THE DRAWING GROUP
At the LABAND ART GALLERY
Loyola Marymount University
7900 Loyola Blvd.,
Through April 18
The 13 artists in “The Drawing Group” put a lot of faith in appearances. Not that they presume a thing can be known by its looks, but they do presume that something can be revealed by the way an artist interprets and manipulates those looks. That’s a roundabout way of describing the simple property known as “realism” in art, but the painters, sculptors and draftsmen in this show know that realism is not something they can take for granted, no matter how long its tradition or how fine its pedigree. For a realistic depiction to be salient today, the artist must bring a critical consciousness to it. This exhibition surveys how some accomplished L.A. artists do just that.
It can be as simple as including in the finished picture the strips of masking tape on the floor that marked a model’s position. When Stephen Douglas does this in one virtuoso rendition of the female figure, he gives a vernacular twist to the aggrandized tradition of the nude. Wes Christensen does the same thing by putting a mop rather than a staff in the hand of a male model posed as Oedipus.
All 13 artists share a common interest in drawing from the figure and, in fact, get together weekly to do just that — hence the title of the show. Drawing from observation pits the artist against a complex object outside him- or herself and is meant to exercise certain technical issues. But when Luis Serrano depicts two artists sketching the flayed, severed head of an animal, he reminds us that the process is never as Platonic as all that. Peter Zokosky achieves a similar effect with his painting of some male members in the group clustered around the glowing flesh of a naked female model. Would a woman’s interpretation be any less susceptible to voyeurism and vicariousness? Lauren Richardson’s treatment of the same subject makes for an interesting comparison.
On the other hand, a professional animation storyboard and some samples of comic-book illustration suggest history bent in a different direction. Brian Apthorp, Ken Jones and Steven Dean Moore don’t interrogate the history of the figure in Western art, but simply shift it into the domain of Bart Simpson, Thrasher and Batman. This alone may say far more about the resiliency and pliability of tradition than any Old Master could have ever imagined.
Indeed, one would have to be extremely blinkered to dismiss these artists simply because they deal with either the body or their respective media in conventional ways. If there’s anything that distances them from “modern” sensibilities, it isn’t that they paint and draw like our 19th-century predecessors. It has to do with the sort of knowledge these pictures feel they can embody. Like the bold, breathless sweep of Jim Doolin’s panoramic landscapes, this art is concerned with master narratives and broad existential and theological questions. The falling man/angel in a John Frame sculpture, for instance, addresses the niggling doubts that challenge religious consciousness, while Cecilia Miguez gives that same turn of mind a more earthbound spin with her bronze angel on a cigarette break.
Bodies have desires, which is why the human figure in art always returns to matters of sensuality. But what differentiates this group from other contemporary artists working with the body is that no matter how they frame that issue, they don’t see physical experience as something elusive of the objective powers of the mind. F. Scott Hess may feel that this balance is in peril when he shows the pages of a scholar’s manuscript blowing away while the author sleeps nearby, and Jon Swihart may also be introducing a note of futility when he shows a man solemnly studying the fallen body of another man that looks exactly like him, but still, to make such allegories requires a kind of committed rationalism that all these artists exhibit to one degree or another. It can be startling. And refreshing.