Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Process, Time, Titles and Leonardo Drew

Leonardo Drew, No. 33A, 1999, Canvas, metal boxes, oxidized metal, rust, shoes, wire
99 x 96 x 22 inches, Cardboard, In the collection of the McNay Art Museum.

Leonardo Drew, Close-up view of No. 123, cardboard, cast Elmer's Glue, feathers, paint, paper, plastic, rope, string and wood. Installation.

Many of you are familiar with the work of artist Leonardo Drew who has recently relocated to San Antonio or splits time between Brooklyn and San Antonio. The University of Houston's Blaffer Gallery hosted a mid-career survey of his work this summer beginning in May and ending August 15. It was late in the exhibition when I visited the exhibition, prompted by artist friend, Ellen Hart. She was taken with his work and knowing what I have been doing recently, thought I would be too. She was right. I loved his work. I wish my visit would have been earlier in the summer because I am sure I would have revisited several times. Below is one of his installations.

Below: No. 28, 1992 Rust and canvas
Existed: Leonardo Drew, the exhibition, curated by gallery director and chief curator Claudia Schmuckli, included a major installation created in the gallery space, 14 major sculptures made between 1991 and 2005, and 12 works on paper made between 2005 and 2008. These pieces together present a representative survey of Drew's artistic development and point to the relevance of the direction the work is taking today. (paraphrased from the Blaffer Gallery web-site announcement.)

After looking at the whole exhibition I was struck with enormity of tedious labor it must require to make each work considering the scale and multiplicity of each piece. Khrystah Gorham, gallery assistant pictured below, said that because Drew feels that manual labor is really the heart of his work, he prefers to do all the labor himself, rather than hiring assistants to build the components.
An example---No.43 (1994) pictured in the Houston Press article, is made up of 880 hand-built boxes, each stuffed with rust-dusted and twisted scraps of fabric, sometimes trailing out or stretched over sealing them.
Works on paper of molded and pressed papers
Gallery assistant Khrystah Gorham

Above and below are some of the smaller pieces in this exhibition. More intimate and perhaps more poetic than the larger pieces, these hold their own with the larger work.
Rust, molded paper, wood, nails, rusted metals, raw cotton, preserved and stuffed dead birds are just some of the "stuff" Drew uses as art materials. Paper molded into tiny cubes are essential parts of these smaller works on paper along with string, even a pencil line here and there. Below the objects hanging from tied and twisted ropes are made of molded paper. "Ethereal, ghost-like immateriality, a sense of meditation" are just some words and phrases used in describing his sculptural pieces.

No. 94 2005, Cast paper, found objects, paint, rust; 153 x 144 x 12 inches
Curtesy of Skkema Jenkis & Co. I don't have the titles for the pieces pictured below.

I can't post about Leonardo Drew's work and not mention his use of numbers as titles in light of Joanne Mattera's interesting recent post discussion regarding titling of work earlier this summer. For me, his use of numbers as titles fits perfectly with the formally abstract compositions. The numbered titles designate and help one keep track but never get in the way. The work has such strength and "metaphorical weight" that a worded title would seem like mere window dressing.

No. 26, 1992 Canvas, rust, wood 120 x 168 x 6 inches Private Collection, New York

So, what do I like so much about his work? I like
crude, unpolished materiality of the work; the ritual-like repetitive process involved in the making of the work; the strength and emotional impact of the larger pieces and of course the "visual poetry" of the smaller works on paper.
The way his work takes us back to the past with empathy and dignity is a plus.

Leonardo Drew, No. 123, 2007, Installation view with Gallery assistant Adam Varner
This installation is comprised of materials that he employed and developed throughout his career then turned into little sculptures and attached in grid-like fashion, directly to the wall of the gallery.

The exhibition was accompanied by a comprehensive monograph, the first on this artist, published by Giles Ltd., London, featuring essays by Blaffer Director and chief curator Claudia Schmuckli and Allen S. Weiss, Associate Adjunct Professor of Performance and Cinema Studies at New York University.

All images posted in this blog were taken by me at the gallery. You can go to Drew's web site or the gallery's web site for better images of his work. Click on the links provided below for more written information about Drew.
To see videos of Drew working and in conversation click here and scroll down to the bottom of the page for the links.

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  1. Wow, Gwen, this is fabulous! I've never heard of him but I love this work. Thank you so much for posting it. I'll check out his website, etc. I love the first image you posted of his work with all the stuff hanging out of it - great!

  2. Nancy, Like you, I was unfamiliar with this artist's work I was surprised about that considering the work's strength and impact. His work is very rich and memorable. Some of his pieces I loved more than others but there were none that I could just dismiss. Thanks to Claudia Schmuckli and Blaffer Gallery at University of Houston for bringing his work to Houston.

  3. Gwen, I've never heard of this artist either, but I love the work - thank you so much for sharing this. I love his sensitivity to materials and exquisite sense of balance and rhythm.

  4. I loved it so much that I bought the book on "Existed" on Amazon. I was able to get a brand new book from a used book seller. What a fabulous body of work and so consistent over the past 15+ years. Thanks again, Gwen.

  5. I forgot to put in the link to Joanne Mattera's blog post about titles. Here is the link below.

  6. This work is fantastic, I love it. What a great show, would love to see his work. I will look up his website.

  7. Gwen,
    Thanks for this post (and for the blog mention). I remember seeing Drew's work about a decade ago at Mary Boone (on 57th St.). At the time I remember thinking, "The love child of Agnes Martin and Richard Serra, conceived in a junk yard." The order. The rust. The materiality. The beauty of the handmade and humble.

    Since then he has popped up regularly in New York, most recently at Sikkema Jenkins, and at the art fairs, where is is shown at the booth of Finesilver Gallery, San Antonio and Houston.

  8. Yes, Martin and Serra---I can see that. I don't know where I have been not known about him and his work all this time.


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