Contemporary drawing values meticulous mark-making

Critic's Corner//Art

Labor-intensive images use a wide range of materials

Art Column

January 24, 2007|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,Sun art critic

What is a drawing? A lively exhibition at Maryland Art Place suggests that contemporary drawing is often an art of obsessive mark-making, employing an exceptionally wide range of materials, from graphite and colored pencil to synthetic rubber and human hair.

The show, Between the Lines, presents works by about a dozen mostly local artists who have explored the art of drawing, from Louise Bourgeois' 8 in a bed, a naughty, cartoonlike spoof on sex, to Linn Meyers' incredibly labor-intensive abstract mandalas created out of closely spaced, undulating curves.

The drawings in the show include both figurative and abstract images. One of the first to strike your eye is Youngmi Song-Organ's drawing of a trio of large, doughnut-shaped rings that, on first glance, resemble oversized bracelets.

The rings are meticulously drawn in perspective and shaded to emphasize their varying orientations in space.

But on closer inspection, one realizes that what initially appear to be scores of hair-thin pencil lines describing the circular ring forms are, in fact, real human hairs that have been painstakingly glued to the paper's surface.

Actually, most people won't even realize the lines in the drawing aren't pencil marks unless they read the wall label. One simply assumes that a drawing consists of lines that literally have been drawn on the paper, be it with pencil, pen, ink or whatever. But here the artist proves otherwise.

There's something obsessive about the effort that goes into such pieces. Song-Organ individually places each strand of hair on the paper with a pair of tweezers and a pot of glue. (She uses her own dark hair in the drawings.) You'd think she'd go crazy from the Sisyphean repetitiveness of the task, but maybe it's that very repetitiveness that evokes a kind of contemplative calm.

Meyers' abstract drawings are similarly labor-intensive tours de force, and they evoke a similar mood of mental serenity.

Like the images of starry nights and spider webs by the celebrated Czech-born American artist Vija Celmins, Meyers' pieces consist of thousands of infinitesimally thin lines spaced so closely together that they are barely distinguishable from one another.

Unlike Celmins, however, whose multiplicity of marks eventually add up to recognizable pictures of the natural world, Meyers' images mostly suggest processes rather than things - global weather patterns, undersea currents and other fluid events that normally are invisible to the eye.

What the artists have in common is what can only be called a heroic ambition to limn the infinite through mark-making at the limits of perception. They choose subjects that are, almost by definition, too vast for the eye to fathom in their oceanic complexity.

The show also presents works by Linda Bills, Line Bruntse, Amy Eva Raehse, Ann Rentschler, Beverly Ress, David Webster, Cornell Rubino, Donald Baechler and Ellen Gallagher, as well as a startling, large-scale abstract drawing by local artist Nancy Linden.

Linden, who is better known for her empathic images of people on society's margins, here uncorks an exquisite sense of color and line in a wholly nonrepresentational work characterized by great panache and style.

"Between the Lines" runs through Feb. 10 at Maryland Art Place, 8 Market Place. There will be a gallery talk and reception at 7 p.m. Feb. 2. Call 410-962-8565 or go to

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.