Marked Differences: Selections from the Kentler Flatfiles

June 3 – July 24, 2011
Opening Reception
June 3, 2011
Curated By
Roberta Waddell
David Ambrose, Katherine Beck, Hedwig Brouckaert, Catalina Chervin, Stephen Cox, Ellen Driscoll, Elizabeth Duffy, Abby Goldstein, Marietta Hoferer, Toine Horvers, Nene Humphrey, Mary Judge, Elise Kaufman, Michael Kukla, Robert Lansden, Dawn Lee, Peter Matthews, Jim Napierala, Morgan O’Hara, Gary Petersen, Sherae Rimpsey, Viviane Rombaldi Seppey, Donna Ruff, Sepideh Salehi, Andra Samelson, Claudia Sbrissa, Peter Schroth, Emna Zghal

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Marked Differences: Selections from the Kentler Flatfiles
Curator's Talk, Roberta Waddell

Marked Differences: Selections from the Kentler Flatfiles
Installation view 1

Marked Differences: Selections from the Kentler Flatfiles
Installation view 2

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Exhibition checklist

About the exhibition

Curated by Roberta Waddell
Curator's Talk: June 18, 2011

A drawing can be virtually an autograph.  Drawn marks have a directness and immediacy that identify the hand of the artist and reflect and illuminate his or her approach to art making.  The boundaries that have defined drawing have become increasingly fluid. Artists of all stripes and practices in recent years have mixed and combined media--painting, drawing, photography, printmaking, digital processes, film and sculpture--in ways that defy easy categorization. Inherent in the autographic touch of a drawing, however, there is consistently an intimacy and freshness that encourage quiet study and close examination.  Paper, the primary, although hardly exclusive, support for drawing, has a tactile sensuality that invites touch.

The flatfiles at Kentler International Drawing Space offer a treasure trove of contemporary drawing. While in recent years, there has been notable interest in figuration and narrative, the work housed in the Kentler flatfiles emphasizes abstract imagery (though often alluding to the physical world), including conceptual and process-oriented art.  My selection reflects that focus while it suggests the diversity of mark-making languages and media in evidence today. Also, in keeping with Kentler’s mission to provide visibility to the more than 160 artists represented in the flatfiles, I have included a number of artists who have never or rarely been shown in past Kentler exhibitions.

For several artists the paper support itself is critical to the evolution of a drawing.  In Untitled (2008-9) and Memories, Catalina Chervin works, erases and reworks the paper surface with pen, pencil, charcoal and ink with pigment (in Memories, mixed media with additional paper collage). Each drawing, for Chervin, is an intuitive conversation with the blank sheet: “drawing means thought closely tinged with emotions; it is like a powerful, mysterious way of going deep into ideas.” 1  Sherae Rimpsey also expressively interacts with the surface, although in Syrinx Rubbing Project # 7 and #8, it is not paper, but papyrus, which she saturates with powdered graphite and Minneola (orange) peel, pulverized by hand. David Ambrose and Mary Judge pierce the sheet. In Tiepolian Vista and A Fierce Geometry, Ambrose coats pricked patterns, echoing lace and medieval stonework, with hide glue and adds washes of color that puddle unpredictably around the punctured surface. He then unites patterns and wash by overlaying jewel-like designs in watercolor with gouache. In Untitled Spolvero Drawing, Concentric Shape Series #101 Judge employs an Old Master technique used to transfer drawings by pouncing (dusting) a perforated stencil with dry pigment to create a composition of dots on the sheet below. Donna Ruff burns patterns into the paper: “Burning the paper…seems transgressive, but [it] is done with such care and exactitude, that it feels like an act of affection.”

In Rooftop USA Viviane Rombaldi Seppey meticulously cuts up pages from the Manhattan White and Yellow Pages and locks the fragments in a zigzag pattern contained within a square.  The collage of partial names, numbers and addresses alludes to her peripatetic life story, which has led her to “question and define where and how we belong and what elements characterize our identity.”   Words float, appear and disappear in Abbygail Goldstein’s charcoal and pencil drawings, The meeting of two and a.  The paper retains the memory of her drawn and rubbed expressive marks and unites them with resonant, isolated words and fragments of phrases.  Words reflect actual events in Toine Horvers’s pencil drawings, Study ‘Passers-by’, a record of pedestrians as they walked by Kentler’s glass doors during the Dutch artist’s 2004 residency at the gallery, captured as densely layered verbal notations. Sepideh Salehi often has used Iranian writing and words in her drawings. She repeats in coiling pencil and ink lines the name, Reza, someone “very dear to me, a close family friend,” who died in a car accident; using his name as a “kind of meditation and sharing it as a drawing with others gives me happiness.”

In her inscriptions Morgan O’Hara identifies records of actions, executed from life in real time. Two graphite drawings from her Live Transmission series echo and trace the movement of the hands of two artists, Arahmaiani from Indonesia and Hong O-Bong from Korea, as they performed at the Japan Society Theater in the fall of 2001.  O’Hara’s mapping of motion, a kind of portrait of each performer, translates and compresses time and space into energized gestural strokes.  Stephen Cox entices the viewer to explore his abstract, lush tangle of lines of varying densities with “dissipating” edges, perfectly placed on the sheet. While he applied ink with a pen in Slide Station #8, in Stick Sway #2  he worked with a stick that “held enough ink to make a reasonably long line…. I enjoyed the raw energy of the lines [it] made and the thicker bold lines that resulted.”  Kate Beck transforms in her untitled 2009 drawing what could have been a rigid scheme of parallel graphite lines into a subtly paced and nuanced arrangement of varying tones of black and gray. Her lines and the white of the paper rhythmically vie for attention and spatial primacy. Robert Lansden’s delicate weave of graphite hatchings begins with an algorithm that serves him, in the artist’s words, as the evolving basis for a “dialog between the finite and the infinite.” The algorithm frees him from making aesthetic decisions; repetition becomes, in essence, ritual. His cruciform grid, Echo, appears as fragile and ephemeral as the title suggests.

With concentration and remarkable control, Marietta Hoferer constructs within a delicate pencil grid, complex geometric configurations from various kinds and widths of clear tape, sometimes layered, mounted on paper.  In Small Crystal 4 and 5, light reflects variously off the surfaces of the tape, visually enlivening, dematerializing and redefining the abstract patterns as the viewer moves.  While Hoferer works with tape, Elizabeth Duffy uses other quotidian materials, including security envelopes, as in her % APR series, “to find,” in the artist’s words, “the revelatory in the ordinary.” She elaborates upon and reinforces the data-protection patterning with her own pencil grid and clusters of delicate, repeated marks. | Gary Petersen steps away from the grid, and injects into his abstractions irregularities and oddly shaped geometries.  His playful and eccentric mm series, drawn in acrylic, graphite and colored pencil are “thoughts abstracted, or sketches from a naturalist’s journal....”  These images, in the artist’s words, can suggest a “kind of zooming in on a specimen under a microscope.” 2 Nene Humphrey literally has used the microscope as a tool for inspiration, and in her drawings, Colony #56and Aggregates (#39), she conjures up cells and organisms that reflect her ongoing commitment to use “the human body to explore themes of strength and vulnerability.”  In these two works she draws variously with ink, silk paint, collaged fabric and thread on two sheets: the top, translucent mylar, and the bottom, paper, to create organisms that seem to float mysteriously in an indefinable space. Peter Matthews also refers to the microscopic in Viral Mutations, inspired by the “H1N1 virus that [got] the media into a frenzy.” Matthews explains he drew the “virus image in pencil on an inked acrylic board,” which, when dry, he scanned and manipulated in Photoshop, varying the color and utilizing filters that also blur the image.  Matthews then printed, slightly offset, the Photoshop images onto the initial pencil “monoprint” to create quirky, animated, seemingly mutating organisms, reflecting his interest in “taking an image through…several digital channels where the final output would be a hybrid mutant.” | Michael Kukla’s luminous, cellular-like forms are powerfully three-dimensional, worked up from a dark to a very light, shimmering gray gouache. Drawings, like Untitled 19 and 20, inform his sculpture, in which the artist pierces and transforms marble, slate and plywood slabs into seemingly organic, perforated structures. Andra Samelson, whose earlier ballpoint pen drawings and pigment prints rivaled her sculpture in their implicit three-dimensionality, recently has opened up her mark to create fluid, glowing, biomorphic forms in acrylic on paper.  The artist intends Noctiluca and Aureline to refer to “organic shapes in nature and their hidden patterns of movement on both a molecular and galactic level.”   Jim Napierala also suggests natural forms and forces in Tango. Washes of Flashe and iridescent acrylic layered over pencil, perfectly placed on maple veneer, celebrate the beauty of his materials.

Emna Zghal turns quite literally to nature for inspiration.  She studies “the rhythm in wood grain, bark, or the surface of water” in her tenderly-marked ink and watercolor drawing, Imaginary Bark. “I am fascinated with pattern, but I steer clear from the grid structure, because it makes all extension predictable.…I try to capture the wonder nature inspires [in] us.” Dawn Lee also looks directly at the natural world---a river’s edge and its reflection---as the source for her energized, pulsating pencil strokes, appropriately titled, Resonance. Water, too, inspires Peter Schroth, whose marker drawings on rice paper, Large Stones and Water Among Stones, executed en plein air, offer close-ups of flowing water that are also lyrical abstractions. For the artist, his paintings and drawings are as much about “the medium and an interest in exploring its vitality” as they are about nature.

Hedwig Brouckaert explores and deconstructs media and contemporary culture, not nature, in Victoria’s Secret Fall 2009 VI and L.L. Bean fall 2009 III. The artist traces figures in fashion magazines, overlaying image upon image until the forms are lost in a maze of lines. She draws with carbon paper and then, in the artist’s words, “I layer processes of drawing, photography and digital printing; repeating these processes numerous times [in] a single work.”  The “handless,” smooth surface of the digital print seems in keeping with the spirit of a slick mail order catalog that will be tossed out as trash, endemic to our throwaway culture.  Ecological issues are foremost in Ellen Driscoll’s mind in Smoke and McMansion Plot. Driscoll contemplates a future world, the product of unsustainable natural-resource consumption and destruction, where McMansions jostle with slums for space, and petroleum rigs and garbage scows dot the ocean’s horizon.  Unlike her installations that feature recycled plastics and LEDs, Driscoll in her drawings uses traditional media: ink and pencil. It is a dark world, devoid of color, where ghostly structures float insubstantially on a bleak, inky terrain. (Driscoll has initiated some drawings by spilling ink on the paper, her wry allusion to oil spills.)

Claudia Sbrissa is concerned that as “natural landscapes and traditional structures are being destroyed, our history is being erased.” She is inspired by the modular apartment complex built for the Montreal Expo 67 by Moshe Safdie and David Barott that “explore[s] histories in the form of cityscapes, neighborhoods, and urban fabrics….” In Untitled from her Habitat Series, she cuts and collages vinyl on paper to create an imaginary city, an aggregation of stacked-up decorative structures. While Montreal’s Habitat survives, Sbrissa’s architectural complex of thin vinyl is transparent, insubstantial and seemingly ephemeral, yet resolutely festive. Sbrissa is “engaged with ideas of regeneration and renewal…in the flux of our relentless self-transformation.” Closer to home, Elise Kaufman records the changes in Red Hook’s waterfront. In Warehouse and Mercedes Storage: View from Imlay Street, she draws and paints with India ink and graphite on both sides of mylar.  Kaufman observes that “the work is certainly representational...However, line and areas of wash may also behave as completely abstract formal elements, and are independent from the role of description.” Her fluid puddles of India ink suggest that Red Hook’s working-class, industrial and maritime history may be dissolving and disappearing in the face of gentrification, yet Kaufman sees an “unruly beauty” in these architectural relics.

Kentler International Drawing Space has been an ongoing presence in Red Hook since the time when artists, musicians and actors first sought out this waterfront community as a place where they could afford to live, work and create.  The flatfiles, representing artists from Brooklyn and beyond, reflect the spirit of the still egalitarian, energized and edgy neighborhood.  I hope that “Marked Differences,” selected from those flatfiles, captures that spirit as well.

- Roberta Waddell was Curator of Prints at the New York Public Library from 1985 until 2008 after serving as Curator of Prints at the Worcester Art Museum, and Curator of Graphic Arts at the Toledo Museum of Art.