Large numbers can be daunting. Ever think about how big a million is? Or how a million feels? Mary Temple is getting there and is sharing the results in her current show "For the Millionth Time" at Mixed Greens Gallery in Chelsea.
Intrigued by the idea of a million and catching herself drawing ellipses, Temple embarked on her "1,000,000 Ellipsoids" project -- a quixotic effort to create exactly one million ellipses in a series of drawings. Starting on October 1, 2001, and continuing to the present, Temple has been making dazzlingly decorative monochrome ink drawings in neon colors on vellum solely from ellipsoidal shapes. The artist does each drawing at one sitting, at the rate of about one per day.
Temple has completed more than 400 drawings and will put in the last ellipse in the last drawing on September 5. The gallery, appropriately, is throwing a closing rather than an opening party to celebrate her work.
The daily drawing has become a meditation for Mary Temple, who has said that, after a while, her mind goes on automatic and suddenly the drawing is over. The works contain somewhere between 1,000 and 5,000 ellipses apiece. They come in two sizes, roughly 30 x 36 inches and 9 x 10 inches, and are priced at $1,200 (framed) for the large and $500 (framed) for the small. The gallery told me that some collectors are buying several at a time.
What makes this conceptual piece (or series) so interesting is the variety, playfulness and energy of the end product. Mary Temple's elemental forms can conjure up solar systems fusing or blowing apart, as in her blue 456,500-458,000; a flower, as in her pretty yellow 251,000-252,000; or a microscopic view of a thatch of nerve endings, as in her purple 20,500-24,000.
One orange piece on display reminded me of the horse-eye motif in Oriental art, or what might be seen as oyster-like shapes. Another in blue seemed like a riverbank with stones.
Calligraphic at times and very three-dimensional at others, Temple's works have an originality that manages to be filled with verve and yet soothing at once.
"Mary Temple: For the Millionth Time" is on view through Sept. 5 at Mixed Greens Gallery, 601 West 26th Street, 11th floor.
N. F. KARLINS is a New York art historian and critic.