Carmel Buckley and Joel Fisher at Aisle
“Set yourself to practice drawing, drawing only a little each day, so that you may not come to lose your taste for it, or get tired of it…Do not fail, as you go on, to draw something every day, for no matter how little it is, it will be well worth while, and will do you a world of good.”
– Cennino d’Andrea Cennini, Il Libro Dell’Arte, 1435
While the role of art and the visual artist in society have undergone dramatic shifts since the Quattrocento, the practice of drawing, and the special significance it holds as the exploratory medium for the development of thought and form is, for many contemporary artists, still as de rigueur as it was in Cennino’s time. This vision of drawing as daily affirmation is currently and elegantly stated by the work of two sculptors whose drawings are now on view as Nature’s Stain at Aisle. The images of Carmel Buckley and Joel Fisher are a complementary pair. If their aims and interests as artists are divergent it is not at the expense of an exhibition that is tightly conceived and skillfully executed. Cool and composed, but never detached, Fisher and Buckley’s work each possesses the rare ability to compensate for the weaknesses of the other. Buckley’s contributions to the show are sometimes uneven and range from the exceptional to the middle of the road; whereas Fisher’s work is more consistent overall, if occasionally less adventurous.
Carmel Buckley, a native of Derby, England and Associate Professor at The Ohio State University is most firmly invested in the mark. Her pieces in Nature’s Stain make profound use of small, repeated strokes of the pen that are in constant dialogue with the work of early 20th century Irish illustrator and craftsman Harry Clarke. While the imagery in the pieces that make up Buckley’s Untitled #1 (2010), a swirling mass of ink on paper, is a dead ringer for Clarkes’s illustration to Edgar Allen Poe’s Into the Maelstrom, the basis of her other pictures are less clear. This may be partly due to the relative obscurity of Clarke’s illustrations for The Fairy Tales of Perrault as compared to those of Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Yet foreknowledge of the source images adds very little to the visual experience of the work. At best, these drawings can be described less as an appropriation, and more as a distillation; an echo of the original, maintaining the substance but transforming the meaning, and standing firmly on their own merits.
Buckley’s interest in the accretion of mark serves the work best when it is pushed the furthest. In Nature’s Stain, Buckley often falls back on a compositional device that places her figures in the center of the support. As a result, several of the works on view, particularly when closely grouped and not as obsessively touched, tend to blur together, appearing to lack any significant attributes that make them distinct from one another. However, when her mark making is concentrated and highly involved, several of these pieces are able overcome their compositional monotony as in the remarkable Untitled #25. An achromatic feast for the senses, Untitled #25 vibrates with a visual intensity born of a serious commitment to the medium that declares itself not as the product of theory or exercise, but as fact.
Equally forceful, Untitleds #12, #15, and to a lesser extent Untitled #13, explore asymmetry and unanticipated weight distribution, and as such look vastly more dynamic and agile in comparison to many of the other works on view. The relationships between figure and ground in these pieces are visually more complex and spatially less ambiguous. Aided by a simple complementary approach to color harmony, these are Buckley’s strongest and are among the most sophisticated works in the show.
Generally more even, the work of Joel Fisher stands as an astute, dignified counterpoint to the more animated work of Buckley. Whereas Buckley’s work is highly engaged with mark, Fisher’s is equally immersed in line. Fisher starts his Apographs with handmade paper and carefully transcribes imagery from fragments of thread that serve as line embedded within the sheets. This approach fuses media and surface into a unified whole while opening up a contradictory (and provocative) sense of space that proceeds to deny the flatness of the work’s construction.
Fisher’s sense of line is direct and playful. In the eight works that make up Apographs 2-9 graceful lines merge and overlap at times closing into shapes that are often suggestive of the figure. Additionally, this octet resonates favorably with the early biomorphic surrealism of Arp and Miro. In Apographs 27 and 28, the relationship to the body is considerably more direct and these excavated figures are transposed into human scale wall drawings composed, appropriately enough, with handmade paper. While perhaps interesting in their own right, the nimble, refined style of Fisher’s line is lost in translation and these wall pieces never truly feel a part of the exhibition as a whole.
In Untitled #19, Fisher presents a series of five soft ground etchings that begin with a fragment of line that, over the course of the five images, gradually closes in on itself, until by the fifth image we are offered a shape that bears a resemblance to something like a maple leaf. The first three of the series are first rate works; the final two, however, are more problematic. By the time the viewer reaches the fourth part, the printed line, while not closed, is close enough to its starting point for the observer to mentally close the gap. At this point two things happen: the line, at first aimless and flowing, assumes the character of a contour and loses its individual identity as it delineates edge. As the line establishes itself as shape, the shape begins to pull away from its support (again, handmade paper) and advance towards the viewer. Once this is firmly set in, the once vague and challenging spatial relationships begin to define themselves clearly as figure and ground, or specifically as fore, middle, and background. This effect places the final two images in a firmly conventional sense of space, in a manner that the previous three are not.
Carmel Buckley and Joel Fisher’s two person show presents a focused insight into the process of the artist, and firmly asserts the continued relevance of drawing (however that may be defined) to the serious contemporary practitioner. Their work not only establishes dialogue with their respected interests, but perhaps most importantly with each other, allowing the viewer a thoughtful opportunity to appreciate their differences, and yet draw fruitful connections between the two. Well worth the trip, Nature’s Stain at Aisle is a welcome respite from the typically unfertile landscape of summer exhibitions.
– Alan D. Pocaro
Nature’s Stain on view until August 20th at Aisle Gallery, 424 Findlay Street (3rd Floor), Cincinnati, Ohio. M-F 1:00-4:00 or by appointment, 513-241-3403.