Gallery Joe, Philadelphia
An exhibition of pencil, tape, and charcoal drawings by Christine Hiebert opened in November in Philadelphia at Gallery Joe and will remain on view through the month of December.
At first sight, Hiebert’s drawings possess a kind of idiosyncratic line, navigating on what seem to be subconscious byways. In 2001 she began a series of “ruler drawings,” using a ruler to guide her pencil as the pressure from her hand finds its way across the surface of her paper. This process led to abundant relationships of contiguity, and those relationships often lend themselves to a sense of urbanity.
Hiebert has used the language of mark-making to develop a particular articulation of space. As she has honed this language slowly over the last four years, she has constructed an inhabitable world, line by line, that is both enigmatic and concrete. The titles of these drawings correspond to the days on which they were made and so pull together the coordinates of time and space. The uniqueness of each piece separates slowly from the uniform whole.
In the front room a 10-inch square hangs alone on an expanse of wall. After a moment the vista of a landscape as visible from inside a moving car emerges from memory to meet the coordinates of the drawing’s chance structure. Fragments of lines and squiggles sit in precise spatial relationship to one another and craft an architecture of movement that is both rare and poetic.
“Untitled (a.04.7)” is built up from the lower left hand corner. Its penciled lines convey the trails or trials of the dweller, the back and forth that would make up a day’s work. Then it likewise ends, leaving the evening to open out to a few moments of reticent elation. “Untitled (a.04.3)” is more compact. The comings and goings read as mental; one sequence of thoughts leads to another and then another in dense succession. Some drawings, like “Untitled (a.01.4),” are more idiosyncratic; the marks emerge from the hand rather than from the body. The space they create lies low like a brush landscape, where thistles and tendrils stop us, insisting we take note of their appearance.
Even though they initially recall the tape drawings of Robert Grosvner, with her tape works Hiebert has fashioned a new arena in drawing, one that lies strangely close to the fluidity of a brush. Lines of tape can be cut as thin as a thirty-secondth of an inch, and at any length this material inevitably flops and curves in upon itself, creating lines that move and respond to the force of gravity.
In “Untitled (t.4.24)” the thick tape renders a body in the upper-right corner that seems to fly off, while the thinner tape lines below show the trajectory before takeoff. These cut forms show us the movements of bodies in space, which remain as a gesture in the mind. Latent in these marks is their desire to coalesce into language.
Often there are plan views, as in “Untitled (t.4.44)” or “Untitled (t.4.40).” Sometimes the mass of lines is dense, and between the lines space becomes navigable. Other drawings read as figures rather than the paths Being takes. The thicker tape in “Untitled (t.4.43)” seems like a bird in flight, while what’s below is the language of what has been surveyed. In these new drawings Hiebert’s world has opened up to show us the vistas possible after one has sustained a long climb.
There is something archaic about many of the forms that Hiebert develops in these tape drawings; some even appear childlike, but they are not primitive, and in this sense they distinguish themselves from the modern. The emergence of her sensibility through the cut tape sheds light on a particular aspect of our time, where consciousness must uncover connections that have been severed by the strains of rationality.
In “Untitled (t.4.22)” an archetypal lion figure with legs and hairs electrifies some deep inner sense, making us aware of the simultaneity of Being and location. How things sit in relationship to one another seems to be a real preoccupation of Hiebert, and in her drawing lines are set carefully, just so far and just so near other lines. This precision evokes specific conditions as well as the spaces in which those conditions might occur.
In the vault at Gallery Joe, opposite the tape drawings, a grid of charcoal drawings allows for completely different feelings to surface; in doing so it reveals how crucial material is to the character of Hiebert’s endeavor. There is a range of marks, from the light touch of barely visible traces that slip way back to the soft, dark, and sometimes fuzzy trails that sit right on the paper. In “Untitled (sc.4.7)” dense, overlaid markings in long, mostly rectangular shapes evoke a map of the rooms traversed in a single day with the darkness, the pressure being moments of stress where proximity narrows and temperature rises.
Next to it in “Untitled (sc.4.10)” a dark, wavering line invokes a cardinal moment that overshadows the others when its thick charcoal stance, right and upwards, presides over a series of floating indicators. Then “Untitled (sc.4.5)” opens up vistas again, as in so many of Hiebert’s drawings when we arrive somewhere familiar we have never been before. It’s her ability to sustain contradiction that allows Hiebert to render the density of lightness, unfold the reticence in self-expression, and remain on the edge.
JOAN WALTEMATH is an artist who lives and works in New York City. She writes on art and has served as an editor-at-large of the Brooklyn Rail since 2001. She has shown extensively and her work is in the collections of the Harvard University Art Museums, the National Gallery of Art, the Hammer Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. She is currently the Director of the LeRoy E. Hoffberger School of Painting at MICA.