For quite some time, drawing has been considered the lesser medium, not a medium in itself, but a means to a greater end, a transition medium, let’s say. Fortunately, that is less and less the case. Take for example, Kelly Wallace’s Dead Reckoning at Seraphin Gallery, through October 27.
For Kelly Wallace, drawing is about… well, drawing. His work is about the process and about the connection between medium and surface. As Wallace’s work demonstrates, no other medium affords such levity, immediacy and simplicity to thrive unencumbered. There is no artifice, and there are no excessive embellishments in his drawings. If I were to describe Wallace’s works in two words, I would say controlled momentum. Wallace allows drawing to speak and to develop; the lead to layer; and the surface to absorb.
In my view, Wallace strikes the right balance between control, precision and momentum. Varying from as small as 8”x13” to an impressive 56”x91” six-panel composition, Kelly Wallace’s drawings are the product of an investigation into the drawing process. As I learned on my visit to the gallery, this process – of discovering and perfecting the right balance between medium and surface – took him many years. Using pencil lead or archival ink, his heavily layered, complex drawings are created on very thick paper mounted on birch panels or on marble-gesso prepared surfaces. The drawings are pristine and precise, and they seem calculated, yet the images are never edited, and are largely composed in the moment, driven by intuition alone.
Wallace relieves his drawings of the burden of creating with a specific narrative in mind. At a first look, the drawings appear to be depictions of rubble, trash, and dirt, or vast landscapes of devastation. On closer inspection, it becomes more apparent that the imagery is there to support the act of drawing, almost as a prop: subject and medium exchange roles. The almost unrecognizable and largely imagined landscapes reveal the artist’s power of intuition as well as his control. In some of his drawings, such as Level Grounds, he uses only vertical lines, which demonstrates the his wish to push the act of drawing to its limits by restraining his actions and options as much as possible. This meticulous and well thought out practice, creates a stunning duality in his drawings whose results are images that are extremely detailed and precise, but elusive: they evade any particular description. The eye of the viewer constantly moves around, absorbed by the variety and multitude of lines, while the mind wanders, searching for something recognizable, for a suggested meaning.
Wallace’s drawings put you in a state of suspense at first, but manage to force you to rest and absorb each line and each shape. As I walked away, I was pleased that there is no narrative, nor must there always be one; drawing itself was enough. The precision and unusual control of the artist’s practice is what allows for that liberty of not having to engage by means of prescribed content or tell a story. The process is the subject, the medium is the hero.
For galleries, showing works on paper is a challenge: they do not sell as well, they are hard to store, the number of interested collectors is painfully small. Showing works on paper, and especially drawing, is not for the faint of heart nor for anyone too concerned with popularity. Drawing is not just a secondary medium anymore, but as with anything, it takes a long time for viewers to become comfortable with something that is not mainstream. People are followers, and people are crowd pleasers. I applaud Seraphin Gallery, and other galleries alike in Philadelphia, for stepping out of their comfort zone and away from the too often stale standard repertoire. I am glad that there are idealists still out there. The art world needs them.
Images courtesy of Seraphin Gallery.