Art review: ‘Speed and Pressure’ at VisArts’ Kaplan Gallery


The digital animation “A Charged Shape,” by artist Brandon Morse, isn’t a drawing in the traditional sense of the word, but it’s one of several artworks that expand the definition of the genre in “Speed and Pressure.” (Brandon Morse)
June 13, 2013

You might not guess it from the name, but “Speed and Pressure” is a drawing show. You might not guess it from the work, either.

The group exhibition at VisArts’ Kaplan Gallery includes several examples of traditional drawing media: pen, pencil or charcoal on paper. The word “speed” refers to how a line changes based on how quickly or slowly the hand pushes or pulls the drawing tool; “pressure” to how firmly the tool’s tip is applied to the surface, whether it be paper, plastic film, canvas or wood.

But the show also features sculpture, video animation, installation and performance. While embracing both expected and unexpected forms of picturemaking, “Speed and Pressure” emphasizes the making over the picture.

Joe Giordano’s nature studies, in lovely sepia ink wash, fall on the conventional end of the drawing spectrum. Richly detailed and representational, they’re records of place and the physical beauty of the real world. Alice Whealin’s abstract tangles of pure line, on the other hand, depict nothing except the act of drawing. They’re examples of draftsmanship for its own sake: the movement of ink as a kind of free-form choreography.

I’m not quite sure where to place Dawn Gavin’s “Stellae Errantes,” the title of which means “Wandering Stars.” It’s a map, over which the artist has used ink to black out almost everything except for a few tiny route numbers, which twinkle like diamonds strewn on black velvet cloth. Unlike Whealin’s work, it takes no pleasure in line-making; its “drawing” — to the extent that you could call it that — is more about obliteration than creation. Yet unlike Giordano’s work, it’s not about place, either, despite Gavin’s use of a map.

It’s about the unknowable void and our attempts to tame it.

Mei Mei Chang’s untitled abstract installation — which wraps around several walls of the gallery with an assemblage of paintings linked by a web of crocheted wire and plastic tape — includes drawing done directly on the wall, mimicking shadows created by the wire. But the installation itself is also a kind of meta-drawing. Like a spider web, it uses architecture to immerse, or perhaps trap, the viewer in a complex network of associations.

Renee van der Stelt and Hsin-Hsi Chen also create works that fuse drawing and sculpture, applying graphite to folded paper constructions or whitewashed wooden forms. Except for Chen’s whimsical “Labyrinth P,” which looks like a giant, slightly chewed pencil, they’re all nonrepresentational objects. Both artists use shading for a subtle trompe-l’oeil effect, exploring the formal possibilities that open when drawing bursts from a 2-D space.

It would be hard to call Brandon Morse’s “A Charged Shape” a drawing, yet it feels as if it belongs here, utterly. Morse’s black-and white digital animation mesmerizes, slowly undulating in a dance that’s halfway between something liquid and something organic. Is it moving in the wind, or is it growing?

I don’t know the answer. Maybe that’s not even the right question. Kendall Nordin’s video, “Entanglement — Spring in Alaska,” documenting a performance in which the artist draws a line, over and over, on a roll of paper, suggests an entirely different dichotomy.

For her, and for many of her fellow artists in “Speed and Pressure,” drawing is not a noun, but a mysterious and open-ended verb.

The Story Behind the Work

“Speed and Pressure” includes two elegant abstract works from Ryan Hoover’s “Sculpting With Satellites” series. Despite the name, they’re closer to 3-D drawings than to sculpture. Their flowing paths were created not by pen or pencil, but by the movement of the artist’s body through space.

Each piece began as a walk Hoover took through his Baltimore neighborhood, as recorded by the GPS function of the artist’s iPhone, which creates a record of both vertical and horizontal movement as well as the artist’s traveling speed. The modeling software he uses slightly exaggerates the height of the pieces.

Instead of plotting his path with simple points along a line, Hoover maps his route using a series of flattened ovals, which grow thin where the artist was moving quickly and thicken as he slowed down. The visual effect is that of a Chinese ribbon dance, frozen in space and time.

— Michael O'Sullivan

Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Michael O’Sullivan has worked since 1993 at The Washington Post, where he covers art, film and other forms of popular — and unpopular — culture.
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