When Less Is More
Judith Foosaner gets fussy, and loses impact.
Thursday, July 31, 2003
The new exhibition of graphic works by San Francisco Bay Area artist Judith Foosaner at the Carl Cherry Center for the Arts in Carmel illustrates an alienating hermeticism that discourages involvement.
After taking her advanced degree in Art at UC Berkeley in the late 1960s, Foosaner settled into the Bay Area art scene, teaching at both Berkeley and Oakland''s College of Arts and Crafts. She has exhibited over the years in San Francisco at the Wenger Gallery, William Sawyer Gallery, Jeremy Stone Gallery and Don Soker Gallery, as well as several noted galleries in southern California. Her well crafted graphic work has been in numerous national exhibitions, especially ones focusing on drawing.
In this show, called Selected Works, Foosaner has reduced her "palette" to just line, a singular domain ripe with potential. Her spontaneous gestural lines--black and shades of gray, and a suggested depth of field--pull the viewer into the drama of relationships. But she negates its power in most works by cutting them into small rectangles, then reconfiguring the myriad pieces into large, grid-like works. The fragments of lines are inviting; one wants to marvel up close at their warm and energetic characteristics. But the artist slams the door shut with a cool paste-up of fragments. It''s dense, distancing and disconcerting, and, ultimately, tiresome.
The failure of the reassemblies is best seen when compared to the relative success of the unaltered line drawings. In these, the artist isn''t really drawing anything in particular, but making marks on paper.
These meandering lines have an urgency to them as the line seems to meet, variously, unseen obstacles and electric fields that cause changes in direction, reversals, excited passages. In "Risky Business" and "Untitled," a worthy companion piece, Foosaner employs much negative space, giving the line''s journey across the paper almost heroic qualities as it advances, stops, regroups, shudders, advances, and moves on with taut directness.
Each of these types of graphic works is a record, a diary, of the moment. Every calligraphic twist and turn, every burnished smear, represents the artist in the process of directing a flux of energy to paper; the drawing tools are the divining rod as the artist seeks to find the magic. In these, the magic is, unquestionably, there.
Other unaltered works, "Darkness at Noon" and "Tresspass," for example, offer complex jungles of lines in various degrees of definition. Foosaner rubs the paper''s surface to create warm tones that evoke spatial depth; she works the edges of gesture marks to suggest volume within the lines, resembling the roundness of stems or the suppleness of blades of grass.
These jungles, with their archways of skittery lines and snarls of "undergrowth," engage not only because of the effusive energy, but because a spatial environment is established. Foosaner has created locales of emotion, places where the elements come together, where the eye walks through, foreground to background and back, imbibing the heightened drama in each area.
Unfortunately, there are too few of these in this exhibition, and too many of the reassemblies. Foosaner (or the unnamed curator) has forsaken the engaging experience of automatic drawing for the random effects of line drawing fragments broken into rectangles. The all-over patterning of the reassembled parts works the flatness of the grid against the vitality of the gesture.
In "Collide" and "Jump Start," two large works, one sees the cutting up and reassembly in full force. In rectangle after rectangle, the line marks struggle for autonomy but are everywhere severed for the general effect. That effect is one of balance, chance rhythms, impact, and, ultimately, stasis.
One suspects that the world Foosaner mastered with her unaltered graphics was felt somehow insufficient. One thinks of Jasper Johns'' comment, "Take an object and do something to it, then do something else to it." Thus, Foosaner takes her graphic works and does something to them--with scissors.
With the emphasis on line and gesture applied spontaneously, automatically, Foosaner works in the modernist idiom where her marks, her actions, her thinking and feeling are sacrosanct. The tradition of the abstract expressionists--the lone hero facing both the empty canvas and post-World War II existential demons--is the path upon which she treads. Like other artists within this tradition, Foosaner weaves her visual tale using her personal dialect, building on one personal breakthrough or concern after another, until the artistic expression is oblique and self-referencing.
And if you haven''t been following the artist''s process for years, you''re left out.
Judith Foosaner''s Selected Works opens Friday with a 5pm reception at the Carl Cherry Center.