Rachel Harrison: Drawings
March - July 2020
By JONATHAN GOODMAN, May 2020
Rachel Harrison’s sculpture is known for its striking amalgam of odd materials, a cartoon-like address, and an affinity for popular culture. Her work has an implicit politics to it, part of which is a rejection of hierarchical culture, history in a dominating sense. Her classical drawings are described in the press release as “drawings on photographs of drawings of photographs of sculpture”--the image, several times removed from the original but shown as an original in its own right, is further distanced from us by the fact that most of the show’s audience will presently be experiencing the work as a group of drawings seen on the Internet.
What does this mean? It means that both the artist and the audience are complicit in a visual meaningfulness generated by tools we might normally assume to exist outside the normal means of image production--yet we know that both the photograph and the monitor image and the inkjet image printed by computer have been with us as art some time. So some of the impulse behind this kind of distancing must be social or political--a way of bringing an activist consciousness to presentations of imagery we usually take for granted as neutrally historical.
In some ways, these drawings reject form--yet The Classics revisits the past quite deliberately, thus appreciating art history. In one piece from 2019, graphite, colored pencil, and wax crayon are applied to pigmented inkjet-print paper, setting up a loosely described human figure close to overwhelmed by the random imposition of colored line.
This jumble of hues, superimposed on the bare outline of a person, is a way of freeing the image from its classical context. In another drawing from 2017, we see a classical figure done mostly in pink: a notable female head with a complicated hair or hat arrangement. Her body is draped in linear folds of pink cloth; her round breasts are emphasized in brown. Another figure, less complicated in outline, stands just behind her. The image’s interest lies in the fact that it occupies a position somewhere between homage and caricature--Harrison’s rendering is by no means dismissive, even if part of the drawing comes close to a scrawl.
A final image, from 2018, incorporates a pink-outlined figure, hard to define, onto a realistic treatment of a Jove-like personage, with a beard, shaggy hair, and the blunt nose of a pugilist (the image comes from a Hellenistic bronze sculpture of a boxer, in the National Museum of Rome’s collection). Most of his body is done in outline, with his left leg colored in with dark green-brown pencil. Across the image Harrison has scrawled random lines, many in pink. In this work, like most in the show, the artist seems torn between wanting to acknowledge the past and wanting to outdistance its impact. Such a desire is evident in much contemporary art. Interestingly, the conflict here produces drawings of unusual beauty--reaffirming the notion that little in the visual arts lacks precedent. It is what we make of that precedent that matters. WM
Jonathan Goodman is a writer in New York who has written for Artcritical, Artery and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications.
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