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James Havard
James Havard demonstrates at Linda Durham Contemporary that spunky codgers can still take the youngins to school—old school—with his effortless, oddball genius.

A Long Draw

We don’t need no stinking pencils

November 26, 2008, 12:00 am

Shake up
When a major international art fair, such as Art Miami, rolls around, and galleries need to adjust the work they plan to take in response to the shifting tides of the economy and the often fickle whimsy of the art world, a little, off-season group exhibition can become kind of mercurial. Some pieces are plucked from the walls and packed into crates—other works must be found to fill the walls. A forced, midshow shake-up, however, isn’t necessarily such a bad thing.

Beyond Graphic: Contemporary Drawing and Works on Paper will not, as the press materials imply, offer viewers a chance to consider Lucien Freud or Julian Opie—these and other works have been carted off to the big show. But what shakes to the surface does so with fresh vigor.

Los Angeles-based artist Kelly McLane’s huge canvas, “Fragile,” oozes her customary oil and graphite hipster fervor in a blue-green oceanic scene populated with dilapidated structures and malproportioned symbolism. Its mysterious assembly of components, styles and colors almost reads arbitrarily enough to make one think she’s pulling your leg. But then the tones and hues begin to work, in concert and in juxtaposition, and begin to erode resistance. The draftsmanship is splendid—cadaverish and carnal suggestions cease to be gimmicky as the skill with which they are executed seeps forward. Remarkable depth pulls the viewer into a central position so the experience is less like regarding a flat representation and more like fitfully experiencing the interior of McLane’s tattered seascape.

Nearby, flower lithographs by Donald Sultan disperse against the wall like dark, cancerous Alka-Seltzers simmering on a greedy tongue.

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s series of sea studies, done as tritone offset lithographs in the late ’80s, read individually as moody gray scale exercises but, placed side by side, are a contemplative series. The careful palette, exercised here to minimal perfection, is likewise used in three large charcoal works by Santa Fe-based Gerry Snyder. Snyder shows his command of the basics with these black-on-white works; each one roils with a tension set between the expansive space created by the composition and the awkward, intimate and odd situations suggested by Snyder’s cartoony populace. The figures are expertly crafted physical manifestations of our fragile, personal mind-sets and social clumsinesses. Happily, they are respectively titled “Guns,” “God” and “Gays.”

Disregard the bland, same-old-same-old prints that poorly represent José Bedia and spend more time with Tony Fitzpatrick’s aggressive heaping of scrawled symbols atop Leviticus’ text, and with Luke Dorman’s drawings and lithographs. Dorman’s “Grimalkin Conflict” is a clever, literary prank of a drawing in which the artist himself is murdered over and over again by cat-headed women.

James Havard’s exhibition does indeed, as its title suggests, Drink the Juice from the Stone. Havard’s work has always done so, in a manner of speaking, pulling, as it does, from Native American and African figurative motifs and styles, but it has been a long time since so much of his work was so well assembled in one go in Santa Fe. In tandem with the book James Havard, the exhibition traces much of the painter’s bold style and catalogues his recent reentry to the studio after a wee mishap involving a coma.

His style is as fluid and unnerving as always, and his comfort with bold, ridiculous lines exudes something of the divinely inspired jester-fool-shaman painter—more often present in our fictions than in a gallery into which one can simply walk.

Havard’s series of “whirliegigs” is apexed by one figurative work with a woman with Puebloan/Princess Leia hair balanced upon a red, footless leg. Her gaze, her frozen movement and the chaos of pain that surrounds her all read like the visual representation of a physics dissertation: James Havard does Dancing Wu Li Masters in a single painting.

Post-coma works on paper occupy a salon-hung niche. The works are as crude, as covetous, as referential, as ingenious as ever. If possible, Havard’s almost-disturbing disregard for common sense with color scaled to even more unlikely heights with the pieces. He innocently pushes our buttons with awful abandon. Nothing he does should work but it all does. Havard paints like a drunk, lusty street fighter and ends up in the museum. When all the artists of his ilk are gone, the world will be a bit more fractured by blandness.

The two exhibitions are radically different but share in common their sense of drawing. Even when the works are paintings or prints, they really are drawings. Both offer a kind of comprehensive glimpse into foundational principles of art-making in a rare and satisfactory way, and through many lenses and time frames. Drawing is not about having pencil, pen or paper but about having a notion of line, a sense of space, a mode of interpretation. For everything that we’ve accomplished since first marking up a stone wall or scrawling in the sand, there remains so little that is so universally moving. From drawing, everything else.

Beyond Graphic: Contemporary Drawings and Works on Paper
Through Jan. 10

Evo Gallery
554 S. Guadalupe St.

Drink the Juice of the Stone
Through Jan. 10

Linda Durham Contemporary Art
1101 Paseo de Peralta


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