On the opposite end of the graphic scale, Laura Ledbetter depicts miniature worlds containing human figures, animals and patches of landscape bound by a teetering infrastructure. Named for friends and family members, these figures represent her generational worldview. A barefoot businessman is a recurring motif, appearing isolated and adrift. The 2008 economic recession had a major impact on Ledbetter’s imagery. Her portrayal of contemporary life shows men and women struggling to connect with each other and balance their lives in a precarious environment. Reference to the firm Goldman Sachs represents the power of Wall Street to disrupt the most basic tenets of our lives, as the artist observed in the world around her.
Chuck and Lloyd (detail)
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Using collage, pencil, gouache, ink and, in her latest works, thread, Ledbetter underlines her cautionary message with delicately balanced constructions. The viewer becomes absorbed by the intricacy of detail and variety of textures in each drawing, as well as the fascinating alternate universes imagined. Yet the surface beauty of each drawing belies the underlying mood of anxiety and portrayal of the vulnerability of 21st century existence.
Mia Rosenthal presents a very contemporary take on traditional portraiture as well. Her self-portrait and portraits of friends document the information revealed by their personal electronic devices – their laptops or cell phones – rather than their faces. What has been chosen as “wallpaper”? What icons and files appear? Is the “sitter” a Mac or PC person? Through her meticulous mark-making, Rosenthal humanizes the technology revealing the virtual identities of her subjects. Yet it is revelatory to consider that Google algorithms may determine our historic memory of an artist such as Philip Guston. We are what we Google. We are open iBooks. Do these devices serve us or reduce us? These conceptual portraits constitute an ingenious metaphor for our conflicted relationship with technology.
Another example of Rosenthal’s extraordinary research and recording skills is the ambitious large-scale drawing Life on Earth. Beginning 3.8 billion years ago with a single cell at its center, the design spirals out to include amphibians, mammals, her son Kirby, and concludes one thousand drawings later in 2012. Impressive in scope as well as scale, this is a work that demands both scientific and artistic examination.
Three artists employ abstraction to dazzling effect. Linn Meyers, Sharyn O’Mara and Andrea Way explore the mind-body connection through diverse ways of translating thought and gesture into line. Each artist displays a singular, meticulous process of building the surface through patterning and repetition. Their drawings are also rooted in nature, through an abstract approach to the landscape, a conceptual rendering of movement through space, and a microscopic appreciation for the patterns found in nature on a cellular level.
Linn Meyers is known for her site-specific wall drawings. Three of her preparatory drawings give insight into her process of creating a wall drawing for the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., in 2010. Meyers brings the same systematic method, muted palette and poetic sensibility to her medium format drawings on translucent Mylar in this exhibit. She speaks of her line as embodying atmosphere. No longer a pictorial representation of the landscape, these drawings seem to capture air, conveying the physical and spiritual sensation of being in nature.
Sharyn O’Mara conveys the sensation of being in nature via different means in her Landmarks and Walking Drawings. These gestural, small drawings are made while actually walking near her studio in Philadelphia or abroad during artist residencies. As a conceptual approach to landscape, these works can be compared to the work of 1960s artists such as Richard Long or Hamish Fulton. O’Mara has found a way to abstractly represent the movement of her body through space, marking time, direction and rhythm. These delicate renderings of a day’s journey become a form of sketchbook, created en plein air, as Impressionist painters did in the 19th century landscape tradition.
Andrea Way’s method is also diaristic in spirit. In 2007, she challenged herself to complete a work of art every day for the entire year. This disciplined approach to drawing is evident in her mathematically precise mode of ordering nature. Scientific terms such as evolution, cellular biology, specimens, spores, helixes and fractal geometry all come to mind in examining her intricate, often colorful designs. Way is interested in recognizing and structuring the patterns occurring in nature. The recognition of this infinite variety combined with Way’s consummate skill in draftsmanship inspires a sense of wonder in the viewer.
Cut Drawing 1 of 3
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Contemporary art continuously pushes the boundaries. In this exhibition, drawing functions as a noun – a two-dimensional object – and as a verb – the process of making that object. On a monumental scale, drawing transforms viewer’s perception of the museum space. On a miniature scale, it opens up interior space. In the case of all these artists, their drawings are final work rather than preparatory sketches. They point to the diverse directions the line can go.