Review: Three artists converge at Bates

Drawing on chaos + order
By BRITTA KONAU  |  June 29, 2011

“UNTITLED” Colored pencil and graphite, 48 x 38 inches, by Andrea Sulzer, 2011.
Drawings by Andrea Sulzer, Alison Hildreth, and Amy Stacey Curtis do not have much in common visually as they range from colorful exuberance to thoughtful layering of imagery to repetitive mark making. But they are grouped together in "Emerging Dis/Order" at the Bates College Museum of Art for their shared interest in memory and interconnectedness, as well as their various approaches to balancing order and chaos.

Hildreth contributed six large and four smaller drawings which are executed in ink, collage, encaustic, graphite, and wash. With great subtlety in her choice of medium and mark-making the artist intricately layered imagery familiar from her prints and paintings, including plans of ancient fortifications and cellular structures, and varied types of line.

The continents represented in several works still seem in the process of migration. Together with references to previous civilizations, Hildreth conveys a sense of history of planet Earth and the humans on it, but she goes beyond that too. While one of her smaller drawings recalls Leonardo da Vinci's designs of urban planning, another is more celestial, evoking deep space and natural and man-made structures in it. In fact, structures of organization that aim to contain and connect mankind, natural powers, even planetary forces, dominate her imagery. Yet their opposite, defense and disruption, is implied as well. Simultaneities on planetary, global, and human levels abound and foster a sense of gravity, of a wide-ranging mindfulness of eons of time.

Curtis usually creates drawings to support her biennial installations. The "27 Hour Drawings" in this exhibition are independent of any project but closely related to her earlier "27 Minutes Drawings." The former are executed in graphite within one to 27 hours respectively, drawing an hour each day. It is fascinating to observe how inventive Curtis can be within the firm rules she created. The artist uses the same oval or elongated shape but varies its distribution from dense agglomerations to light scatterings, which, together with variances in the hardness of the graphite, results in a pronounced range of values. Toward the end of the series surfaces start to vibrate and shimmer and optical effects abound. The densely packed shapes in "20 Hour Drawing" radiate out from the center, with interstitial spaces initially filled by graphite marks, then left blank. The resulting play of positive and negative spaces adds a sense of depth. Many drawings bring to mind organisms under a microscope, or, conversely, stardust in a solar system. Considering the obsessiveness and repetitiveness of Curtis's drawings, they still evidence a continuous balancing act between decisions and automatism. They are at the same time rich and austere, soft and restrained.

Compared to the more subdued colors in Curtis's and Hildreth's work, Sulzer's colored-pencil and graphite drawings feel like bountiful summer gardens. Departing from her earlier jam-packed black-and-white drawings, the current work features vibrant reds, blues, greens, and yellows, with plenty of space left blank. Continuities to her earlier work include intimations of landscape and fragments of representation. The current drawings vary in their degree of detail, with some evoking lush flowerbeds and others remaining abstract configurations. The latter often feature spare graphite outlines that balance areas of intense density. Sulzer is clearly capable of confident mise-en-page, placement on the page, especially in her immense wall drawing in which white space takes on a significance all its own.

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