Caroline Grant, Greta Young — Figure Drawing, Argos Studio/Gallery, 1211 Luisa St., 505-988-1814; through Oct. 25
“Drawing the figure is a commitment. Generations of modernist artists worked from a foundation of traditional skills; it’s only very recently, I think, that anyone seriously conceives of the plastic arts as possible without a discipline of materials. That would be like musicians who don’t practice — sort of a thought-experiment.” So says Argos Studios’ Eric Thomson, and he should know. For decades, Thomson and his partner Eli Levin have offered classical figure drawing classes to people with a range of skill levels. Wedged between a preowned car lot and a cluster of office buildings, Argos Studios occupies a somewhat unglamorous stretch of real estate on Luisa Street, just off Cordova Road. The unassuming exterior belies a studio and exhibition space whose program is steadfastly elegant and proudly classical, as exemplified in a show of works by Caroline Grant and Greta Young.
Drawing is a deceptively difficult art form, but for Thomson, good draftsmanship is foundationally essential for all artists, regardless of genre. The sixty-one-year-old Thomson explains, “For me, and I think on some level for artists who came of age with me in the ’70s, there was still a sense that [drawing] was what you did, even though I came out of school making minimalist paintings and did so for years while continuing to draw from the model. It was part of your discipline.”
Grant and Young, both local artists and longtime Argos drawing-class regulars, interpret the human form in intriguingly different ways. Grant’s modestly sized, sensitively wrought pastel-on-paper drawings are influenced by the likes of Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt. “It’s the hardest thing to make a realistic study on paper of a figure model, within the time frame of the session, and bring it beyond correctness to the expression of a lived moment,” notes Thomson, “but Caroline manages to get there over and over again.” At just 8-by-6 inches, Shelley is a delicately proportioned bust of a woman in three-quarters perspective. With her hair tucked back in a messy bun, downcast eyes, and head tilted slightly down and to the right, she affects a demure serenity. The subject of Grant’s petite pastel Hannah I is pictured in profile from the neck up. The sturdy lines of her chin and nose, juxtaposed against the fuzzy, wild corona of her upswept hair, together evince a shimmery kinesthesia.
Practicing in a very different vein is Young, whose rowdy, outsized works on paper contain smudged and streaked lines that produce a riot of movement and expression. According to Thomson, Young’s work “is all energy. In good expressionist fashion, she redirects us to the psychic energy of the artist rather than her subject, and in this I’ve always felt Greta’s work to be convincing.” Bushy Music is a jumble of dashed and jagged lines that collide rather than coalesce across the surface of the paper. Amid suggestions of elbows, ankles, and toenails is a shaggy shock of black hair; the monochromatic palette and intense, almost violent strokes remind one of a samurai from a Kuniyoshi woodblock print, ready to leap from the paper. Thomson says Young, who also paints on canvas, “has such a coherent vision. She’s been doing it for such a long time, and it really has become her style.”
Seeing the work of these two very different artists is a stimulating exercise that encourages us to think about our own ways of seeing. For Grant and Young, figure drawing is a disciplined activity whose byproduct is variously untamed and ordered: a reflection of the seer, made visible to all.