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Well Drawn

Art Review


Published August 31, 2005 at 4:00 a.m.

EXHIBIT:"Contemporary Drawing 2005," juried works by artists from across the country. T.W. Wood Gallery, Montpelier. Through October 2.

ARTWORK: "Series XX #1" by Frank Woods

The T.W. Wood Gallery's "Contem- porary Drawing 2005" is an exceptional survey. The jurors cast a wide net for the show; it includes artists, many of whom work in academe, from 45 states and provinces. The quality is consistently strong, which is no small feat in such a diverse exhibition.

Drawing may be the oldest visual media. Its antiquity is demonstrated by the charcoal symbols and shapes scrawled onto a cave wall by some Neolithic proto-artist. As a result of its constant reinvention, you could also say drawing is brand new; contemporary two-dimensional artists continue to blur the artificial lines that have traditionally separated media.

One of those fuzzy areas includes collage. Sometimes considered an appendage of painting, collage also can be a corollary to drawing. "Bellboy," by Kentucky-based artist and teacher Jack Girard, is a drawing/collage hybrid that borrows Victorian imagery and "sews" figures together with line. His work suggests a stratified society, in which a uniformed bellboy seems privy to the social secrets conveyed in overlapping layers of collage.

Another mixed-media-and-collage work -- in this case involving duct tape -- is "Series XX #1" by Vermont artist Frank Woods. His large abstraction incorporates a judicious use of color appearing as miles of lines and Magic Marker scribbles. Out-of-context drawings of dragonflies, a vise and geometric diagrams also appear. The drawing's foundation is a fog of charcoal, packed like visual bedrock in the lower third of the composition.

Nonobjective abstraction is well represented in this show, many of the pieces in vibrant color. In "Drawing #7," by Columbus [Ohio] State Community College adjunct professor Stacy Lehman, swags of cool hues seem to be draped over a field saturated with orange pastel.

Philip Chan is also an Ohio-based artist who draws with irrepressible color; the Youngstown State University teacher is a master of oil stick. His "Fallen Angel" is a red-and-white abstraction shimmering on textured, tan paper; dense strings of oil-stick emanate, mandala-like, from a central form. "Fallen Angel" is part of a larger series that Chan has exhibited around the country.

Realism is perhaps best represented by yet another Midwestern academic, drawing professor Art Martin of Grand Valley State University in Michigan. His powerful rendering of a nude male in "Torso II" perfectly models the subject's abdomen, thighs and arms to emphasize the figure's contrapposto -- or twisted, "contrasting" position -- in the tradition of Michelangelo.

An expressive landscape of gnarled roots and tangled trees, "Path Near Wadleigh Falls" by Brian Kernan is a sinewy pen-and-ink environment in which large foreground forms give way to smaller shapes deeper in the space. In those distant regions of the copse, tenebrous clusters of line gather as a welter of scratchy cross-hatching. Kernan's marks go in every direction -- his wiry aesthetic seems subtly steeped in Abstract Expressionism.

Exhibition jurors, including Dr. Mark Mitchell of the National Academy of Design in New York City and top-shelf Vermont artists Lois Eby and David Bumbeck, did an admirable job assembling this show. While it was probably a pleasurable task, it couldn't have been easy. As their jurors' statement explains: "The introduction of new media and new technologies challenged us to delineate the limits of drawing in a manner consistent with the dynamics of artistic practice in the late 20th and early 21st centuries." They certainly rose to the challenges -- and the standards -- of both millennia.