Bold new exhibit makes The Mark at Hera Gallery
By Kate Williamson
WAKEFIELD- By setting pen to paper, brush to canvas, tool to clay, any artist- in fact, any human- leaves a mark, changing the world forever. Hera Gallery's brilliant new exhibit, "The Mark,"examines that impulse to set down the sign that indicates nothing more or less profound than, "I was here."
It's a topic that speaks very strongly to artists, who spend their whole lives, in a sense, making marks.
"I thought it was a topic that was interesting to artists no matter what type of medium they use," said gallery director Katherine Veneman. "Basically the building blocks of any visual language are marks."
"I think it was pretty accessible for a lot of artists," said kinetic sculptor Christy Georg, of Boston, whose sculpture "Wait/Hate (for Nauman)" appears in the show.
Georg was one of the 26 artists from around the country whose work was chosen by juror Anne Rocheleau to be included int he exhibit. It's a diverse, arresting collection of art, ranging from huge pen-and-inks bearing unreadable pseudeo-writing to vivid paintings, a curl of sculpture in felt and wire, and Georg's mechanical sculpture.
"Wait/Hate (for Nauman)," like many kinetic sculptures, is delightful because it is so accessible, but the work has depth, too. The viewer turns a crank on the sculpture, punching a set of typewriter keys that spell out "WAIT" and causing a connected metal set of fingers to drum out a smudgy "HATE" on an advancing roll of paper.
Although the hand makes its mark on the paper, Georg said, "The paper that falls to the floor is the mark, rather than the marks made by the hand."
It's fun to work the sculpture. But the piece also has a sinister edge that forces the viewer to examine the value of individual marks: imagine typing "HATE" onto a typewriter over and over again. The piece, one of the only ones in the show that works with legible text, shows how the simple act of mark-making becomes more complicated once marks gain unavoidable meaning.
Brooklyn artist Douglas Navarra also incorporates text into his work. But he writes nothing himself: instead, his three gouache and pencil works from his Deed Americana series incorporate old 18th century manuscripts, on which he has painted bery flat, colorful cube-shapes.
"I think what happened was that I became interested in the actual surface I was drawing on," said Navarra of the genesis of the series. "I was in the store one day and this one person had a packet of paper with writing on it from Nepal. I fell in love with it."
Obviously, with such a surface material, Navarra's work embraces the historical aspect of mark-making, the way that one inevitably makes marks over the marks made by another.
His painting gives the old documents new meaning, while subverting whatever original meaning they had-it's hard to remember what's a business document and what's a letter. Between the paint and the text, though, they draw the eye and present multiple layers of meaning for the viewer.
"It's kind of a layer, putting on this contemporary stuff- you're inevitably going to infringe on the past, but you hope to do it in a compositionally intersesting manner," said Navarra. "I want to embellish history, not to cover it with gobbledy gook. The trick is not to overpaint."
Like many of the other artists, Navarra enjoyed the theme of this show.
"It was an interesting concept. Drawing is a means of making a mark on a work of paper... for me, the mark is what's already on the paper," he said.
The exhibit is full of strong, engrossing pieces such as Navarra's and Georg's. However, one work stood out: Mexico City artist Georgeanne Gonzalez's monumental "Man and the Other Side of Man." The work, an art book, incorporates pages upon pages of evocative tears, string, seals, earthen materials, copper wires and other bits and pieces of the world.
Gonzalez worked on the book for ten years. Initially, she planned to explore Octavio Paz's poems from his book Monkey Grammarian and Chinese calligraphy. She later incorporated her ideas surrounding anthropology and ancient art.
"In creating 'Man and the Other Side of Man,' I developed a set of images and ideas: among them, man's mark, or seal; rivers, roads, threads and words, that servce as passages; light, wind and earth; numbers and time. These are images that evoke an intimate and primal response," said Gonzalez in her artist's statement.
The book must be handled with white gloves. That precaution, which was made to protect the fragile pages, lends a quiet grace to the piece, and to the whole exhibition. Marks, those things which commemorate life and will, deserve special treatment.