Since Betty Edwards's book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" was published in 1989, hundreds of thousands of people have come to the conclusion that drawing is no big deal. Follow her methodology, practice diligently, and you, too, can turn out a pretty respectable rendering of any person, place or thing. It's good fun, putting pencil to paper, but this is the computer age and old-fashioned drawing can seem anachronistic, about as cutting-edge as a manual typewriter.
Apparently no one told Stephen Talasnik. His exhibition of new drawings at Marsha Mateyka Gallery is fresh, original, invigorating and thoroughly edgy. Talasnik is a master of drawing technique and his architecturally inflected work is inspired by actual structures such as building frames, roller coasters and boats. But what has put his works into some of the world's best-known museum collections is his relentless exploration of drawing's possibilities.
Since his show last year at Mateyka, Talasnik has taken a quantum leap as an artist. In addition to the shades of gray in his graphite-on-paper drawings of strange, M.C. Escher-like structures that writhe and twist and fold into themselves, seemingly defying gravity and spatial logic, he has produced a new body of work that features color.
And what brilliant, otherworldly color it is. By using acrylic infused with colored pigment to draw on an archival form of vellum made from plastic and cotton rag, Talasnik has created shimmering works such as "Blue Spinner," which looks like a giant DNA spiral about to whirl off the wall. It's a very ambitious investigation of how line and color can define the shape, volume and emotional effect of a structure, and it succeeds conceptually and aesthetically. It's as close as a static visual image can get to being three-dimensional.
Talasnik also delivers some remarkable work using red chalk and red pencil on paper. Unlike the vellum's flawlessly smooth surface, the paper in these works has been seriously abraded, making it look like some kind of animal hide on which the image has been branded. The tonal range is fascinating, ranging from pink lines so faint that they seem to dissolve into the paper to rusty reds scorched into the surface.
While his command of technique is awe-inspiring, the essence of his art is Talasnik's willingness to experiment with materials, to disassemble traditional forms, to strip drawing down to its barest components and then reassemble it in radical, new ways. It's not something one can learn from a book or master with practice. It's what separates the artists from the rest of us and keeps an ancient art form like drawing evolving.
Mindy Weisel at Troyer Gallery
Mindy Weisel's exhibition of new paintings at Troyer Gallery is a strange, delightful and mysterious affair that ranks as some of her strongest work to date.
There's a lot of turbulence--swirling brush strokes, sudden bursts of color and heavy overpainting--in these mixed-media-on-paper works. A kind of dark, post-pop sensibility is also at play, as if graffiti artists had let their markers run amok on a storyboard by Roy Lichtenstein.
Many of the pictures are divided into gridlike sections that call to mind the panels of a comic strip or perhaps the rooms of a house. Although there is no overtly representational imagery, the multiple sections convey a sense of looking at scenes from a life, of memories and dreams viewed through a haze of time and emotion. That haze is created by frenetic, looping strokes with the brush or oil stick, strokes that form layer upon layer over patches of color.
In her previous body of work, Weisel used the recurrent image of a chair in her late psychoanalyst's office to convey her sense of loss at his passing and gratitude for the support he had given her. There isn't any recurrent representational imagery in these new paintings, but there is that repetitive, looping stroke. It makes a kind of lopsided circle that can seem like a human head or a face peering out from the dense thickets of lines.
Another notable change is Weisel's restrained use of color. While some of the works feature the vibrant blues, purples and reds that are something of a trademark for her, these colors are almost absent in some of the smaller, quieter paintings, and that effectively highlights the rhythmic and melodic quality of her lines. Where the big paintings have an intricate symphonic quality, the small ones have the simple delicacy of chamber music.
The tonal restraint also emphasizes the depth and luminosity of these paintings, qualities that were sometimes obscured by the raucous surfaces of her previous efforts. The viewer is pulled deep into the paintings, into places that seem to be lit by a kind of strong but waning light that slants into the paintings at an oblique angle, like late afternoon sunlight streaming through a window, illuminating a fading memory.
Stephen Talasnik, at Marsha Mateyka Gallery, 2012 R St. NW, through Oct. 9. . Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. 202-328-0088
Mindy Weisel, at Troyer Gallery, 1710 Connecticut Ave. NW, through Oct. 30. Wednesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. 202-328-7289.
CAPTION: Mindy Weisel's "In the Presence of Absence," above, and Stephen Talasnik's "Blue Spinner."