Drawn to Bodies: A Review

On the first floor of Zephyr Gallery, a replica of Jackie Onassis’s pink Chanel suit hangs against a white wall. The Beuys-esque ensemble—a skirt, jacket, shirt, and two pillbox hats—is cut from dyed canvas, evidenced by its rough seams and frayed edges. Accentuated by gallery lights, the suit’s strawberry-neon colorant is uneven and marked by streaks. On the adjacent wall, artist Aaron Skolnick has continued his installation by mounting over forty abstracted portraits of Onassis. The works are based on popular news photographs from the day her husband, former president John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. While some portraits are rendered in watercolor and graphite, one image is composed of fuchsia lipstick; each kiss imprint is strategically placed to create Onassis’s lips and hair. Skolnick’s reductive process results in an almost unrecognizable figure—Onassis’s hands, face, and suit appear to melt into biomorphic forms.

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Aaron Skolnick, Forever and Supremely Someone Else, 2016 Photo by Sarah Lyon

Upstairs, Drawn to Bodies features the work of Georgia Henkel, Jay Bolotin, and Martin Beck. Henkel’s small mixed-media drawings are constructed from domestic vestige—in lieu of canvas, she works from the bed linens of her former marriage. Using blueberries and beets, Henkel interrupts the diaphanous fabric with purple, pink, and blue pockmarks; these shapes give way to faces, bruises, genitalia, intestines, and scars. Land Swimming (2016) shifts between stain, landscape, and sexual encounter. In Henkel’s retrospection, blots of organic matter morph into surreal scenes that depict bodies or body parts interacting with one another.

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Georgia Henkel. Land Swimming, 2016. Photo by Elizabeth Ann Smith

Henkel’s works are akin to a Rorschach inkblot test and require extended time to observe the subtle charcoal and graphite drawings sketched on top of stains. Ablution (2016) is produced from two inconspicuous brown and blue saturations—the most constructed of Henkel’s figures. An androgynous face stares longingly from the bed linen background, its eyebrows painted to convey a forlorn expression. The subject’s pursed red lips, ghostly complexion, and prominent cheek scar are hauntingly corpse-like. Indeed, each of Henkel’s figures—whether documented through portrait or body part—is an apparition.

While Drawn to Bodies revolves around traditions of realism, Curator Stuart Horodner notes that the selected artists have oriented their works to demonstrate an often clandestine process—that of “making.” This is evidenced through the installation of Bolotin’s drawings, prints, and video animation, which visually trace his creative output. Crumpled drawing paper, scribbled notes, and various images of hands, faces, torsos, houses, and animals lead to The Silence of Professor Tösla (2016) (produced in collaboration with Ilan Stavians.) Text interrupts the video’s animation sequences, documenting correspondences between Stavians and Bolotin: “Dear Ilan. Here is a possible opening sequence (the visual) as promised. For me, a motion picture is 50% sound (including music.) So, half is missing here.”

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Jay Bolotin, Drawing Installation, 2016 Photo by Sarah Lyon

In its totality, Bolotin’s installation pulls apart narrative storytelling—only pieces of his processes and figurative characters are displayed to the viewer. These conceptual and visual components successfully merge the exhibition’s two themes. While the installations that comprise Drawn to Bodies give subtle clues into their artists’ process, Bolotin is the only artist to use his work as documentation.

Drawn to Bodies asks its audience to view the work of each artist through their respective processes, yet the majority of works appear complete rather than in a state of creation. Through its studio-aesthetic, the exhibition hints at its artists’ methods but only once demonstrates the act of “making.” Drawn to Bodies, however, cleverly succeeds in its quest to explicate and question what it means to be human—the ways in which iconography can be manipulated and how trauma and loss may prompt introspection.

Project 14: Drawn to Bodies runs through October 22, 2016.

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