"Anatomy of Drawing and Space (Brain Trash)"
The Blanton's exhibit is like being in James Drake's studio and experiencing his two years of daily drawing all at once
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., Dec. 26, 2014
"Anatomy of Drawing and Space (Brain Trash)"The Blanton Museum of Art, 200 E. MLK, 512/471-5482
Through Jan. 4
Ah now, this.
Is almost overwhelming.
When you have an artist who commits to draw every day for two solid years, at the end of those two years you're going to have one hell of a lot of material. Given that sort of program, the artist could be some meagerly talented nephew of yours – your sister's kid, who was always good with the Crayolas – and still the exhibition would be impressive.
In this case, the artist is James Drake, born in Lubbock in 1946 and now Santa Fe-based, whose draftsmanship is mighty and sensitive, and whose focus is anatomy (human or that of other animals) but whose general interests vis-a-vis drawing subjects are diverse and at times arcane.
You know the Blanton Museum of Art's a fancy sort of place. Currently, on the upper level, at the end of the staircase traversing Teresita Fernández's atrium-covering acrylic rhapsody in blue called Stacked Waters, there's the Tate Collection of Latin American art – "La linea continua" – and it's replete with finished, with polished, works. Everything's exquisitely framed and separated into discrete chunks of creation, so many inches between each painting, so much empty space between sculptures. It's lovely stuff, an incredible breadth of a culture's art history there on the walls and atop the pedestals.
But that's not how Drake's work is presented in this "Anatomy of Drawing and Space (Brain Trash)" exhibition on the ground floor, and that's a good part of its impact. All those big sheets of paper, of vellum, of newsprint, of whatever the man drew on for two years: They're pinned directly to the walls as vast unbroken planes of creation, spanning from floor to ceiling, separated only into "chapters" (10 of them) that suggest distinct themes. It's as if a viewer is in the studio with Drake and experiencing the two years of inspired industry all at once. It's like looking at the complex sketchbook of a skilled and serious artist, but the images of this sketchbook are the size of the soaring gallery's walls and they surround you with their stream-of-consciousness rendering (in pencil and pen, in subtly shifting grays and fathomless blacks, in reds as deep as pools of heartsblood) of human figures naked and otherwise, skeletal or enfleshed – and wolves and Komodo dragons and architectural details and scientific formulae and CT brain scans and insects and birds and the corpses of birds and all that wandered within the man's sensorium over 24 months. And letterforms – oh, the sublime calligraphy here!
(I picture Chris Ware, that brilliant cartoonist and draftsman long absconded from Austin, looking at this show at the Blanton and weeping. Weeping for the gobsmacked joy of seeing what he's seeing, and weeping because now how will he ever pick up a drawing instrument again?)
Listen: Among all the superlative sketching and technical linework and design gambits and pattern creation and philosophical textual asides flooding one's field of vision ... do you know how many of the separate pieces that make up this visual juggernaut of a whole ... do you know how many of them would make the perfect album cover for the world's coolest band? Because I lost count. You should go, see this show: You should count. Because this collection counts – as one of the most extraordinary human-created things you can see in town right now.