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New Drawing Form Embraces Colour and Abstraction at Nina Freudenheim

Jared Pappas-Kelley

Originally published: Buffalo News. Buffalo, NY. 22 May. 2009.



Painting can seem like such a loaded endeavour, so it’s nice to sit down with the more intimate immediacy of drawing — its focus on line and mark-making and casualness of materials — as an antidote to modernism’s impervious bigness.

Blending these tendencies toward drawing with the abstraction of modernism is “Abstract Alternatives,” a tidy show on display at Nina Freudenheim Gallery through June 12. This exhibition continues the gallery’s commitment to showcasing nonrepresentational art, featuring five artists whose work falls loosely under the banner of drawing, while celebrating both a return to abstraction and a new kind of abstraction. Featured are works by Stephen Antonakos, Warren Isensee, Gary Lang, Melissa Meyer and Katherine Sehr.

“Abstract Alternatives” — mostly works on paper — revels in the allure of line, colour and abstraction. Some of the strongest works in the show are the vibrantly coloured geometric drawings by Warren Isensee near the entrance of the gallery. In each drawing, concentric bands of colour lace around geometric forms, showing off like cross-sectioned Gobstoppers with the intensity of neon lights that are always exuberantly on.

Isensee’s rounded-edged rectangles nest one within another, referencing the forms and palettes of high modernist design, while simultaneously resisting it through their hand-drawn rendering. In one drawing, brightly hued concentrics cluster around a solitary rectangle, while in another these same bands fill in sedimentary between four vertical lines anchored to a horizontal. Through their rendering, Isensee’s drawings are more intimate and humanised than their modernist predecessors — not streamlined machine drawings, but a personalised hand-hewn inquiry into modernist form.

Complementing Isensee’s exuberance is a grid of four spare drawings by Antonakos on the opposite wall. Perhaps better known for his public works and immense neon pieces featured in arenas and airports (present for this show as a nod in the form of a small elbow of neon installed on the adjacent wall), Antonakos’ strongest piece in the show is that group of four drawings with their quiet, monochromatic surety. Executed in spring green, each ponders its trajectory, austere arcs, reminiscent of the forms in Antonakos’ neon installations. All four delineate a nearly complete green outline of a circle with a small pause where the head doesn’t quite meet up with the tail, and each circle symmetrically drifts toward the far edge of the paper.

Arguably the most painterly of the bunch are works by Meyer. These feel more tentative and unfinished in that, for her, the process seems most about the materials and the way a brush glides across the paper. Here, line and colour dawdle then scrawl back with the immediacy of drawing, mapping out colonial territories on each sheet. For the most part, colour is kept to separate patches — yellow here, green next door, a little red upstairs — but overlaps at the edges, blending together. Most obviously a painter, these works annotate some inner script or language or perhaps are simply about the excitement of the brush passing over the surface.

Although the pieces in “Abstract Alternatives” may quietly challenge traditional notions of what drawing is, they collectively push drawing beyond the idea of lead pencil into a more intimate examination of colour and line.