The bold sweeping black thrusts of paint that Franz Kline used in his paintings seem so brutal, eruptive and spontaneous. Yet, this Abstract Expressionist carefully composed the massive black swaths that are the hallmark of his work.
Kline layered white over black over white over black until he filled a shallow space with pent up energy to his satisfaction. The brashness feels American even if the space owes as much to his youthful esteem for Japanese prints and the general interest in Zen in Greenwich Village in the 1950s.
Kline (1910-1962) based his painting on studies, usually done in ink. He did lots of them on newspapers and telephone books as well as on paper. Ink drawings on all of these supports can be found in the 20-work show, "Franz Kline: Ink Drawings," at the McKee Gallery in New York. The pieces date from 1946 to 1960.
The show begins with an example of Kline's earlier figurative style in a self-portrait from 1946. Around 1949, according to Elaine de Kooning (Kline had met Elaine and Willem de Kooning in 1943 through his next-door neighbor, Conrad Marca-Relli), Kline saw one of his figurative drawings projected through a Bell-Opticon device. That freed him to drop representation and turn to abstraction and the heroic-scaled paintings for which he is known.
Kline's first thoughts were brushed onto paper torn from telephone books or pages of newspaper, like an untitled work on a sheet of telephone directory from around 1952. You can see the advertisement for National Cash Register turned upside down. He would rework the ink sketches freehand on a small scale, then enlarge them into paintings.
Does the oil and ink Study for Crow Dancer (ca. 1958) hint at a figurative idea or is Kline simply working out an abstraction? Whatever he's doing, it's a fascinating work that captures the artist's hand thinking, judging and plowing on.
Kline used color rarely with his blacks and whites. When he did, it was often in delicate pastel shades. His sympathetic use of such hues is echoed is the way he allows odd oil stains and brush scrapes to inhabit his drawings along with his dynamic black marks. An untitled piece from 1960 exemplifies his use of collage and bits of color to arrive at a drawing filled with a lush exuberance. It is a bit more controlled in feeling than usual and achieves a Zen-like, asymmetrical balance. (Although none are included in the current show, Kline did use bold, bright colors in a few late works, both large and small.)
It's rare for a gallery to take so much trouble in assembling a museum-quality selection of work like this, especially when none of the pieces is for sale. If you haven't been to McKee already, pounce.
"Franz Kline: Ink Drawings," through Apr. 20 at McKee, 745 Fifth Avenue.
Kline's ink-on-paper Study for Steeplechase from 1959, part of a group show on view at C & M Gallery, 45 East 78th Street, until the middle of April, is priced at $145,000.
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"Marlene Dumas: Name No Names," a traveling exhibition now at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, surveys the career to date of this exciting and fearless draughtsman. Born in Capetown, South Africa, and now living and working in Amsterdam, Dumas questions ideas about gender, sexuality, race and even motherhood.
Dumas bases her drawings on photographs, some from magazines and newspapers and some her own shots of friends and acquaintances. She works up ink and ink wash and/or watercolor drawings, adding pencil, chalk, crayon, oil, acrylic or bits of collage where she wants. Her dark, seemingly hastily applied washes puddle like those of Emil Nolde but contain none of his bright colors. Dumas' works are appropriately dark, as they probe the deeper recesses of the mind.
Dumas also has a great sense of humor and dissed the art world in early pieces like I Won't Pose for Mr. Salle (1988), one of eight works from the series "Defining the Negative" (none of which are here, unfortunately). What is here is an extensive look at her individual drawings and one of her most important series, "Blacks" (1991-2), which numbers 111 drawings and a slate.
"Blacks" is a series of faces with features that seem to melt and recongeal at different times. The morphing never ceases, the overlay of one physical part of the face with another reflecting the turbulent evolution of the mind and spirit underneath. This dazzling study of "the other" was not possible, according to the artist, until she left South Africa. Certainly race is something she has meditated about in other work, as in the powerful Mask for a White Man Entering a Black Area (1980-88). But her build-ups of catalogues of faces in various large series are her greatest achievements to date.
The six faces of "Mixed Blood" teen-agers (1996) were made for a show in Japan, where racial purity is much prized. This provocative gesture underscores the impossibility of defining a standard racial type, just as "Blacks" did earlier.
"Names No Names," organized by the Centre Pompidou in Paris, claims to be the first museum show by the artist in the U.S. Well, I guess you could classify the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston as a kunsthalle instead, but I first saw Dumas's work there last April, where "Marlene Dumas: 100 Models and Endless Rejects" displayed drawings from her "Models" series of 100 female faces mixing features taken from celebrities, historical figures, friends and some culled from a book on the insane. Dumas is nothing if not inclusive.
Her inclusiveness is echoed in her "Rejects" series. Whatever faces she chooses not to include in "Models," an ongoing work limited to 100 subunits, she puts in "Rejects." Some of these were heavily reworked and torn, but every one of them was fascinating. Together, they were even more haunting. Of course, these "rejects" appearing on the walls of a museum, er, kunsthalle, ended up not really being rejects at all.
What establishes Dumas as a major artist, besides her wit and imagination, is her humanistic embrace of the less valued, the rejected and the unexamined, and she does it within a conceptual framework. She is willing to ponder each one of us to see what makes up our identity and how we assign an identity to each other.
Dumas's Barbie, the Original (1997) asks "The original what?" Dumas has investigated how sexuality, oppression and torture collide in "Names No Names" (2001). She has questioned the role of the female nude in post-feminist art extensively in her work.
She has taken on male sexuality in Pink Erection and Male Nipples (both 1998) and X-plicit (1999). Becoming a mother herself, Dumas has created both fresh, sweetly appreciative baby drawings and sheets like Baby Eating Its Own Tail (1989).
Whether rethinking religion as in Jesus Is Boos (Jesus Is Cross) (1983) or contemplating Travolta and Marlene as Babies (1989), the unexpected results are something no art lover will want to miss.
"Marlene Dumas: Name No Names," through June 2, 2002, at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, 583 Broadway.
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Separated widely in time and space are drawings in two shows that could be included in the Pattern & Decoration movement of the 1970s when works were built on overlapping designs and lots of color. Right now, ironically, they are appearing in galleries only a few blocks apart in SoHo.
A group of drawings from the last five years made by the "Women of Bihar" is currently at the Phyllis Kind Gallery. The 20 artists come from remote farming villages in North Bihar, a region formerly called Mithila, bounded by the Himalayas and Nepal.
The women once drew these individual adaptations of religious, mythic and secular motifs on the floors and walls of houses in times of celebration. In the late 1960s, a famine-relief program persuaded the women to put their drawings on paper. Once done by the upper castes, now women from all castes make drawings.
The self-taught women of Bihar fill their paper with scenes from Hindu mythology, gods and goddesses, local legends, animals -- real and imagined, bridal processions and other secular events. All the drawings are untitled on dung-primed paper (Chris Ofili fans take note) in natural colors derived from clay, bark, berries, and flowers.
Pushpa Kumari's lingam, a phallic representation of the god Siva, displays many of the god's attributes or associated symbols on arms extending from the shaft. A marriage procession with the bride carried in a palanquin by Vikki Dutta is one of several works executed in stark black and white and has a patterned border. Priced at $2,100 and $1,300 respectively, both are excellent reasons for young collectors to see this show. Geeta Devi's female figure in a maze-like surround, a stunning vision, can be had for only $550.
"Women of Bihar" is on view through April 20 at Phyllis Kind Gallery, 136 Greene Street.
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Not far away at Cavin-Morris Gallery, "Manos Aladas (Winged Hands): Drawings by Chelo González Amezcua" features the ink drawings of this Mexican-born Texas artist dating from the 1960s and 1970s.
Consuelo (Chelo) González Amezcua (1903-1975) was raised in Del Rio, Tex., from the time she was ten years old. Her father's death put an end to her dream of studying art formally, but she persisted in creating a body of about 500 densely patterned drawings. She called her work "Texas filigree art." In addition to making art, she carved stones, wrote poetry, sang and played the piano, guitar, tambourine and castanets.
Executed in ballpoint pen, her drawings are done at times in color and at others in only black or blue ink. The designs in black-and-white ones have an Art Deco feel. The works may be totally abstract, like Gardens of Jalapa (1966), or mix representation with abstraction, like Abundance the Blind (1966).
Chelo González Amezcua's subjects range from Aztec themes associated with her Mexican heritage to religious matters to portraits of beautiful women clad in elaborate skirts and lace mantillas. The artist herself worked at a local S. H. Kress store selling popcorn and candy and lived with her sister in the family home after her mother's death. Unsupported by those around her, she escaped to a world of glamour and spirituality in these large, eye-catching drawings.
Gardens of Jalapa at 28 x 22 inches and Contraste at 20 x 27 inches are priced at $6,000 each, but smaller pieces can be had for around $2,000.
"Manos Aladas: Drawings by Chelo González Amezcua" is up through Apr. 27, 2002, at Cavin-Morris Gallery, 560 Broadway.
N. F. KARLINS is a New York art historian and critic.