Same subject, different points of view10/15/2014
A pair of current shows demonstrates similar subjects from very different points of view. Tom Jackson and Priscilla Steele have both been drawing the human form since the late 1960s. In 2008 they began drawing together in a group setting twice a week. That discipline created an intriguing examination of their ways of looking at objects. Their joint practice created bodies of work that had the same source yet utterly different methods of execution and sensibility. The differences created a dialog about why artists draw human figures.
Curators found this so interesting that the two artists’ “Dialog Human” has been featured at two of the state’s most interesting galleries. Earlier this year, the exhibition was shown at Waterloo Center for the Arts and now it’s featured at ICON, Fairfield’s main contemporary art gallery (through Oct. 27).
Jackson uses single ink brushes to draw directly from life without any preliminary pencil sketching. His single lines are final. There is no layering or erasure. He calls this “working without a net.” Such technique separates his work from that of most people drawing from life. His drawings also scuttle nervously between control and spontaneity, as well as between light and shadow. He draws with white line on black paper to accentuate light and with black ink on white paper for shadows. In shadow drawings, incomplete figures force audience participation. He draws both gestures — rapidly made with overlapping lines — and more contemplative figures. Sometimes he randomly adds color to emphasize the abstract quality of his observations.
Steele’s methods are quite different. In her large drawings, she draws like a deconstructionist, sometimes just using portions of a human figure to employ as parts of a larger composition. She layers multiple renderings of body parts, erases, paints over and redraws so many layers that her final drawings seem animated. In her small works, the single line is often left to stand on its own. Or it is cut up and used in found object collages. In both large and small drawings, she suggests a passage of time by allowing so many things to accumulate.
Both artists are also parts of current shows in Des Moines. Steele is showing both figurative and botanical drawings at Olson- Larsen (through Nov. 29). That show also includes Edward Avila’s almost religious, pastel and acrylic visions of architectural spaces and Jan Zelfer-Redmond’s latest abstractions, reminiscent of Joseph Cornell. Jackson is among some 65 artists in Moberg Gallery’s ambitious “Works on Paper” show (through Oct. 22). He shows both single brush ink drawings and other media. TJ Moberg calls Jackson the most versatile artist in Iowa for his mastery of so many media.
Des Moines Art Center’s Print Gallery is now exhibiting “From Icon to Abstraction” (through Feb. 15). This show demonstrates the different visions of war created by two Russian artists during World War I. Neo-Primitivist Natalia Goncharova’s crayon lithographs “War: Mystical Images” are iconic in the Eastern Orthodox sense of that abused word. Archangels and heavenly hordes come to fight with the Russian army. Alexei Kruchenykha viewed the war abstractly. His series “Universal War” presents collages filled with non-objective representations of tissue and fabric, with maybe the suggestion of a cannon or flagpole here or there. These collages are said to have anticipated Henri Matisse’s famous “Jazz” by 30 years.
The absurdity of war is also demonstrated by Kruychenykha’s poetry which set his Universal War some 70 years in the future. He suggests that war has a cleansing power, philosophically. Curator Amy Worthen notes that in reality he had no interest in participating, running off to the Caucasus to avoid the draft. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.