Review of Drawings & Works on Paper
at the San Luis Obispo Art Center
Leslie Sutcliffe October 2005

Drawings can be more intimate and personal than paintings or sculpture. Things aren’t tidied up and finished off. The artist’s hand and method, even the artist’s thoughts, are evident. This is true of the current show, Drawings & Works on Paper, at the San Luis Obispo Art Center through November 17.

But don’t let the intimacy mask the ambitiousness of this exhibition. Tim Anderson, curator at the Art Center, has assembled an impressive group of drawings from New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. A number of the artists, like Squeak Carnwath and Carole Caroompas, are quite well known. Exhibitions of first-rate artists from outside our area have been sorely lacking since Marta Peluso stepped down as gallery director at Cuesta College, the demise of Arternatives, and the closing of August Editions and untimely death of its director, Chris August.

Tim Anderson has made a number of very smart choices. He began with the idea of bringing together artists from three important art cities and contacted six artists from those cities whose work intrigued him. In turn, he asked these artists for the names of other artists. He eventually looked at forty artists, narrowing the list to seventeen. Each of the seventeen artists is represented by several pieces giving the viewer an opportunity to understand the artists more fully. Since Anderson worked with referrals, he could choose drawings with the greatest range of scale, technique and subject matter yet retain the thread of conceptual continuity that ties the show together. Artists are almost always interested in other artists whose work relates to theirs in some way.

These works on paper range from preparatory sketches to finished works of art and from several inches in height to filling an entire wall. The pastel and graphite drawings of Christopher Kent Schumaker are finished works of art that are delicately but richly colored. They straddle colorfield painting and still life. Their page-like size and titles remind me of illuminations from a medieval book of hours.

On the other hand, the framed drawings in graphite and oil that make up Painting’s Story by Squeak Carnwath are like pages torn from a sketchbook, with lists of things to do and the artist’s ruminations on politics. Yet the lists and images are made on fine drawing paper and seem self-consciously intimate, like a diary written for posterity.

Three drawings by Carole Caroompas are clearly studies for her paintings. Caroompas makes paintings that have the complexity and structure of the literary works she refers to in her titles. The studies in this exhibition refer to Heathcliff from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. These drawings probably evolved from earlier sketches. I can imagine them tacked to the wall of her studio as she constructs her finished paintings with the care of a nineteenth century academic painter.

Nancy Friedmann shows just one drawing but the drawing fills a wall. Seaward, consists of four large panels of multiple layers of Mylar on which, with a red indelible marker, she has written words in patterns, like rosettes. She explains, “By rewriting the texts in a ceaseless cursive line, … the words and descriptions lose their particularity and become an intricate and indiscernible knit, like the one in a doily.” It seems to me that this drawing functions as a conceptual act by the artist as much as it does as an aesthetic object.

Kathy Lightfoot is also represented by one wall-sized drawing, a gouache, (or opaque watercolor) on paper from her Wall Drawing Series. Ebullient balloon or rock-like shapes fill the surface in a loose grid formation. Color drips from one shape onto others below like party streamers. Although it could be argued that this work is a painting rather than a drawing it clearly has a spontaneity that is typical of the more immediate act of drawing. Tim Anderson noted that a number of the artists said they approach their works on paper no differently than their paintings on canvas. Yet, when visiting their studios, he noticed a difference. The works on paper were faster, looser, and less precious.

One of my favorite artists in the show is Kathy Goodell. Her drawings are modest in scale. She bridges botany and art in much the same way that the painter Terry Winters does. In an Untitled drawing she uses ink and vegetable paper on vellum to create drawings that are sensuous and tactile, and look like the inside of cells or molecules.

The subject matter in Drawings & Works on Paper is every bit as varied as the media, scale and purpose. Mark Dean Veca makes refined ink and watercolor drawings that incorporate images from, among other things, Archie comics and MAD magazine. The drawings have a collage-like quality, not the old-fashioned collage made of layers of pasted paper but a collage created on a computer where areas are erased rather than layered. Gary Szymanski makes no reference to subject matter at all in his beautifully crafted op art paintings on paper. They are at once sophisticated and silly, like groovy wallpaper.

Gone are the days when New York was the only center of the art world. Gone too, it seems, is clearly identifiable regionalism. At one time you could confidently recognize LA “finish fetish,” San Francisco “figurative school,” or San Francisco “funk.” In this show I saw no stylistic unity within the New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles artists. Instead I observed uniformly high quality drawings brought together with sensitivity and verve.


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