Artists

Troy Richards

Akron Beacon Journal by Dorothy Shinn

KSU exhibit draws praise
Pierogi Flat Files give gallery twist of comic book, computer art

By Dorothy Shinn
Beacon Journal art critic

Published on Sunday, Sep 16, 2007

Many people think of a drawing as preparation, not a finished art work.

It’s not altogether true. Drawings have long ago passed the magic $1 million mark in art auctions. Several famous collections the Queen of England’s, for one are famous for their holdings of drawings. And it can be said without too much quibbling that an appreciation of drawings is usually an indicator of good taste in art.

Drawings reveal processes, not only of methods and materials but of intellect and strategical know-how.

As anyone who has put pencil to paper knows, a work of art is created as much with strategy as it is with talent: what materials to use, how to use them, how and where to begin, what effect is to be achieved and most importantly, when it’s done. Drawing also reveals an artist’s aesthetic sense and respect for what he or she has created.

That’s why the 2007 Drawing Invitational with the Pierogi Flat Files, on view through Oct. 5 at Kent State University School of Art Gallery, is a must-see for anyone who loves drawing.

The exhibit of more than 30 drawings by 17 artists has been organized by Darice Polo, KSU assistant professor of art. Along with the work of the invited artists is a fascinating twist: the loan of a collection of files from the Pierogi Gallery of Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Pierogi Flat Files is a project of one of the original New York artist cooperatives. Artists submit their work and are curated into the files, and from then on they are responsible for stocking their files with their work, KSU Director of Galleries Anderson Turner said.

‘’These files have traveled all over the world,’’ Turner said. ’’Pierogi has galleries in Leipzig, Germany, and in Brooklyn.

‘’The works in the files aren’t always finished pieces. Sometimes they’re just sketches. But they’re reasonably priced at least by New York City standards and everything in the files is for sale. There are hundreds and hundreds of drawings to look through.’’

A quick glance at some of the files reveals current art world interests: illustration, comic books and computer art.

Turner said that when he was in art school 15 or so years ago, a lot of the students wanted to learn how to create comic books.

‘’Now they all want to learn how to create computer games,’’ he said.

The work in this show doesn’t necessarily reflect that interest, except in the work of one artist, Christa Donner, who produces comic books that explore women’s issues, and one of the comic book production processes she uses can be viewed.

Other than that, this show has more interest in showing students and the public that there are many aspects to drawing besides the traditional one of preparation for another work of art.

And with a couple of exceptions, the exhibit does manage to demonstrate the beauty, variability and seriousness of drawing as a fine art medium separate and unto itself.

The two exceptions are drawings by Chris Craychee and Ann Tarantino, neither of whom seem to look upon their work as worthy of the ‘’fine art’’ label.

Craychee, for instance, has created drawings by using a blowtorch and a wood burning stylus on cheap carpet, with the result that, from across the room the works look like wood burning projects from summer camp.

Up close, the three ’’drawings’’ reveal the effect of flame on synthetic fiber (it melts), as well as a certain lack of sensitivity to presentation (unevenly burned, tarry-looking surfaces and instructions to hang the work on the wall with carpet tacks). Then there’s the acrid whiff of charred polyester. All of this suggests that perhaps these pieces would best be displayed alongside paintings of Elvis on velvet.

Tarantino’s offense is not so much her work, which is conceptual, but her lack of pride in presentation. She sent the drawings, which she calls ‘’Breath Portraits,’’ with two strips of tape already glued near the top corners of each work with instructions to hang them from the tape using provided T-pins.

Turner said he’s had to field any number of outraged visitors who accuse him of ruining the drawing because the tape can’t be removed without tearing the paper. ’’It’s not me,‘’ Turner said somewhat ruefully. ’’I would never display a drawing like that. She’s the one who wants them shown that way.’’

Personally, I think if an artist is going to go to all the trouble to create a work of art and enter it into an exhibit, he or she ought to also spring for some sort of framing, to protect the work at the very least and to show some sense of pride and collegiality in an exhibit in which most of the works are presented with care.

These infractions aside, the drawings in this show are a revelation, not only in their variation in subject and approach, but in the inventiveness with which each artist has approached the medium.

Perhaps the most inventive of all is a charcoal wall drawing by Dragana Crnjak of Boardman. The untitled work is drawn on two sides of an intersecting wall of the gallery and best seen by viewing it from a spot directly opposite the line of intersection and about 10 feet away.

From this position, it’s possible to see the drawing present a table standing on a floor inside a room, with a window on one wall and what appears to be a vase of flowers on the table.

Crnjak has achieved this image by creating dense black ovals of various sizes using charcoal, then coming back with a brush and lightly brushing down over the ovals so a shadow is created. The result is that the work not only coalesces into a tantalizing image, but appears to float above the surface of the wall.

‘’The biggest problem I have with this work is that everyone wants to touch the black spots,’’ Turner said. ’’They’re velvety and very enticing. But don’t touch.’’

Crnjak was born in Bosnia and studied art in Sarajevo and Belgrade before moving to the United States in 1997. She receive her bachelor’s degree in painting from the University of Akron Myers School of Art in 2002, and has taught at the University of Virginia and at the Cleveland Institute of Art. She is an assistant professor at Youngstown State University.

In her artist’s statement, Crnjak writes that dislocation and questions about permanence and stability inform her work, noting that ‘’it is unclear whether the structures (she creates) are being built or destroyed.’’

Many artists struggle for years to find a way of working that accurately reflects their life, personality and experience. Crnjak has managed to distill hers in such a way that her life and her work are of a piece, a seemingly uninterrupted stream, in itself an enviable achievement.

Cleveland artist Troy Richards peoples his drawings with a galaxy of unlovely people, some old, some overweight, all of them scantily clad and in ungraceful states of dubious activity.

Richards’ subjects are not ideal, nor by any stretch of the word perfect either in form or in enterprise. One is reminded of Mad magazine cartoons, except that these subjects seem to exist in a punch line vacuum, on the verge of being hilarious, but lacking (or purposefully omitting) the necessary context.

We are meant to relish these grotesques, revel in their awkwardness, celebrate them as every man and woman and indulge in a bit of schadenfreude (taking pleasure from someone else’s misfortune). And that’s OK. To quote Nietzsche: ‘’Humour is just schadenfreude with a clear conscience.’’

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