Review: Reading Between the Lines at RedLine's Drawing Never Dies

“Five Hundred Degrees Celsius,” by Anna Kaye, charcoal on paper.
“Five Hundred Degrees Celsius,” by Anna Kaye, charcoal on paper.
Wes Magyar

Drawing Never Dies, an interesting and somewhat provocative examination of contemporary drawings — at least that’s purportedly its subject — is nearing the end of its run at RedLine. The show was juried by Donald Fodness, a Denver artist, and Daisy McGowan, director of the Galleries of Contemporary Art at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. They considered nearly 700 works submitted by artists from around the world, and ultimately decided to include just over eighty pieces, nearly all of them installed in the enormous main space at RedLine, with a handful in the library to underscore the intimacy of the drawing medium.

To come up with their picks, Fodness and McGowan employed an expanded meaning of “drawing,” which they say is arguably the oldest and most direct art form. In this show, the idea of “drawingness” has been stretched not just to its breaking point, but way, way beyond that: Sculptures, bas-reliefs, ceramics, digital prints and photos, video and even a video “drawing” game with a poetry soundtrack are included. While the preponderance of the material here falls easily within our common understanding of what constitutes a drawing, there are many things that don’t. Some of these pieces are just a degree or so from a conventional definition of drawing, but others go much further than that — and there are a few things that are hard to understand in this context at all. Still, the open-ended approach by the jurors has resulted in a fairly lively and engaging aesthetic experience, even if the underlying thematic narrative is not as tight as it could be.

The show certainly looks good as a whole, with several strong passages providing visual variety. Fodness and McGowan were able to organize groups of pieces with shared affinities so that different points about drawing are made in different places. This approach is especially successful at the start, but it falls apart somewhat as the exhibit proceeds.

As you might expect, some of the most compelling works are contemporary versions of traditional representational drawing. “Five Hundred Degrees Celsius,” by Anna Kaye, for example, is a stunningly beautiful and meticulously detailed depiction in charcoal on paper of a forest fire at twilight. Sharing the same fanatical sense for representation are Caroline Peters’s “Broke Down Palace,” in ink on paper, and Peter Illig’s “Ruin,” in charcoal on paper; both depict collapsing buildings. Shelby Shadwell’s “Comedie 2,” which shows a soiled diaper being set upon by roaches, looks like a photo, though it’s actually charcoal and mixed media on cloth.

More classic in approach and thus less photographic are several figure studies that demonstrate each artist’s incredible hand-to-eye coordination. Among this group is “The Incredulity of Michael Scoggins,” by Jason Lee Gimbel, a remarkably accurate depiction of a standing nude male with the faint image of a man inserting his finger into a wound. It’s clearly based on the story of Doubting Saint Thomas, who insisted on poking the wounds of Christ. The piece is presented in an informal way, undercutting the formality of the style; it’s done in charcoal and pastel on cheap newsprint, which is torn in places and has been simply tacked to the wall.

Also notable are three gorgeous silverpoints by a trio of artists known for their realistic work. There’s Tom Mazzullo’s “Oxbow,” a sinuous form that’s barely there; Lauren Amalia Redding’s portrait of a man who looks straight out at the viewer; and “Plastic Human Skull Replica Submerged in Fishtank,” a striking rendering of a fake skull set in the illusion of vaguely cubistic space by Raphael Sassi. Although these artists have exhibited together nationally, each submitted their pieces individually to the jury.

“Plastic Human Skull Replica Submerged in Fishtank,” by Raphael Sassi, silverpoint on wood.
“Plastic Human Skull Replica Submerged in Fishtank,” by Raphael Sassi, silverpoint on wood.
Wes Magyar

Particularly compelling are representational pieces displaying either naïve or charming drafting styles. These include Ellen Winkler’s sweet little street scene, Nate Otto’s colorful doodles, and the enchanting depictions of supermarket cashiers by Ellis Crean, which just might be my favorites in this show. In a grid of nine colored-pencil-on-paper drawings (from a series of 48), Crean crosses the cheery sensibility of his subtle palette with a critique of the spirit-grinding labor being depicted.

Other pieces are pure abstracts or abstracted compositions: Trine Bumiller’s huge multi-part mural that deconstructs trees, the erased magazine ads by Teresa Booth Brown, Corey Drieth’s minimalism of straight graphite lines on a chunk of wood, and Susan Blake’s hard-edged shapes against a swirling ground. Krista Clark’s “Roof Line,” an arte povera assortment of ripped paper and tape, while not actually a drawing, is pretty cool anyway. So is Clay Hawkley’s diptych of a drawing on lined paper put together with a scanned and altered digital print of it. Colin Ruff uses representational elements to create an abstracted arrangement of shapes in “Home-Maker” that is at once very retro ’80s and very contemporary-looking.

A number of works that look abstracted are really conceptual pieces. Among these is Lauri Lynnxe Murphy’s pseudo-automatist drawing that’s actually a cut-out of a snail’s slime trail. Jack Estenssoro’s piece isn’t abstract, either, despite its appearance: It’s a contour drawing of Homer Simpson.

Finally, there are pieces so rooted in conceptualism that they truly aren’t drawings. I’m thinking here of Andrew Huffman’s “Hourglass Projection,” a geometric corner relief made of stretched yarn that fills a corner, and Bruce Price’s nearby origami of folded paper stiffened with acrylic, “Folly,” which looks like a folded napkin (and I don’t mean that pejoratively). Jodi Stuart does wonderful, brightly hued webs with 3-D pens for “Super Wicked,” which comprises net-like forms that cling to the top of a column, making it more sculpture than drawing. Even further from traditional drawing is the robotic drawing machine, “Digital Still Life,” by Duncan Parks, which is meant to record tiny facsimiles of the other drawings in the show during the course of its run.

Jurors have no control over what’s submitted to a juried show — so the ability of Fodness and McGowan to turn the mass of submissions into something with a shape, even an amorphous one, is quite an accomplishment.

Drawing Never Dies runs through August 5 at RedLine, 2350 Arapahoe Street. RedLine is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; for more information, call 303-296-4448 or go to redlineart.org.

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