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New Master Drawings

February 19 - April 23, 2005

 

Selected didactic texts from the exhibition:

 

Drawing is the fundamental pictorial act. It reveals the most direct impulses of both the artist's mind and body. New Master Drawings, the tenth installment in the Akron Art Museum's Ohio Perspectives series, reflects the heightened interest in drawing today. Here in Ohio and around the world many artists are now seeking to reconnect with craft and handwork.
Last spring, the Akron Art Museum closed its galleries to begin an exciting expansion project. Although we are temporarily without our own galleries, we are collaborating with three area institutions to present New Master Drawings, a three-part exhibition. The Butler Institute of American Art/Salem, the first institution to host the show features the work of Laurence Channing, Robert Robbins and Zena Zipporah. This summer, Summit Artspace in Akron will exhibit drawings by three different artists, and in the fall the Canton Museum of Art will show works by a final group. A free gallery guide, available in the box to your left, provides information on all three venues and all artists in the series.
Like contemporary artists in other fields, artists who draw also create expansive bodies of work and sometimes straddle the boundaries between media. Robert Robbins blends thick layers of charcoal over coated paper to create rich, painterly woodland scenes. Perhaps reflecting his previous work as a painter, Laurence Channing grinds charcoal into a fine powder and applies it to paper using pieces of felt in order to create his figures and landscapes. Zena Zipporah prefers to draw on found objects: antique dresses, eggshells and stones that she finds in flea markets and around her home.
These three artists and the others you will see later this year in Akron and Canton all relish drawing's power to capture, shape and transform their ideas. Their work reflects not only a key trend in contemporary art but also the continuing vitality of art in Ohio.
 
Large-type copies of the labels and wall texts for this exhibition are available from the gallery attendant.
 
Information about the purchase of works in this exhibition is also available from the gallery attendant.
 
New Master Drawings is organized by the Akron Art Museum and made possible by a lead gift from Malone Advertising. Additional support provided by generous gifts from The Mirapaul Foundation and the R.C. Musson and Katharine M. Musson Charitable Foundation.
 
 
 
Robert Robbins
Columbus
In his large-scale landscape drawings, Robbins (b. 1968) combines soft forms and dense shadows to create scenes that are both picturesque and tinged with melancholy. "All of my work is theatrical," he observes, "with the emphasis on value and mood."
 
Robbins, who teaches at the Columbus College of Art and Design, often sketches outdoors around Columbus, but his drawings do not represent actual sites. Almost all of his works are made up of multiple sheets of paper-he tacks on additional pieces until he achieves the composition he sees in his mind's eye. The seams where sheets are joined (Robbins calls these "sutures") hint at the artificiality of the landscapes.
The heavy, moist atmosphere in Robbins' images relate to the tradition of American romantic landscape painting. Although he is interested in painting, Robbins relies on drawing to achieve the otherworldly quality he seeks for his images. He first coats paper with gesso (a mixture of liquid plaster and glue), then rubs on layers of charcoal and uses rags and erasers to "lift out" shapes and light areas. "There's a slow, more leisurely read when you're looking at a black and white landscape because it's so stark," he says.
 
 
Zena Zipporah
Shaker Heights
 
Zipporah (b. 1942) engages in a frankly compulsive drawing technique, covering eggs, stones, bones, children's clothing and christening gowns with words and drawings. She follows in the tradition of ancient art by drawing upon found objects, but she chooses her materials for personal reasons. "I like to draw on things that make me feel comfortable, and I don't usually feel that with paper," she says.
 
The subjects of Zipporah's works reflect her intensive study of world religions, especially the creation myths formed by ancient cultures. Because she works so minutely, it is often difficult to discern all that she has drawn. "I make my writing small enough that it's really hard to read," she acknowledges. "That's how ancient texts work too. They are full of symbols and codes that you have to decipher."
Zipporah has also worked as a freelance writer, and she sees a clear connection between drawing and writing: both offer her a way to sort through feelings and ideas. In her more autobiographical works, including a drawing on eggshells and two journals on view here, Zipporah relies on the complexity of her drawing style to hide some of her works' content. "This is a way to do writing about myself that's not dangerous," she notes.
 
Laurence Channing
Cleveland Heights
Working with powdered charcoal, Channing (b. 1942) draws shorelines, city streets and crowds of people that are precisely modeled but also slightly blurred, as though seen through a haze. His drawings are based on photographs he makes, but the photographic image is only a guide. Through his past experiences as a painter and designer and his current position as head of publications at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Channing has developed a refined sense of space and patterning. He begins his drawings by taping several photographs together to build a composition and then changes perspective, moves or deletes objects and plays with value contrast to form patterns of light and dark.
 
Channing's images are filled with activity-people walking, trees swaying and cars zooming along-but they are also remarkably tranquil. He heightens this serene, meditative quality by centering his compositions on large forms or dividing complex scenes into separate panels. By slowing the rhythm of his images, he allows us to inscribe onto the scenes our own meaning. "The subjects of my drawings are alluded to rather than explicitly stated," Channing says.
 
ROBERT ROBBINS
 
Beryl Green, 2003
Charcoal, acrylic and pastel on gessoed paper
 
Robbins recently began to incorporate color into some drawings, but he limits himself to monochromatic palettes. The jewel-like tones, circular composition and high viewpoint in this work are purposefully seductive, meant to draw the viewer up and into the scene. "I am very intentionally trying to push the ground out from under your feet," says Robbins.
 
 
ROBERT ROBBINS
 
Midnight, 2003
Charcoal, acrylic and pastel on gessoed paper
 
ROBERT ROBBINS
 
Dusk, Late Spring, 2003
Charcoal on gessoed paper
 
 
ROBERT ROBBINS
 
Hillcrest #1, 2001
Charcoal on gessoed paper
 
ROBERT ROBBINS
 
Hillcrest #2, 2001
Charcoal on gessoed paper
 
In 2001, Robbins introduced what he calls "beads of light" into his more expansive horizontal compositions. These pools of light, seen scattered across the middle ground and background of this image, emphasize the depth of the space and lend the images a lighter, more lyrical quality.
 
 
ROBERT ROBBINS
 
Nocturne #2 (Study), 2001
Charcoal on gessoed paper
 
 
ROBERT ROBBINS
 
Sharon Woods Meadow, 2004
Charcoal on gessoed paper
 
The close-up view of the trees in this drawing hints at the fact that it is more directly inspired by an actual landscape than most of Robbins's works. Sharon Woods Metro Park is located just north of Columbus. Robbins says, "The trees I'm most attracted to are the ones that get a lot of salt in the winter, too much rain in the spring-they're just bleached sticks at a certain point."
 
ROBERT ROBBINS
 
Sugar Maple Torrent, 2003
Charcoal on gessoed paper
 
Robbins drew arching trees in the foreground of this work and kept the background relatively simple in order to heighten the stage-like quality of the composition. In comparing this work to his more static images, Robbins jokes, "I think this is as nuts as I can make a drawing." (right: Robert Robbins, Sugar Maple Torrent, 2003, Charcoal on gessoed paper)
 
 
ROBERT ROBBINS
 
Thicket, 2000
Charcoal on gessoed paper
 
ZENA ZIPPORAH
 
Book of Creation: Sefer Yetzirah, 2004
Linen, silk and ink
 
The Sefer Yetzirah, an ancient document related to Jewish mysticism, uses abstract language to describe God's creative power. Zipporah plays on the age and complexity of that text by lightly scratching its words onto this sheer piece of material so that individual letters are barely discernable.
 
 
ZENA ZIPPORAH
 
Destruction Myths, 1994
Cast stone and ink
 
ZENA ZIPPORAH
 
Book of the Hopi, 2000
Linen, cotton and ink
 
Zipporah transcribed onto this dress a religious text related to the Hopi, a Native American culture in northeast Arizona. The bodice features the Song of Creation, sung by the Spider Woman, a central Hopi deity, as she created living beings. Zipporah notes, "I wanted to write out the entire first Book of the Hopi, which is such a great story, so I chose a big dress."
 
 
ZENA ZIPPORAH
 
Creation Myths from Egyptian Book of the Dead, 2002
Linen, silk and ink
 
 
ZENA ZIPPORAH
 
Sanskrit Myth, 2001
Cotton, ink and metal
 
 
ZENA ZIPPORAH
 
Creation Myths - Japan, 1994
Linen, cotton, silk and ink
 
The snake-headed beasties and calligraphic curlicues that Zipporah drew on the collar of this dress reflect the romantic but sometimes violent nature of ancient Japan's creation mythology. Central deities are burned and cut into pieces but always regenerate in their quest toward building a new world.
 
ZENA ZIPPORAH
My Autobiography on Eggs, 2001
Eggshells, ink, wire and found frame
 
Onto each eggshell in the center of this work, Zipporah wrote about an event from her childhood. She notes that the fragility of the shells echoes the tenuousness of her memories. By writing around the entire shell and mounting the eggs in a sealed box, she has preserved what she can remember but also hidden parts of the stories from the viewer.
ZENA ZIPPORAH (right: Zena Zipporah, My Autobiography on Eggs, 2001, Eggshells, ink, wire and found frame)
 
God and Satan, 1994
Polyester and ink
 
Zena Zipporah
 
Tuatha Dé Danaan, Whence They Came, 1994
Linen, cotton and ink
The Tuatha Dé Danaan are gods and goddesses from medieval Irish mythology. Zipporah drew these imaginary characters along the hem of this dress, varying each figure's shape, posture, expression and hairstyle in order to suggest different personalities.
 
 
ZENA ZIPPORAH
 
Zohar and Merkabah, 2000
Linen, silk and ink
Zipporah adapted both the text and drawing in this work from a book about Jewish mysticism. The Zohar, a medieval document reflecting upon the Torah, and texts related to Merkabah mysticism (which flourished after the year 100) include descriptions of how God formed the Hebrew alphabet. Each "ray" in Zipporah's sunset-shaped drawing contains a Hebrew letter along with the part of the mouth with which the sound is associated.
 
LAURENCE CHANNING
 
Elders Study, 2002
Charcoal on paper
 
 
LAURENCE CHANNING
 
Irving Place, 2004
Charcoal on paper
 
 
LAURENCE CHANNING
 
Stories: Cain Park, 2003
Charcoal on paper
 
Courtesy of the artist and Bonfoey Gallery, Cleveland
 
Channing combined parts of four photographs to create this composition depicting visitors to a park near his home. Although he devised the positioning of the figures in relation to one another, Channing rendered their faces and bodies as accurately as possible. "I'm actually quite superstitious about getting the likenesses," he says. (right: Laurence Channing, Stories: Cain Park, 2003, Charcoal on paper. Courtesy of the artist and Bonfoey Gallery, Cleveland)
 
 
LAURENCE CHANNING
 
Stories: Threesome, 2003
Charcoal on paper
 
Courtesy of the artist and Reeves Contemporary, New York
 
 
LAURENCE CHANNING
 
Stories: The Courier, 2003
Charcoal on paper
 
Courtesy of the artist and Bonfoey Gallery, Cleveland
 
This drawing is based on photographs made by Channing in New York City. Although a dark-haired man with glasses and another man in a white tank shirt appear in both panels of the drawing, Channing did not intend the image to be sequential or to have narrative content. Instead, his separation of the image into sections emphasizes the rhythm of the crowd's movement along the street.
 
 
LAURENCE CHANNING
 
Unicum: Headlands, 2004
Charcoal on paper
 
The aerial perspective in this drawing of a break wall along Lake Erie compresses the structure and draws the image toward abstraction. Channing notes that he arrived at this stark composition after he scanned his photograph of the wall into his computer and began to manipulate the image using photo-editing software.
 
 
LAURENCE CHANNING
 
Unicum: Interstate, 2004
Charcoal on paper
 
This drawing of a stretch of woods along an interstate is a familiar scene for Channing, who often travels by car from Ohio to the east coast. He enlivens the scene by rendering it on a colossal scale and creating a rich pattern of criss-crossing lines among the tree branches and dense, powdery shadows along the edge of the road.
 
 
LAURENCE CHANNING
 
Unicum Study: Earth, 2003
Charcoal on paper
 
Courtesy of the artist and Bonfoey Gallery, Cleveland
 
"This is just a rock on a beach," says Channing. In choosing a close-up view, however, he creates intense focus upon the coarse texture of the stone. By minimizing the background, Channing also purposefully subverts our sense of scale: the rock could be a small pebble or a large boulder.
 
 
ZENA ZIPPORAH
 
Notes from Other Worlds, 2002
Mixed media
 
This scrapbook, begun by a nurse living in Nebraska in the 1930s, was purchased at an antique store by Zipporah's daughter. She gave the book to her mother, who pasted onto each page old letters and vintage postcards she had collected. On some pages, Zipporah also made drawings that play off of images or words in the letters and cards.
 
 
ZENA ZIPPORAH
 
Obsession, 1991-1994
Ink on paper and paper board
 
Each two-page spread in this book relates to a day in Zipporah's life. She surrounded and sometimes covered her words with drawings, circles, lines and scribbles in order to make the text difficult to read. Zipporah says, "The writing is small and the drawings are everywhere. That blur between illustration and text is what I'm interested in."
 
 
On the Pedestal:
 
ZENA ZIPPORAH
 
Notes from Other Worlds, 2002
Mixed media
 
This scrapbook, begun by a nurse living in Nebraska in the 1930s, was purchased at an antique store by Zipporah's daughter. She gave the book to her mother, who pasted onto each page old letters and vintage postcards she had collected. On some pages, Zipporah also made drawings that play off of images or words in the letters and cards.
 
 
On the Pedestal:
 
ZENA ZIPPORAH
 
Obsession, 1991-1994
Ink on paper and paper board
 
Each two-page spread in this book relates to a day in Zipporah's life. She surrounded and sometimes covered her words with drawings, circles, lines and scribbles in order to make the text difficult to read. Zipporah says, "The writing is small and the drawings are everywhere. That blur between illustration and text is what I'm interested in."
 
 
On the Pedestal:
 
ZENA ZIPPORAH
 
Destruction Myths, 1994
Cast stone and ink
 
 
ZENA ZIPPORAH
 
LEFT: Creation Myths from Egyptian Book of the Dead, 2002
Linen, silk and ink
 
RIGHT: Book of Creation: Sefer Yetzirah, 2004
Linen, silk and ink
 
The Sefer Yetzirah, an ancient document related to Jewish mysticism, uses abstract language to describe God's creative power. Zipporah plays on the age and complexity of that text by lightly scratching its words onto this sheer piece of material so that individual letters are barely discernable.


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