Over 300 Drawings. An
artist records the peaceful
sleep of his wife during her terminal illness.
September 9 - October
free and open to the
OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, September 9, 6 to 9pm
ARTIST TALK: Saturday, October 15, 4pm
Far from me and like the stars, the sea and all
the trappings of poetic myth,
Far from me but here all the same without your knowing,
Far from me and even more silent because I imagine you endlessly.
Far from me, my lovely mirage and eternal dream, you cannot know.
If you only knew.
Far from me and even farther yet from being unaware of me and still
" If you only knew" Robert Desnos 1900-1945
Random acts of scraping, scratching, scribbling and scrawling are wild
gestures or elemental actions like a primal scream or a cry to communicate
as a child attempts to speak. Such actions could be a fundamental means
of tracing out a form or space as an
animal marks its home territory. A multitude of marks incised on a surface
whether they are rocks, sand, paper, skin or plaster have recorded over
the centuries man’s engagement and emotional response to his environment.
These gestures are either impulsive or premeditated, which can transpose
into symbols in which realm the origin of language lies. At the same
time, mark making continues to endure as the act of drawing describes
form, time and space.
Drawing by artists of the twenty first century is something of an anomaly
in this age of digital photography and prints. Nevertheless, drawing
has persisted and it has in fact broadened its status from being a minor
support medium to that of a major expressive and distinctive one in
the last thirty years. Drawings vary enormously with media and substrate
and traditionally are divided into two basic areas; preparatory studies
that are eventually transposed into another media or those that are
complete in themselves. However studies or unfinished drawings considered
incomplete in the past now often take on a new status of finality, depending
on the context in which they are presented. This state of incompleteness
can in fact generate a sense of urgency and intimacy that reflects an
intuitive experience. A subconscious poetic act is rendered as the Surrealists
realized with their automatic writing. Fragments of marks can congeal
and dissipate scattering across the page to suggest transitory moments
as text has done in poetry since Stéphane Mallarmé.
Confinement forces one to reflect on the minutiae of time and memory,
which in turn expands into unknown areas. The personal struggles of
those who have undergone such conditions through torture, illness or
self-imposed penance have been recorded on multiple occasions spiritual
texts and literary works have left a vivid impression of how the mind
expands space when the actions of the body are restricted such as those
of Marcel Proust. Think also of Jean-Dominique Bauby bedridden in a
coma that authored Butterfly and the Diving Bell by blinking only his
eyes. On the other hand observing this state of being and engaging with
an individual in these situations possess a very different form of understanding
and interaction with the space and individual.
Derek Bernstein's drawings address this condition of isolation responding
to it in a self-imposed confinement in a room that shelters a bedridden
figure, which he confronts daily. He draws and redraws this form, which
stirs restlessly in front of him. His efforts are undertaken sometimes
for only minutes other times for hours often in the middle of the night
or early dawn hours. Compulsively he works in a multitude of ways with
no regard for any formality. His medium and paper frequently varies
drawing on whatever is available using anything from pencils to chalks
to crayons in black and white or colour. Each time Bernstein tackles
in his subject he is presented with a new challenge. On occasions fleeting
marks dance across the page other times heavy strokes crisscross densely
forming a volume, a head perhaps with the face barely recognizable.
He performs with a subconscious dexterity, producing portraits of a
sort that are captured in this manner formed and reformed cross-hatched,
marked and stroked. Capturing minute gestures of the body in front of
him Bernstein draws and redraws the head as it tosses and turns which
appears to be oblivious to his presence. These evolve day after day
hour after hour as he produces over 400 drawings in 26 months. Each
time he comes back to the subject he attempts to capture its essence
anew and is compelled to repeat his actions without regard for the results.
There is no assessment made, he moves on to the next rendition. He persists
in his endeavour without thinking, not with a sense of dissatisfaction;
there is no decision making, no judgment. There is no conscious effort
to compose or to undertake a particular systematic approach, there is
only a desire to continue and exercise his need to record these moments.
There is a compulsion in which he goes on and on. He must go on as Samuel
Beckett would say. These are records of time, not sequential time but
fragments of time. Here time is both collapsed and expanded.
A multitude of artists over the centuries have approached the figure
with similar perseverance. The portrait studies by other artists might
not have been a conscious source of inspiration for Bernstein such as
those of Leonardo or Rembrandt, however it is Giacometti’s working
method that most closely approaches his. He similarly reworked his drawings
month after month in order to render the essence of his sitter, as was
his practice in sculpture and in painting. Giacometti, constantly formed
and reformed the image in front of him reducing it to a skeletal form
almost dematerializing it. The figure often stripped down to an elemental
structure to such a degree that the surrounding space became an essential
aspect of the work with the presence of the body hovering within it
like a phantom. On the other hand, his portraits focus on the head and
in particular the face. In these renditions the eyes stare out and peer
through the skull, penetrating the space beyond from the void.
In Bernstein's case the void is internalized not an implied external
space. In the bedroom a makeshift studio in which he feverishly works,
the bedridden figure becomes enveloped within a cocoon of drawings.
The walls progressively become filled with his drawn gestures, as he
routinely pins each work up as he stops before starting again. Some
are only quick sketches, others more laboured. Thus generating a portrait
gallery -- salon style, as images are stacked one above the other and
side-by-side. At this point, subject and images blend together.The focus,
here is a frail female body lost in a bundle of blankets, sheets and
pillows which is now echoed repeatedly throughout the space. These equally
frail paper fragments hang without pretense recording his own endurance
through many sleepless nights and his correspondence with this fragile
human figure. This poetic gesture recalls the love poems of the Surrealist
Robert Desnos in which he wrote in a sleep-deprived state of delirium
in an attempt to reveal his emotions trapped within his subconsciousmind.
Bernstein's drawings take on this quality, which are not grounded but
float around the room in an ever-expanding way. This modest space in
all its humility is now transposed into a monumental and sacred space.
A fitting tribute by an artist, to his wife Amy Rosen, as she lay before
him dying of cancer.
By Alastair R. Noble Easton PA 2005