Wild Tapestries of Polymorphous Cheer

Sue Williams Excessive Digits 2003

By the middle ’90s, the funky black-and-white canvases of tragicomic sexual combat (back then, they were called abject) had given way to sprightly little figures engaged in all manner of erotic gratification and consensual abasement. These in turn yielded to near abstractions in which inner turmoil is represented by linear arabesques that catch feet and skirts, fingers and balls in their graceful web: wild tapestries of polymorphous cheer.
At roughly the turn of the millennium, the paintings reached a point of total abstraction, represented here by a glaringly white canvas down which slink half-a-dozen lazy strokes of very-late-de-Kooningesque pink, orange and blue paint. But Williams’s canvases soon heated up again, in near-psychedelic compositions featuring various digestive, respiratory and sexual organs; in these, the presiding spirit seems to be Peter Saul. Other discernible sources range from Mike Kelley to Sean Landers. [Nancy Princenthal on Sue Williams]

Laura Owens, Untitled 1999

“ONE OF THE MOST interesting aspects of Owens’s work is that photography is not at its center. Digital logics, yes, but the photograph, no. Instead, drawing carries out the task of mimesis—an explosion of drawing both handmade and cribbed from elsewhere, of everything in the world: trees, buildings, numbers, monkeys, soldiers, ladies, couples, fruit, boats, cats. The show overflowed with handwriting, outlines, cartoons, sketches, stencils, shadows, and their graphic proxies, drop shadows. The magic of drawing—and Owens is a fantastic draw-er—is that you can remake anything you see or think of with your own hands. You take a picture, but you make a drawing. Owens exploits all the alterations possible in her imaginative reinscription of the world, yet with an incredibly literal mind… the flat-earth reality of Owens’s positioning continually gives way to flights of fancy and illusion, and the show underlines this impulse toward twinned tactics: A painting is a wall; a painting has a twin; two paintings mirror each other; a mirror is a window; a painting is a world. Once you notice this motif of doubling, the real running parallel to the imaginary, you see twoness everywhere.” [Amy Sillman on Laura Owens]

Dana Schutz Ocular 2015

“There’s something about painting that feels more real; there’s actual physical material there. With drawing I always feel like it’s dust, like it’s not a real material. Drawing becomes more about “line quality.” And I tend to draw in black and white, so it becomes even more about line, and how lines activate the white of the paper to make space. In painting the space and the image can actually be built into the material itself, whereas in drawing the space of the image exists between marks on a page, which is a much more abstract concept. So it’s been more difficult for me to work toward a kind of drawing that I can accept and feel comfortable with. But it’s been a challenge that I’ve really enjoyed.
… it’s a different mental space. I think the thing that’s really exciting about drawing for me is that the feeling of judgment is very different from in a painting. The drawings that I really respond to are usually like Bruce Nauman‘s drawings; they have a kind of energy to them that’s closer to thought or notation. They’re not about trying to make great, finished drawings. Drawings are more suggestive than paintings, so with drawing you always have this question of when is it enough? Sometimes a drawing can be really off-hand, and maybe not be quite enough, and yet somehow it still works and is stronger than a drawing that’s neatly rendered and totally filled up.” [Dana Schutz in conversation with Charles A. Westfall]

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