Curator’s Essay

Process, Time & the Element of Chance

Understanding how a drawing is created is of paramount interest to Kramarsky. When discussing the first drawing that he purchased, Kramarsky commented, “What struck me about that work is what has struck me about drawing…long before that and ever since: you could see how it was made. You didn’t really have to focus at all on what it was; you could see how it was made, that interested me. To some extent, that relates to all of the drawings that I have: I really start out by looking at something and saying, ‘How is it made?’ not, ‘Why is it made?’ That’s not nearly as interesting to me.”1

Knowing how Trisha Brown made Footwork #5 is certainly fascinating. A prominent choreographer, Brown is also an accomplished visual artist. Her drawing is one of the few representational works in the Kramarsky Collection, but it is an apt subject for a dancer who creates art with her feet, literally and figuratively. Brown’s image and scratchy signature were drawn with her own feet, pen held between her toes. She drew her feet at rest, the right foot illustrating the left and vice versa. The drawing becomes a type of performance whereby the process is paramount to the product.

The aura of charcoal dots surrounding Ursula von Rydingsvard’s Stool from Africa was made by gently rubbing a graphite pencil across the textured paper surface. The artist then traced lush, gestural marks through the soft ground with her finger, blurring and building up areas of graphite powder. Her circular tracings along the lower edge echo the rounded forms on the base of the stool, while the darker entwined lines on the right suggest a projected shadow. The stool, however, is not situated in a definable space; rather, it materializes from a cloud of tactile smudges and animated fingerprints. Von Rydingsvard’s Stool from Africa displays her reverence for domestic objects and abstract form, and carries the intimate marks of its making.

Dove Bradshaw’s Without Title was created by a unique method of the artist’s own invention, which she calls a “carbon removal drawing,” Bradshaw began with a piece of adhesive tape covered in dust. The tape was then pressed to a sheet of carbon paper and lifted, effectively removing the carbon wherever it was unobstructed by the dust. Similar to a photogram, the paper records negative space, making manifest the arbitrary patterns of fallen debris. Bradshaw’s paper pulsates with an inner life, its vascular elements squiggling across a light-filled center. She invites viewers to ponder the intricacies of her composition and the mystery of its creation. Edda Renouf is interested in the intrinsic qualities of paper and she, too, alters its surface to create ethereal compositions. For Incised Lines and Pastel—Moving 3, the artist made small vertical cuts on a sheet of Arches paper and filled the incisions with pastel chalk. By gently manipulating the paper, Renouf caused a fine dusting of chalk to spill out across the surface, the delicate smudges leaving traces of their movement. The relationship between the inchoate forms and white ground is far from serendipitous: the placement of Renouf’s cuts was dictated by her close study of the paper—its size, its edges, and its small fibers.

At first glance, Allyson Strafella’s Pair appears as two blocks of solid black pigment on white paper. In actuality, the “blocks” are sheets of carbon paper, each containing a raised rectangular surface made by the underline key of a typewriter. Strafella’s aggressive, repeated stamping of the typewriter key abraded the carbon paper, even slicing through it in places (slivers of white reveal the substrate below). The diptych simultaneously projects strength and fragility: the jet black paper implies weight and sturdiness, while its scarred surface threatens to flake away.

Marking the passage of time is integral to the work of several artists. A drawing may be executed in mere seconds or over an extended period, sometimes taking years to complete. Jill O’Bryan’s 40,000 Breaths Breathed Between June 20, 2000 and March 15, 2005 is a case in point. Over the course of five years, O’Bryan recorded her individual breaths with small graphite marks. Requiring a measured, meditative process, O’Bryan makes tangible something that is invisible and fleeting. The result is a monumental drawing resembling a tapestry, woven from thousands of infinitesimal private moments. Likewise, William Anastasi records lived experience through his unsighted drawings, created in the dark or with his eyes closed. Untitled (Pocket Drawing) is a graphite drawing on a paper towel taken from the bathroom of The Modern restaurant at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. As his title suggests, Anastasi drew on the towel while it was folded in his pocket. Each of the sixteen abstract gestures or “events” connects to a specific moment in time. The finished artwork was unknowable to the artist, who willingly abandoned aesthetic control in favor of process and chance.

Although it may appear otherwise, Jene Highstein’s Untitled, Splash Drawing is skillfully controlled and intentional. Highstein custom-blended his ink with a bone black pigment, the blackest of all black inks, which dries with a dense matte finish. He loaded his brush and flicked the ink directly onto Chinese rice paper, sometimes multiple times, to create the eponymous splash effect. The viewer can trace the movement of the artist’s hand, although it never touched the paper. Tristan Perich also works monochromatically, but relinquishes even greater control over the appearance of his art. For Machine Drawing (March 18, 2008 1:11 PM to 4:32 PM), Perich programmed his self-designed drawing machine with the parameters of the work—how large it should be and what regions should be marked. He then allowed the system (microchip, code, motors, pen, fishing line, and paper) and its indeterminacy to take over. The product is an elongated horizontal image; its left side is soft and nebulous, while the right is structured and tight—a network of crisscrossing diagonal lines. Perich’s finished drawing is a synthesis of randomness and order.

There is excitement in the unexpected. To make her drawing Untitled, Kristin Holder held a wooden match until it burned itself out, allowing its flame to singe the paper with smoke. The resulting composition then “informed” Holder where and what to draw. With ash and soot from her studio’s wood stove, she drew naturalistic branch and leaf forms floating upon the veils of smoke stains (tiny ash cinders dried in the “paint” augment the material). The time Holder spent drawing equaled the time it took to burn the paper, about 10 to 20 seconds. The final artwork represents two different modes of mark-making that simultaneously inspire and contrast with one another. The vertical creases in Bruce Conner’s Inkblot Drawing provide the visual clues to the work’s creation: the nine columns of circular shapes and filigree forms were born from inkblots. Like a Rorschach test, the images are anthropomorphized; viewers can discern animal features, mysterious mandalas, or ancient petroglyphs. Conner’s drawing, enigmatic as it appears, is ultimately an abstract composition exhibiting beautiful balance and seductive symmetry.

  1. William Corbett, “In Conversation with Wynn Kramarsky,” New York New Drawings, 1946-2007 (Segovia, Spain: Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Esteban Vicente, 2009), p. 35. []