by Will Whitney
Facts & Fictions
THE DRAWING CENTER | APRIL 6 – AUGUST 12, 2018
Terry Winters once told photographer Adam Fuss, “The boundaries of the natural and the artificial aren’t so distinct.”1 In the Drawing Center’s Terry Winters: Facts & Fictions, Winters hammers that point home. Featuring seventy-eighty drawings spanning from the 1980s to the present, the exhibition examines Winters’s history, his belief in linking abstraction with the real world, and challenging the perceptions around the two. However, rather than presenting the drawings as a retrospective, Claire Gilman’s curation emphasizes the morphological relationships between the works across time. This approach adds another layer to the exhibition, demonstrating the drawings’ ability to mimic and depict real-life images just long enough for them to be captured by the human eye.
Winters’s work is rooted in the artist’s ability to conjure images of the outside world while balancing the ambiguity of an abstract drawing. Gilman quotes French critic Alain Badiou in her catalogue essay when she notes, “a true Drawing is not a copy of something. It is a constructive deconstruction of something and much more real than the initial thing.”2 In Winters’s early work, that constructive deconstruction is clear; Botanical Subject (1981), for instance, features a charcoal and chalk drawing of two different plant bulbs hanging suspended in the air. Challenging the image, each bulb extends its presence from the middle outward. Winters has drawn a charcoal line connected to the left bulb, stopping just short of the top of the paper, while the remaining bulb’s charcoal darkness seems to have expanded slowly but steadily to encompass a short circumference around the nucleus of the drawing. The image subsequently dissolves into abstraction the more time one spends with it, Winters’s work shines in this middle ground, where it remains within the realm of the real while subsequently acknowledging that this “potential picture” is in fact an abstract drawing. Winters’s work represents images, yet only sparingly and with no admission, as if questioning what constitutes the difference between a photograph and a drawing.
While in his earlier work the subjects are discernible—seemingly semi-formed before their plunge into abstraction—his more mature drawings flip the script, offering flashes of real-life imagery within rampant abstractions. Untitled (1) (1999) is reminiscent of a vortex or a typhoon, yet the mixture of the lines—red, blue, black, yellow, green—appears both ominous and inviting, like the eye of a storm. Linking Graphics 2 (1999) and Scattering Conditions (1998) are both comparable to dot-matrix imagery, while also featuring sections of the work that stand out from the cohesiveness of the work itself.
Winters has an affinity for math and science. These fields are not usually considered companions to art—especially abstract painting—but Winters sees them as related. In a 2017 interview with Claire Gilman he said, “In both cases one takes information from the world and out of this creates another possible world.”3His method of taking and modifying found images, typically of technical manuals or internet code, and using them as a model to tweak, feels scientific. These found images represent the mixture of abstraction and human identity, remaining tethered to our understanding of data but also challenging what our minds acknowledge as a “picture.”
Facts & Fictions is designed to highlight the challenges that Winters’s work presents and to question everything that viewers take for granted. As the lines blur between actual objects and abstractions, Winters’s work questions why there has to be a distinction in the first place.
- Terry Winters, “Conversation with Adam Fuss,” in Terry Winters: Computation of Chains, New York: Matthew Marks Gallery, 1997.
- Alain Badiou “drawing” Lacian ink 28 (2006), 42; quoted in Terry Winters: Facts and Fictions
- Claire Gilman, “Terry Winters: Facts & Fictions,” Drawing Papers, Vol. 135, New York: The Drawing Center, 2018, p 13.
Will Whitney is writer who lives and works in New York.