Pared to its essence, drawing is the act of making a mark. “Seven: A Performative Drawing Project,” at Montserrat College of Art, puts as much emphasis on the action as it does on the result.
The fizzy, occasionally daring exhibition gives each of the seven walls of Montserrat Gallery to an artist for a week. Visitors can witness the artist at work; that’s what makes each drawing a performance. Up this week: David Teng Olsen, known for his fabulously detailed, cartoony works that insert figures into bustling abstractions.
When I visited last week, Autumn Ahn had recently finished her mural (they’re all untitled) via video chat from Paris. Ahn directed collaborator Amanda Antunes in a performance, painting a gesturalaltarpiece akin to black stage curtains around a video projection of a performance by Ahn dipping her hands in pigment and painting. The mural expertly explores the immediacy of mark-making over distance, and communication through, as Ahn put it in a video chat with me, a physical avatar.
John Gonzalez painted a simple square on the wall in white, and then in nearly 50 layers, went through shades of gray until he had a black square. His mural and Ahn’s read more like relics of a performance than paintings you want to spend time with. The gallery has cleverly recorded the creation of each work in revelatory stop-motion short videos, an especially necessary step for these two artists, but eye-opening for the others, as well.
Alexa Guariglia’s ambitious beast of a painting writhes with tangled calligraphic swoops and loops that end in hands. The video of her at work surprised me: She painted what I took to be the first step, a red ground, last. PercyFortini-Wright’s cheeky mural straddles street art and fine art; made with spray paint and structures the artist brought in, it was a quicker process than Guariglia’s.
Andy Bablo, a graphic artist, and illustrator Allison Cole started with sketches on the computer, which have manifested boldly in vinyl and paint. Bablo fashions the numeral seven in shards of color. It spills onto the floor in tiny black squares, which reflect Gonzalez’s big black square, made weeks later. Cole’s portrait of a diamond-eyed girl with black hair filled with flowers is wonderfully confrontational at such a large scale, yet still sweet.
With such different styles, “Seven” feels refreshingly democratic, and holds together aesthetically with everyone’s dramatic use of black. That’s sheer coincidence. But its sense of immediacy and spontaneity is no coincidence, nor the frisson of not knowing what will happen when that next mark is made.
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SEVEN’s next Artist Reception is this Thursday (7/25, 4-6pm) with David Teng Olsen