of Drawings & Works on Paper
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,
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
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.