MEL KENDRICK Water Drawings


Mel Kendrick was fresh out of Hartford, Connecticut, when he came to New York in the fall of 1971 to study sculpture at Hunter College. Already armed with an undergraduate degree, Kendrick came looking for the conversations that only New York could offer. “When I was 23,” he later remembered, “I went to Max’s Kansas City and would sit in at tables with Richard Serra and Robert Smithson.” But shyness took precedence over ambition, and Kendrick admits that he was “more of a fly on the wall” than an active discussant.

Mel Kendrick, "Double Water Drawing 8/7/13 (A)," 2013. Cast paper with carbon black pigment, 80 × 60 inches.

Instead, he listened diligently, and especially to his teachers. At the time, both Robert Morris and Tony Smith were on Hunter’s faculty and Kendrick eagerly sought their advice. “I’d read everything they’d written,” he said; so it was probably no surprise that neither professor was very interested in talking about the work at hand during classroom critiques: “everything spun off into another subject,” Kendrick recalls. Could it have been otherwise? By 1971, Morris had branched out from solid steel sculpture to flowing felt reliefs and performance art. Five years earlier, Smith had declared that the experience of driving down the then-unfinished New Jersey Turnpike left him thinking: “that’s the end of art.”

In some obvious ways, Kendrick resisted that lesson. His body of sculptural work has always been tenaciously formal and matter-of-fact. A rose is a rose is a rose, and the same is true of Kendrick’s art: it is exactly what it is and nothing more. There are no stories here, no sweeping narratives to piece together. His work makes few, if any, grand claims and relishes in its regionalism. It is both more local than Morris’s meanderings and quieter that Smith’s imposing declarations.

But something of Morris and Smith seems to have slipped in through the back door. Performance art, like driving a car, is marked by the passing of time, and the 20 drawings Kendrick recently showed at the David Nolan Gallery similarly wore their experiences on their paper sleeves. (A single sculpture was also on view, but seemingly as an afterthought.) The seven largest drawings, at around six-and-a-half feet by five feet, were made on three separate trips to the Dieu Donné Papermill in New York in August, October, and November of 2013. The dates on which the drawings were completed, scrawled on the lower right hand corner of the works, tell a clear, if small, origin tale, as if each work were announcing its birthday.

Kendrick nevertheless tries to keep time’s influence at bay. Like Athena from the head of Zeus, these pictures come fully formed, as if there was no gestation. They are not loosely sketched by hand; instead, the black forms were mechanically pressed into wet paper and then set to dry. The final group of depicted shapes rhymes throughout the show: rectilinear outlines, often with an oval cut out of their centers, often surrounded neatly by white paper at the pictures' edges. Repeated throughout, the shapes look as if they were pre-ordained, or mapped out exactly according to specification.

Art takes time and time can fatigue. In one of the November pieces, “Double Water Drawing 11/26/13 (B),” the black pigment is fading, as if the idea has worn itself thin. Perhaps it has; there is certainly too much of the same in these works, even if individual examples, like “Double Water Drawing 10/16/13 (B),” stand out for their interesting idiosyncrasies. (The work is particularly labored, almost frantically so, but it never loses its clarity of design.) The bottom line is that these works pull too liberally from a single well and that a little editing may have gone a long way. That’s the lesson of drawing writ large, which is always more of a preparatory exercise than anything else, a single step between an idea and its final realization. It’s time in order words, made still.


Contributor

Pac Pobric

PAC POBRIC is an art critic and assistant editor for the Platypus Review.

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