At Gage Academy of Art, the Steele Gallery sits at the end of the hallway where the air is thick with the smell of paper, ink, charcoal dust, oil paint, and varnish. It's a comforting smell if you have fond memories of taking art in school, or if you've even gone to art school. You might remember the sweat and rigour of those first few classes or that crippling first year; how crushing your work load was and how quickly you grew weary of these things:
boxes, cones, cubes, spheres, line-weight variation, contours, cross-contours, drawing “without contours”, vases, cups, bowls, flowers, plants, trees, paper bags, black plastic bags, odds and ends, old shoes, coats, blankets, drapery, bare light bulbs, legs, toes, heels, hips, breasts, necks, noses, ears, fingers, hair, eyes, darks, lights, sfumato, chiaroscuro, darkest-darks, lightest-lights, foreground, background, environment, perspective, two-point perspective, architecture, composition, value scales, “formal components”, cranky art models, peppy art models, tired art models, art models who talk a lot, sleepy art models; tibias, clavicles, femurs, radius, ulna, and phalanges.
It's exhausting to draw. You never know how hard you have to work until you're working. Professors go on at length about how drawing is a philosophical battle with yourself; that what you see is not really what you’re making (you’ll never win that war but you’ll have some epic battles). But it is a real thing, this negotiation between perceived reality; what you see, what you think you see, what you don’t see, and how you must represent it either faithfully or fictionally.
That faith or fiction in representation is the crux of this show, where the work pays tribute to its roots.
Brick and Mortar is Lauren Klenow’s final curatorial exhibit at Gage on Capitol Hill, showcasing a broad range of artistic narrative from conceptual video to traditional painting. The premise is simple: all work begins with the foundational aspect of draughtsmanship; that underneath even the most conceptual piece is the necessity to see and the compulsion to interpret through line, shape, shadow, and colour.
This exhibition demonstrates more than just the intimacy of line from observation.There is a distinct theme of flow, layering, subtlety, and material throughout the work. There is nothing loud about this exhibition - it’s quiet work that says volumes in its brevity.
Katy Stone’s installation is a layered fall of cornflower blue chenille pipe cleaners. The colour is almost electric, curves bowing out from the wall like so many tails. Living here in the Pacific Northwest it would be easy to recall a dripping rain forest of moss - fortunately this piece is not green, and there is no danger of confusing one for the other. This is more like a cloud. Stone’s a tried and true painter even in her installation work. Her meticulously mapped marks describe her more as a painter in space, rather than canvas. You’re living in the same dimension as the work, not just looking at it.
Adjacent to the blue cascade are two drawings by Amanda Manitach - one of them a return to hysteria and oddly arranged figures; one of which somehow remind me of the hanged man tarot. Drooping in a bizarrely relaxed manner her women are strung up and pinned by the feet, patiently waiting for something. Next to the figures is a drawing of a cup and folds upon folds against an obsessively blocked-in section of graphite. Both drawings are compositionally divided by bright crimson drips. Rather than feeling sinister, these drawings feel seductive. A video next to the drawings displays an absurd list of questions and food being smashed into shoes which follows Manitach's course of logic if you follow the thread of her narratives.
Complimentary to Manitach’s solid graphite blocks and folds are Robert Maki’s tender geometric drawings. They feel intimate. I like the one that puckers. Drawing is meant to be a careful, thoughtful act. In an open rebellion against archival nurture and caretaking, this drawing presses against the glass; crinkled, beautifully executed, and sentimentally framed as though despite and perhaps because of its imperfection, it is critically important that we see it.
Brick and Mortar is an elegant arrangement meant to contemplate the binding thread between artists - the base element of art being the crafted line, the desire to interpret and represent what we see, and how we uniquely translate that vision. Some works have more in common to bind them together than others, but overall the success is that you will leave thinking about the relationship of drawing to contemporary art and form your own conclusions.
Steele Gallery: Brick and Mortar
February 17 - March 20
3rd Floor, Gage Academy of Art