rawings abound in the City of Little Rock. On the walls of restaurants, offices, private homes, galleries and throughout the Arkansas Arts Center itself, drawings take pride of place much as paintings do in other cities. The efforts of Arts Center founding director Townsend Wolfe and his successors have made drawings an integral part of Little Rock’s soul. The outstanding drawings collection has been growing since its foundation by Wolfe in 1971. Works by top artists have come in from the dealers and studios all over the United States. The permanent collection’s drawings range from European old master works to drawings right off of current artists’ drawing boards. Since 1986, the Arts Center has taken an active role in American contemporary art by inviting the most deserving artists from all over the country to exhibit recent drawings in the National Drawing Invitational
The current 12th National Drawing Invitational features eight distinctive artists from the Mid-Atlantic region. Each finds a different way of imbuing marks on paper (or Mylar or walls or vinyl) with meaning. The sub-title of this exhibition, Outside the Lines, opens the question of how these artists and their creations break old barriers of graphic custom. These works investigate how artists draw and how viewers respond to drawn lines. This exhibition challenges us to reconsider the nature of drawing.
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The creation of lines is one of the oldest and most enduring of characteristically human endeavors. Mia Rosenthal reminds us of this long history and its implications in MacBook Pro (Scott), in which 32,000-year-old art from Chauvet Cave appears as computer “wallpaper.” Some of the earliest cave artists would use pigment hand prints to create or “sign” their work, stamping it as theirs. The evidence of the artist’s hand at work is just as clear in Rosenthal’s hand-drawn ink lines used to describe computers or images that appeared on their screens. A close look at Rosenthal’s drawings discloses the irregularity of her dashes and dots, and the hand-wrought nature of her drawn shapes. The slightly uneven lines of the computer keys she draws are not coldly printed by computer or even traced with a template; each outlined and shaded key is an irregular grid of hand-drawn lines. These hand-made images remind us that the keys are tapped by fingers – like the fingers that left their prints on cave walls millennia ago.
Of course, when humans put lines on paper, they are often writing rather than drawing. Most ancient forms of writing, such as Egyptian hieroglyphics, grew out of drawing. Victor Ekpuk brings writing and drawing back together in his drawings. In works like Dis Amsterdam Life, Ekpuk uses a personal vocabulary of linear shapes derived from his native Nigerian symbol system nsibidi and other graphic systems from around the world. But Ekpuk does not keep his post-modern pictograms tethered to particular meanings as written symbols are. Ekpuk’s drawn shapes break free to become expressive modern abstractions. In Dis Amsterdam Life, he reminds us of the inherently abstract nature of writing by roughly printing the title in reversed letters that therefore read, at least partially, as abstract shapes. In addition to the symbolism that lurks behind his forms, Ekpuk’s traces on walls or paper embrace one of the most important functions of line – as a chart of human motion. Like footprints, drawn lines show us where the artist has been. Ekpuk’s shapes link up in a graceful, energetic linear dance. Viewers who watch the artist in the process of drawing on a wall can appreciate the link between line and dance as the artist moves around the gallery space to make his marks.
In her Walking Drawings, Walking Books, and Cut Drawings, Sharyn O’Mara entirely devotes her drawings to recording human motion. She literally draws as she walks. Therefore, her subject is walking. The lines and nodes in her drawings reflect the natural shift of weight during each human stride. The length and direction of her strides vary depending upon whether the artist is in her own Philadelphia studio, out in the streets of Philadelphia, or in the varied conditions she has found in places like Estonia. These lines and dots overlap gracefully to make complex compositions. There is inherent beauty in the balanced motions of moving people.
Walking Drawing (detail)
O’Mara’s New York Times Drawings look at a different set of inherently human rhythms. In these, she considers how our eyes move across the page in reading. She comments on how our minds respond to the information we take in as we read. So often, as the artist notes, we read about the loss of our fellow beings. But we may simply read on. Her drawings ask us to take note of our motions of reading, what we learn, our responses, and their implications.
The gestures of any kind of artistic creation are special kinds of human action. These are actions that communicate with our fellow humans. Linn Meyers makes drawings that are about the nearly universal experience of drawing. Her lines are not dictated by exterior designs, although she does create sketches to guide her. Her sketched out compositions are merely starting points. She pays attention to her body as she reaches across a sheet of Mylar or a museum wall to make marks on it. The marks she makes respond to how her mark-making feels and how the drawn lines look. Each line responds to the line before closely but imperfectly. The records of Meyers’ creation are left on the wall, with shifts of relationships between the lines creating the effect of ripples where the lines come close together. Like waves on the surface of water, these shapes speak of motion. The viewer is drawn into the experience of creation and becomes part of the dance, walking back and forth in front of a monumental drawing on a wall. Such a wall drawing interacts with time as well as space. It emerges out of many hours spent passionately, yet meditatively, making marks. Then, at the end of the allotted exhibition time, the drawing is destroyed. This limited life span gives such a drawing an intense and passionate resonance. Viewers, as humans, know too well that they are likewise mortal.