by Ben La Rocco
PIEROGI 2000 | FEBRUARY 7 – MARCH 10, 2012
Imagine being caught inside a claustrophobic soap opera in which the generic characters and superficial lines are constantly encroaching on your space. Dawn Clements provides visitors to Drawings, her latest show at Pierogi 2000, with just such an experience. “Let me out! Let me out!” screams a woman in one drawing. Surrounded by Clements’s work, one can empathize.
The most aggressive piece in the show is “Oval” (2000), a dizzying circular drawing approximately 10 feet in diameter. Executed in gouache and ballpoint pen, it is a great cluster of phrases and people copied from soap operas. Its overwhelming mass of details leaves the viewer disinclined, almost unable, to focus on any one phrase or face. A bob haircut punctuates the piece with a staccato regularity reminiscent of Chris Offili’s afros. With its frayed paper edges, the piece is like a great hallucinogenic doily mounted on the wall.
Not all Clements’s drawings are so imposing. Once you get over the discomfort of the artist’s preference for tight, cluttered spaces, the drawings reveal the artist’s careful observation of her surroundings. She favors a rambling panorama motif, as in “Kitchen and Bathroom” (2003), a 28-foot piece executed in sumi ink on paper with a very small pen and brush. The drawing documents the entire interior of her railroad apartment and evidences the artist’s fascination with domestic interior spaces. In medium and motif, it evokes the great southern Song Dynasty landscapes of 12th and 13th century China. But the drawings’ focus on minute detail and laborious rendering in line, rather than wash, make it Clements’ own.
The most interesting part about Clements’ work is the artist’s ambiguous attitude toward the spaces she depicts. Is she attempting to criticize domestic existance or vindicate it? She reveals deep affinities with the painter Ivan Albright, whose interiors always seem to hover between bitter repudiation of domesticity and love for the carefully depicted objects that compose his domestic spaces. Clements seems to share Albright’s mixed feelings.
A panorama entitled View from Bed (2003) puts the deep contradictions in Clements’ attitude on display. This mysterious drawing began with a ballpoint pen sketch of the artist’s bedside table. When she finished, she had included everything she could see from bed. This densely crowded space evokes domestic decay, but hidden amid the rubble are objects that indicate a lively intellect at work behind the chaos. On a shelf by the TV, for example, beside a copy of Arnold Schwartzenegger’s Raw Deal, rests a copy of The Story of Eye by Georges Bataille, whose theory of a general economy deals with luxury and waste. Some canvases are visible, tucked away behind furniture. In a back room behind a computer there are traces of a library.
Clements’ contradictory feelings extend to her drawing technique, which is alternately adept and näive. At the far left of “View from Bed,” the act of drawing seems to take precedence over the accurate description of space. Here, the artist renders what appears to be a large tree-like sculpture made of feathers and paper, standing, inexplicably, in the center of her bedroom. Toward its top, the subtle cross-hatch that describes the form blends with the marks that define its shadow on the wall, creating a maze of values in which form is indecipherable. These values trail off toward the drawing’s border, leaving the viewer in baffled contemplation of the soap opera quotes that frame the image.
ContributorBen La Rocco