Explorations of monochrome — All Black at Gallery Joe

"All Black," Installation view.
All Black Installation view

The artists of All Black, currently on view at Gallery Joe, may not work in all black all the time, but their collective strength indicates a variety of approaches and experimentation with monochrome. Astrid Bowlby, N. Dash, Roland Flexner, Kristin Holder, Xylor Jane, Jill O’Bryan, Mark Sheinkman, Allyson Strafella, and Jorinde Voigt are the artists included in the show. The use of line isn’t as common a presence in the works as one might expect; rather, field, form, and texture are much more prominent across the board. There is a rich variety of techniques on display, ranging from those employing chance and instinct to those heavily reliant on meticulous calculation.

Astrid Bowlby, 9.4.10 (A certain density). 2010 Ink on paper, 11 x 8.5 inches.
Astrid Bowlby, “9.4.10 (A certain density).” 2010.
Ink on paper, 11 x 8.5 inches

Where others make more explicit use of negative space, Astrid Bowlby goes in the opposite direction. Her black pen and ink work engulfs the entire canvas but allows for subtle variations of texture that make the entire piece come alive. “A Certain Density” is a phenomenally accurate title for her three works, each one a wash of enmeshing tones that surrounds but does not suffocate.

N. Dash, Commuter. March II. 2012. Graphite and paper, 20 x 22 inches.
N. Dash, “Commuter. March II.” 2012. Graphite and paper, 20 x 22 inches

While still dense, N. Dash’s pieces are more geometric in nature. For this, her first exhibition at Gallery Joe, the artist is debuting two graphite and paper pieces. Originating from her “Commuter” series, the works hint at waiting, transience, and the emergence of change.

Roland Flexner, Untitled (LG150) 2010, liquid graphite on paper, 5 ¾ x 7 inches.
Roland Flexner, “Untitled (LG150).” 2010. Liquid graphite on paper, 5 ¾ x 7 inches

Roland Flexner’s works, meanwhile, have a fluid feel to them, thanks in part to his manipulation of liquid graphite on paper. Flexner’s contributions are unsettling, surreal compositions created with chance and spontaneity as their primary drivers. There are several methods evident here, all of which see Flexner using careful manipulation of the materials, sometimes even blowing through a straw to cast eerie, practically sci-fi spectres across the paper.


Xylor Jane, “Cube built in a circle.” 2005. Ink on paper. Paper: 22 x 30 inches, Image: 14 x 16 inches

Xylor Jane’s contributions are much more precisely formed, thanks to a seeming fixation with numbers, calculations, and sequences that seems fitting for artists instructed to work in stern, orderly black. Her drawings bring on the equilibrium-toppling effect of optical illusions, with “Cube built in a circle” as the strongest example. This is one of two drawings from 2005 in which the artist tests her ability to create a perfect cube and a perfect circle without the aid of a measuring device.

Jill O'Bryan, 13,280 Breaths between August 8, 2012 and September 30, 2012. 2012. Graphite on rice paper, 16 ½ x 16 ¼ inches.
Jill O’Bryan, “13,280 Breaths between August 8, 2012 and September 30, 2012.” 2012. Graphite on rice paper, 16 ½ x 16 ¼ inches

Bringing a sense of order to organic rhythms is a skill shared by several of the artists here, notably Jill O’Bryan. Her drawings are the result of a nearly meditative process; each mark in these quiet pieces was drawn during the time it takes to breathe one breath – one inhale and one exhale. Each drawing is named for the total number of “breath marks,” and the dates between which the drawing was made. The effect, however, is far less ethereal than one would expect based on this approach. The drawings have a striking, almost industrial aesthetic suffused with tension, and become even more affecting when pictured as the result of serene but regimented focus.

Mark Sheinkman, Jefferson. 2013. Oil, alkyd and graphite on paper. 29 x 21 inches.
Mark Sheinkman, “Jefferson.” 2013. Oil, alkyd, and graphite on paper. 29 x 21 inches

Mark Sheinkman’s drawings are more playful and less rigorous, such that his contributions are in large part responsible for the pleasant ambience you notice when first taking in All Black. Using either a rag or a large eraser, the artist works in much the same way as students learning how to block out shadows and light when mastering the human form, subtracting liquid graphite to create repetitive, entrancing patterns. “Jefferson” is magnetic for a couple of reasons: one, for its towering, three-quarter-view helices, and two, for its title. The hospital? The school? Something intellectual is seemingly at play here.

Allyson Strafella, promontory. 2009 typed colons on carbon paper, 8 ½ x 7 inches.
Allyson Strafella, “Promontory.” 2009.
typed colons on carbon paper, 8 ½ x 7 inches

Allyson Strafella’s contributions, culled from a seventeen-year project creating a series of drawings using a typewriter, are far more ponderous. We’re told the medium is “typed colons on carbon paper,”making it apparent just why this project has been ongoing for so long; the rigor and repetition no doubt takes a toll on hands and eyes as well as the paper.


The judicious use of gallery real estate creates a rather ambient effect on first blush. It’s hard to distinguish right away what separates the artists, but close observation reveals considerable variety. All Black spans a wide array of styles, methods, and motivations, from those that court negative space and restraint to those that capture full, immersive experiences.

All Black will be on display at Gallery Joe until June 15, 2013.