draws

Fleckenstein Gallery & Archival Framing through Aug. 24

You can draw a lot of conclusions from the group exhibit Everybody Draws at Towson's Fleckenstein Gallery. Curator Carmen Robb, an art professor emeritus at Towson University, deliberately selected artists who use drawing in a variety of ways, making for a show that, compact as it is, manages to hit enough points along the spectrum of drawing styles.

For a sense of classical figuration, check out James Hennessey's pencil-and-watercolor wash "Greek," which depicts a standing nude male statue. The pale white wash applied to the statue lends it the requisite look of marble.

Another artist well-schooled in traditional realism is David Zuccarini, whose charcoal-and-conte "Vine Series" presents a nude woman with admirable drawn-and-shaded verisimilitude. But this is hardly the standard academic nude. For one thing, this naked lady is cropped just above the throat. Not only are we denied any psychology-defining facial features, but that harsh cropping seems rather violent. Furthering this emotional reading is the vine that enigmatically crosses her arms as if to bind them.

Zuccarini is characteristic of a creative approach that binds a number of the artists in this otherwise disparate group show. The basic skills of drawing are applied to figures and other imagery in fragmentary and even surrealistic ways. The results seem both real and not quite real. It's a healthy impulse to take the exacting lessons offered by realistic drawing and apply them to subjects that are "off" in one way or another.

As entertaining and strange as some of the results are, this group show would benefit if its few exhibited examples of straightforward realism were supplemented by a few more. This would make the assorted deviations and variations on realism stand out even more pungently.

The distortion on display here ranges from a bit of atmospheric tweaking to major restructuring. For a meditatively blurred take on realistic imagery, look at Peter Mischke's graphite drawing "Green Mount," which features a sculpture of an angel at Baltimore's Green Mount Cemetery. The statue's definitional form is softened just enough to suggest both its age and the reverie one might have contemplating such a reminder of death and eternal life.

You can see the more-or-less secular equivalent of Mischke's sacred treatment in Kim Parr's two charcoal drawings, "Parked Cars I" and "II," whose somber gray/black/white palette and blurry drawing make the autos seem like monuments in another sort of graveyard. The obvious softening qualities of charcoal are deployed by Parr and several other artists in the show.

Related to the blurriness is a general tendency for these artists to zero in on selective details at the expense of clarity within the whole picture. Kim Cadmus Owens' charcoal "Bridge--Fraternity" focuses on a bridge's solid structure, with the artist's firm definitional lines turning the span into an example of diagonal force. The rest of the picture is a busy blur, with signs and other landscape features presented more as smudge than as presence.

Delineating some details and blurring others shows just how reductive some of these artists can be. Mischke's graphite "Desire" consists entirely of a toothy open mouth, with nothing more than darkly energetic vertical lines extending above and beneath, as if to emotionally emphasize the sharpness of everything from the teeth we see to the words or scream presumably issuing from behind them.

Stuart Stein has strategically manipulated blurring as an important part of his charcoal-and-graphite "Hunting"; its film-frame-like sequence of four images of a dancing, tuxedo-clad Fred Astaire suggests movement via facial features that are partly wiped clean and vigorously drawn but indistinct backgrounds.

Mischke uses slashing lines for his mouthy drawing, and Stein uses fast swipes to put Astaire in motion, but Howie Lee Weiss methodically uses his lines in a much calmer way. Weiss' two charcoal drawings, "Plus" and "Minus," use thick definitional lines and nothing more to depict vessel-like forms marked with those mathematical signs. A few black lines and a grayish background are all Weiss needs in his back-to-basics drawings.

Most of the above-mentioned artists rely on the sharp and smudgy possibilities offered by graphite and charcoal, but others in the show get into the mixed-medium possibilities. One of the most enjoyable examples is Jeff Bohlander's graphite, ink, acrylic, and collage "Home Sweet Home," in which a yellow-hued piece of graph paper is covered with white paint except for the front-and-center portion, occupied by a drawing of a thin gentleman wearing a coat, tie, and bowler hat.

That hat, incidentally, has a birdhouselike perch and round entrance hole drawn right smack in the middle of it. Moreover, collaged black-and-white lithographic images of five birds have been placed on and around the man. If this gent's expression makes him look preoccupied, perhaps he's thinking about how much he resembles one of Magritte's surrealist paintings. Although technical distinctions between drawing, painting, and printmaking tend to meld in "Home Sweet Home," it nevertheless serves as a distinct reminder that drawing remains fundamental to making images. Those hovering birds will have no trouble roosting in this realistically drawn bowler-as-birdhouse.

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