Getting back to business

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I took some days off and left you in the company of Libby while I hosted a dear friend I hadn’t seen in years. Now, back to work.

I promised to tell you about Gallery Joe‘s figure drawing show “Figure Out” and here goes.

Gallery Joe, known for finely-crafted work in sculpture and on paper, has shown figures before but in sculptural form (Diana Moore, Gil Kerlin) or in the photographs of Kate Moran, said Director Becky Kerlin when I asked if this was their first figure drawing show. (top two images from “Figure Out”. Top is detail from Sabeen Raja’s tiny watercolor on handmade wasli paper, “At the Tavern.” Right is Sarah McEneaney’s gouache on paper,”Ormewood Park, Atlanta, GA”)

Kerlin pointed out that she exhibits representational work regularly. Shows of Emily Brown’s drawings and Stephen Robin’s sculpture are two examples.

But figures are on people’s minds these days, Kerlin said, and these drawings, by seven artists making their debut with the gallery, are some great examples of new figure drawing — something so far from an academic study of a figure it should be called something different like symbolist figuration or some such.

Figures pop up elsewhere

There are lots more figure drawings in town at the moment and coming up, too, if I can digress for a moment.

The (now-closed) CAN group show had a nice big graphite drawing by Elaine M. Erne, “Mr Bunny Gets Iced,” (image) and if you missed that show, you can catch more Erne in CAN‘s upcoming small works exhibit May 27 to June 3. CAN if you’re not familiar is Philadelphia’s “Mixed Greens,” an organization dedicated to helping the careers of young emerging artists. The small works show other years has been great and a great opportunity to buy affordable art. (image is Elaine Erne’s “Mr Bunny Gets Iced” from the CAN show)

Also good and full of figures, the PAFA student show. This is a huge affair but I’ll pick out one artist who seemed attuned to the current state of drawing, Hedwige Jacobs. The MFA grad’s installation of drawing and animation had child-like drawings animated with sophistication and wit. (Her website’s pretty great too.) (image is detail of Jacobs’ “Class”) Both the animation and the drawings were available (The 4.22 minute animation was $125 — I always wonder how you price a video piece. This seemed ok.)

 

Back to Gallery Joe

“Figure Out” as Libby mentioned in her post is a dark show. Darkness is inescapable these days, a byproduct of living. Some of the work in this show is less existential, like Sarah McEneaney’s documentary drawings of her travels, which are lyrical and calm, with something of the Zen acceptance about them. (second to top image)

But the rest walk with the vampires alluding to the vulnerability of humans in a vast, cold world.

Pakistani artist Sabeen Raja (top image) who studied Persian miniature painting in her homeland and also got Western training at Maryland Institute, made a perfect melange of East/West in her “Tavern” piece, in which a young woman weeps as monkeys offer her Rolling Rock, a cigarette and an erect penis.

Marilyn Holsing, who teaches at Tyler School of Art, has four works that remind you of old fashioned children’s book illustrations but are packed with dark meaning. In a way they kind of reminded me of themes of ambiguity Randy Bolton brings up in his digitally-altered and appropriated images from kid’s books. (image left is one of Holsing’s gesso, casein, pencil on paper drawings)

Robyn O’Neil, of Whitney Biennial fame (hers is the huge drawing of men wandering in the snowscape) is a big presence here with three small works that seem like out-takes from the Whitney piece. The affect is old-fashioned and reminded me in a way of the darkly-ambiguous works of Marcel Dzama. Call her Dzama’s older sister. (image is O’Neil’s graphite drawing, “A Caribou and an Embrace”)

Josephine Taylor and Rob Matthews win the award for eerie/edgy. Taylor’s pupa girl, “Mummy” (image is detail of the 118 in. long work) a wrapped child whose head is huge and whose mannerist hands and feet seem knotted like twigs, is pretty and pretty shocking. Close study reveals the girl has a patterned cloth in her mouth and while she doesn’t look like she’s dying, she’s not alive either. Maybe she’s a bug. Her green eyes have no discernible pupils. I don’t know. It’s virtuoso drawing and left me with a shiver.

Matthews, whose sixteen “Sleepwalk: Philadelphia” drawings paired a positive image with its x-ray negative, are also virtuoso work. (image right is detail) I would have liked some x-ray vision to interpret what was afoot. These works were Rorshach tests for me. They spoke of life’s fleeting moments and the Rashomon of interpretation. What’s day to you is night to me. Matthews has other work at the Philadelphia Art Alliance through Aug. 8. Public reception for the artists May 18. (also showing at PAA are Voxers Matt Suib and Ahmed Salvador by the way.)

Finally, we’ll not skip over Nils Karsten whose work is also at Vox Populi right now. A cross-town dip into Karsten will show you an artist who’s not afraid to tread where Henry Darger went — into fantasies with little girls. Karsten’s narrative drawings, which use multi-dimensional mark-making (some gentle and delicate; others brut and scratchy, angry, ugly) and are built in layers as the narrative unfolds over time in the artist’s mind, are phenomena to be experienced and digested slowly. You may not like them but, like John Currin’s paintings, they’re on to something. (image is Karsten’s “Untitled” graphite on paper)

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