Drawings by Emily Brown, Avy Claire, Patt Franklin, Marilyn Honigman, Benjamin Potter, Claire Seidl and Dudley Zopp

Drawing the Line #8

October 16, 2011

When I first learned June Fitzpatrick would dedicate the entire year at both of her galleries to drawing, I wondered if that wouldn't drain the well. But her shows have only gotten stronger throughout the year. "Drawing the Line #8" is a great show featuring seven excellent artists, most of whom have footing both in Maine and New York. Not only has Fitzpatrick kept her flavor while sticking with drawings, but she also seems to have further refined it. Her shows at her MECA space have kept an air of sophistication and elegance while being surprisingly accessible. I think the key is that we have become comfortable with seeing works on paper presented unframed even in leading galleries: Only two of the seven artists' work are framed. The result isn't simply more casual -- it brings us literally closer to the processes of the artists. By more easily sensing the intention and actions of the artist, we can better see their talent, effort and intelligence.

The most obvious examples are Avy Claire's 8-foot-tall ink on Mylar trees made from lines of script, in which Claire writes out phrases from the news she hears on the radio. That the trees are all virtually the same terrific drawing only points out their internal logic. Doing Internet searches from her phrases, for example, could lead you to pinpoint the exact times and dates she worked on these drawings.

Moreover, I have never seen drawings anywhere in which the real time of their making is so well spelled out to the viewer. Claire writes out words as she hears them from the radio, and any viewer can read them at the pace of the spoken word and feel the piece come together in real time. It's brilliant.

Patt Franklin's drawings are also large and unframed, and made with rhythmically insistent marks. Associating regular mark-making with Monet or Seurat leads many people to think of such an approach as a well-developed style, but more often than not, it has a pixilation effect that does more to limit the artist's range than anything else. Franklin's work comes across this way to me: The inverted "V"s could be replaced with virtually any mark in black pastel to achieve a similarly swirling space. It's the only work in the show I don't really care for.

Benjamin Potter's cut lead sheet "drawings" are also so visually tactile, we can't help but see what he has done. All three pieces have been punched with holes and bent into freestanding semi-cylinders (certainly they are drawings, but they are good sculptures, too) with loose, natural world rhythms: A disbursing wave on the beach, a stand of trees and the staccato kernels on an ear of corn.

Even Potter's "Corn" has the feel of a diorama and so helps to coalesce the overall landscape feel of the show. The only work at odds with the unspoken theme is Claire Seidl's ink on Mylar, "The Long and Short of It," a vertical black-and-white piece in which white forms float freely on a black ground. Seidl's "Middle of Nowhere," on the other hand, is so atmospheric it could be nothing but you in a foggy landscape.
My favorite work in the show -- by Marilyn Honigman -- is just as atmospheric but with incredibly subtle and sophisticated mark-making among roiling clouds in groundless, mystical skies. Honigman's graphite drawings are intimate and gorgeous. They read perfectly from afar and, from an intimate distance, dissolve completely and deliciously into elegant abstraction.

Unfortunately, there is only one drawing by Emily Brown. "Dormant" is a view of the branches of a deciduous tree in winter. The drawing is as spare and cool as its subject, reminding me of Neil Welliver and Alex Katz. Brown is first-rate, and I wish she had a bigger presence in the show.

Dudley Zopp's work tries harder than anything else in the show to convince you that it's up to something. His pieces are made up of drippy watercolor worked over a few loosely round forms on a light pencil line grid. While the drips in two of the drawings point down -- the way drips tend to flow -- they are inverted in three of the drawings. Surprisingly, between the grid and the frame and the rough, natural forms, they don't insist on being flipped over. The drips aren't simple paint drops, but are instead wet watercolor that not only flows on the paper, but sinks in. So while "Terrains #4" looks like jelly fish with their droopy tentacles, "Terrains #7" has the upward logic of, say, sprouting plants.

Considering Fitzpatrick used to own The Drawing Gallery in London, it's no surprise her exhibitions have been among the best of the Maine Drawing Project. It's the brainchild of the Maine Curators Group, who decided to focus on drawings this year and organized dozens of drawing exhibitions at galleries and museums throughout Maine.

While I was miffed they didn't choose abstraction for 2011 (after all, this is the 100th anniversary of the birth of abstraction in our culture), I am starting to think they weren't so wrong to go with drawing. And nothing makes that case better than shows like "Drawing the Line" at June Fitzpatrick.

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland.

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Claire Seidl