General 12-4-2004

A Sweetly Mad Mixture: “Draw” at SOO Vac

Jeffrey Kalstrom looks at the hundreds of drawings at SOO Vac's "Draw" show and it makes him feel all good inside.

Dig for God

It may not be spring but the smell of good drawing is in the air. By all means do not miss the cunningly entitled exhibit “Draw” now showing at Soo Vac, 2719 Lyndale Ave S. This sweetly mad mixture of all forms linear and graphic has something for every persuasion.

Taking a broad notion of what constitutes a proper drawing, the show contains works done in encaustic, chocolate, drypoint, fireworks, wire, and marks generated by a robotic device, to name but a few.

There are so many works to enjoy: the black wire works done with a gleeful awkward grace by Barbara Gilhooly, Sean Smuda’s spin/burn works drawn by fireworks (I will definitely try that next 4th) . . . . I especially like Marie Gardeski’s delightfully graceful creations with their slippery symbolism. Ryan Simonson’s “untitled” (Grave-rob/Heart-throb) is a brisk hoot and a holler. Bethany Kalk’s bloody-colored encaustic diptych of a woman taking a healthy bite out of an apple entitled “Dig for God”is very satisfying.

The activity around drawing includes a big curated drawing show at the Katherine Nash Gallery at the University, and a drawing show at Franklin Artworks. By all means go see all these shows, with their highly affordable artwork, and in the name of all that is holy buy your nearest and dearest a drawing for the holidays. To avoid a mis-match simply take your sweetness to see the exhibits and pay attention.

What is the motor driving this fresh interest in drawing? Drawing, due to its scale and cheap materials, is usually casual, unpretentious, approachable. Most of us are forced due to economic circumstances to attend “meetings.” At these “meetings” most of us make little marks on the stacks of paper in front of us to prevent a total brain freeze (we meet, ergo, we draw). As nearly everyone does draw at one time or another it is the most democratic and assessable of all artforms.

Also, I do notice a discernable trend towards ”imagery” in art (what, again?) I think a whole lotta folks are either bored silly by abstraction or never really liked it in the first place. Not everyone cares to cultivate the visual hunger for abstraction. Not that all the work in the “Draw”exhibit is figurative or realistic, but even the most abstract work here has a comic friendliness.

And do not underestimate the growing interest/impact of graphic design on the art world. Increasingly much of the art around us is made by folks with a degree in graphic design. These GD-trained folks know all about going for the symbolic jugular. I also think that there is a greater interest in audience than there used to be. It is becoming desirable to create art that communicates not just to the overly educated (you know who you are), but to anyone who loves a good image.

Drawing didn’t always work this way. There was a time when drawing had to be “bad drawing” to look really right in a gallery. I remember the heyday of this stuff. The last exhibit I saw in LA before moving here in the mid ‘90’s was a drawing show curated by a friend of mine at a little gallery in Santa Monica. Each and every drawing in the show was carefully created to not exhibit any skill in drawing. All the artists were doing a “Clea Felien”, but one-upping her, as it appeared they were holding their pencils not in their left hands, but in their butts. All of the lines, shapes, and textures in each and every work were clumsy and dull. And the real wonder was that no matter how hard you tried, despite the figurative imagery (largely drawn from 50s imagery or old obscure cartoons), no possible meaning(s) could be derived from any of the drawings. I had never seen artwork so blank, empty, and pointless. But you sure could not accuse either the artists or the curator of pandering. Their hipness was unassailable.

The work here, by contrast, is delightfully varied, seemingly influenced by everthing from Durer etchings to Duchampian experiments in the language of material, but strongest influences seem to come from Manga/Anime, skateboard graphics, and street punk art. This world has been bubbling under the art world for some time. This so-called street art is aggressive, direct, confrontational (look at me! look at me!). It goes straight for the head/heart/groin, with lurid figuration, high contrast, and bang colors. It will not be missed, denied or neglected. Its message, or content as we say in the trade, is less the center of its essence than its insistence. As figurative imagery is essential for its quick emotional punch, good drawing is at the center of its technique. The young, punk/pop street artist of today has increasingly embraced the old practices of figure drawing and sketchbook worship.

The bible of this movement, Juxtapoz magazine, just passed Art in America to become the 2nd best selling art magazine (look out Art News). Whether or not you find the work between its covers exciting or puerile, it is backed up by solid drawing.

So go see the dam show and then go see other the drawing shows and then go buy a dam sketchbook and quit yer bitching all you lazy post graduate etch-a-sketch posers. Art is hard work and the sooner you accept that the better.