A collection of self-portraits (one painting and drawings) by Judy Glantzman, curated by Neil Grayson.
The Dactyl Foundation is proud to open the 1998 fall season with an exceptional exhibition of one painting and twelve drawings by Judy Glantzman. Her work has received a number of prestigious awards, and her reputation has been thoroughly established in national art publications over the past fifteen years. In the early 80s the talk was about her precedents (i.e. Francis Bacon, Willem de Kooning or Edvard Munch), but, now that the force of her influence on contemporary artists is becoming more and more obvious, recent discussion has been engaged in finding a definition for her own unique style.
The Dactyl exhibition features obsessive, quirky self-portraits. The figures have just looked up and haven’t yet recognized the image or person before them. They seem to be emerging from a chaos of prepubescent sexuality-on the verge of self-awareness. They mark the beginning of the human effort to make sense of the world, a sense from which there will be no escape. But what is important in these works is that this transition does not represent a loss of purity. Experience and growth are not to be regretted. The knowledge that it is we who make sense of the world does not seem to be a source of anxiety but a key to developing complex relationships. It is significant that D?er, who discursively haunts her drawings, can be added to Glantzman’s eclectic list of influences. It represents development beyond the intentionally awkward drawing style that characterized her East Village days. Though her recent sketches are as raw and exciting as the earlier work, they are more mature, less concerned with unmaking meaning or with commenting on the arbitrariness of convention than with expressing complex, indefinable emotions. The gestures continue to be dynamic, but without seeming to lose significance. This is what distinguishes Glantzman from her former peers, and what makes her visual vocabulary an important part of the evolving language of the twenty-first century.
–Victoria N. Alexander
Art on Paper March – April 1999
Judy Glantzman, Dactyl Foundation for the Arts & Humanities, New York.
The classical refinement of Judy Glantzman’s draftsmanship came as a shock to me. My first impression was that she was reaching back stylistically through de Kooning’s haunting portraits of the 1930’s to find the roots of his fascination with Ingres. Further looking revealed innumerable other references, from Renaissance Italy through 19th century Symbolism. Yet there is nothing eclectic about these drawings, which somehow remain single-minded in their pursuit of a compelling vision, or rather, obsession.
As with her recent paintings, Glantzman’s graphite drawings, at the Dactyl Foundation this fall, portray herself and her daughter, sometimes separately but usually together, isolated amid a lot of white space. Or perhaps its that they’re always together, if only we could see it that way, for often enough the drawing will at first seem to be of one but they turns out to be of both: here is a baby that seems to have grotesquely mature hands, until you realize that they belong to the mother who must be holding her from behind; there, if the woman’s face is eerily childish it’s because she’s holding the child, who’s head has eclipsed her own. Each drawing thus encapsulates a complex connection, stormy or placid, sometimes of a nearly erotic entanglement. Everything is fluid here. Just as the identities of mother and child seem continually to merge and separate, so do the perception of both. It all depends on the incredibly ductile and imaginative quality of Glantzman’s line, which does not draw the contours of bodies but gives bodies to contour. And these drawings are all line–even shading, which is abundant, is represented linearly. Occasionally this line gathers into passages of imperious darkness, where shadow becomes something like it’s opposite, a sort of threatening glare; but it somehow touches me most when it becomes most faint, like a wire that cuts more deeply when pulled thinner. I’ve rarely seen such a light touch combined with this kind of vigorous, impetuous sketchiness. By comparison with most of the dozen drawings here, all untitled, the single large painting , also untitled, looks more conventionally raw, and somehow approximate, lacking the drawings’ ruthless concision.
Drawing and Painting
The Dactyl Foundation through October 31
BY MARK DANIEL COHEN
Over the course of history, the techniques for art making reaffirm themselves through their power of spontaneous combustion. They are not so much self-reinforcing conventions as they are independent choices made over and again by practicing artists. They recommend themselves to artists, and the techniques that are retained and employed for centuries are those that call to the careful craftsperson with the offer of intricate and deeply personal achievement. They burst forth by their own energy, holding out the possibility of refined accomplishment, which harbors a joy and a sensation of fulfillment that cannot be had by other means.
Techniques are chosen freely and, whether traditional or innovative, need not be defended by any authority – they assert and reassert themselves through use and if useful, will not permit themselves to be abandoned. Thus, they can be tested – put them aside and they may re-emerge. In fact, any technique for art generally considered appropriate should be abandoned periodically in order to be tested. It should be relegated to the scrap heap of history, only to see if artists insist on taking it up again.
Drawing, the careful craft of precise drawing, is one such technique – a method of making art that is often now dispensed with or done in cursory manner by many artists and, I am given to understand, is being de-emphasized in some art schools. It becomes a matter of interest, something of an experiment, to see if there will be artists in significant numbers who will insist on sustaining and deploying serious draftsmanship. It is in particular a matter of interest to discover an artist who finds it necessary to turn increasingly to serious draftsmanship.
That is the first point of intrigue regarding the current work by Judy Glantzman. She began her career in the East Village art scene in the 1980s doing expressive figurative painting. I am unfamiliar with her earliest work, but by published accounts, her touch as a draftsperson was less than sure. Now, it is masterful. The exhibition at Dactyl comprises 12 drawings in graphite on paper and one oil painting, all untitled and from this year, all of them presentations of the human figure. In her drawings, her control of the pencil is precise – she displays the full range of available effect, with such command over line weight, grey tones, hatching, and feathering that the works seem to have come from another era of art. Her handling of the figure is equally impressive and indicates the influence of extensive life drawing. Her knowledge of anatomy is flawless, and there is a silken fluidity to her figure drawing. She knows precisely how much of the thumb to show emerging from behind the outside palm of a hand, and she knows exactly what angle to set it at – she sees the side of the hand she is not drawing. She knows how the skin bunches up between the joints of a finger when the finger is flexed, and how to heavy up her line to convey the density of the folded flesh.
It must be noted that the curating of the exhibition by Neil Grayson of the Dactyl Foundation, who selected the works and arranged their display, is impeccable and serves the art very well. The drawings, all set at eye level, lead the viewer around the circuit of the gallery’s main room, running a line from the unmistakable beginning at the left to the culmination on the right with the large, single painting. Twelve drawings on cream-colored paper mounted on white boards set in whitewashed hardwood frames convey the eye around the white walls – the series interrupted only by white doors, a white door frame leading to the gallery’s back room, and a white sitting alcove – to end at the only explosion of color to be seen: a detonation of reds, blues, maroon, and black, with highlights of greens and light blues. This is a thinking distribution of tones, hues, and feeling.
The works all show the figure or figures as studies – there are no backgrounds, no environments for the human forms. The majority of the drawings present two, or perhaps more than two, figures superimposed; actually, portions of multiple figures superimposed. Two faces combine in some; torsos are out of proportion with the heads in others; indications of infant bodies blend with adult body parts in many. None are clearly male or female. All the figures seem to be out of phase, caught in some middle ground as if they were self-divided, never any one thing, never any one person, neither one thing nor another but some third thing – something unnamable. Most of the fusion faces look out from the paper and at the viewer. They are expressionless, unreadable, their emotional lives hidden and withdrawn, the interiors left interior, removed from view, something too strange to be recorded. They all seemed stunned, somehow blank as if struck dumb in their very expressions by the state they find themselves in, somehow ciphers.
Their emotional lives are set at a remove, but the renderings of them are far from emotionless. These drawings are deeply disconcerting, the very absence of emotionality triggers a feeling of profound monstrosity, a quality of terror. There is little that is more moving than the image of the human form rendered with a convincing lifelikeness. That is ultimately the purpose and worth of draftsmanship – to create an image of the living form that possesses the impression and the potency of being alive, that is confronted by the viewer like life itself. The vision of a living body causes an identification in the body of the viewer – one feels the stance and posture of the rendered figure in one’s own body, one feels the lift in one’s own arm, the stretch in one’s own wrist, the grimace in one’s own jaw. One feels the emotion in the drawn face. Where there is no emotion to be felt but the sense of life is recognized through the sheer power of drawing, the feeling comes that always comes when something should be there, must be there, but isn’t. There is a terror that arises as if there were something wrong with the world – the horror of the unformed, the awfulness of the inchoate, of the unmade.
The ambiguous figure, the amorphous self – Glantzman has said that these are self-portraits, but it does not matter, for they are everyone, and they are no one. And they are not truly emotionless, for the very absence of perceptible clear expression in the faces is itself an expression of astonishment. These figures are astonished at their own complexity, astonished at their own incomprehensibility. They have no identities, theirs is an identity that has not congealed, or perhaps has not yet congealed, for the infant is evident in many of them. It may be the self that never fully develops, never fully matures, or it may be the self that develops out of the mature body, for these bodies may well be female. Or perhaps not even that is definite, nor matters, for both sexes participate in generating another body, make a new body out of their bodies, and then, eventually, die, leaving the new body to do its part to make another and then, eventually, die.
Or perhaps it is not the identity that has yet to congeal. It may be the identity that is dissolving, melting like ice in the heat of the sun, reflecting clear visions that last but a moment and then are gone, replaced by others just as fleeting. The dissolution of the self, the destruction of what seems in us to be so sure, so certain – the fact of ourselves, the fact that we, in fact, are. Cogito, ergo sum. We pride ourselves with the belief that we do exist, that we exist as the individuals we believe ourselves to be, the possessors of the needs we take so seriously, the ambitions we so treasure, the hungers we work so hard to feed. But it may not be so. The fact that each of us is an individual body demonstrates nothing more than the fact that each of us is an individual body – it proves no person as an individual, distinct from all others, identifiably itself. Subjectivity may be no individual self, no soul – subjectivity as a teratism, a monstrous organism, just a living thing.
The series of 12 drawings, 12 organic anomalies resembling something human, ends with the painting. It is a grander vision of much the same living discourtesy – a large head faintly rendered, gazing out and to the left. A second head is at its cheek, sketched roughly in white. Three arms are evident, one leg, and something of an orange dress. Deep recesses of dark blue, red, and maroon surround the figure(s). Red paint drips down, a bit like blood. But what should have been a culmination is not, and what would have been a riveting image in oils is less than mesmerizing, for it is overshadowed in quality and impact by the drawings, the caliber of which is not matched by the painting. The painting alone might have been an expressionist-tinged portrait, maybe of a mother and child. Here, it is something other than that, something more horrifying, for it obtains its implication from the overwhelming presence of the works in graphite.
This is, in the end, a drawing exhibition, not just in the sense of a display of draftsmanship, but in the sense of being a display of works in graphite. It is the drawings that dominate, that set the tone and grant the meaning, and that ratify a technique. The very fact that they can possess a room containing a painting six feet high gives the voice of the artist’s assent to the technique. There is a vote at Dactyl for the perpetuation of draftsmanship, through the testimony given to the eye that drawing is anything but obsolete.