Saturday, October 30, 2010

Astrid Bowlby at Gallery Joe

Astrid Bowlby is currently showing work at Gallery Joe in Philadelphia. Light is up until November 13, 2010 -
Following is the brochure text that i wrote specifically about one series in the exhibition, A Certain Density.

Light - or dark

Darkness and light are generally taken to be opposites of each other - poetically speaking, light equals life and darkness equals death. But what if there are always specks of life and light amidst darkness, what if darkness is built on light rather than being in contrast to it? Instead of a simplistic concept of dueling extremes that nevertheless entail each other, Astrid Bowlby's work suggests a relationship of more metaphysical complexity.

Since 1999 she has been working on a series of ink drawings on 11 x 8 1/2 inch Bristol board entitled A Certain Density. The artist draws freehand up to nine layers of extremely fine straight lines of ink, vertically, horizontally, and diagonally, which may sound like an instruction for a Sol LeWitt drawing. However, although rigorous, Bowlby's drawings are enlivened by constant variance and the artist's physical touch. Her eye guides her hand at all times, making decisions all along and carefully placing lines to control density and darkness.

Depending on how many layers of lines she applies to a piece, visual interest can shift from line to overall effect and tone. The black lines define intricate shapes of white background, which range from stars and octagons in more airy works, to mere specks that are barely visible with the naked eye in the denser pieces. Random accumulations of ink appear and seem to demand from us to recognize shapes in them, clouds, fog, concretions seen in nature. Bowlby has in fact been inspired by certain natural light conditions such as moonlight breaking through tangles of
branches and leaves. So it is not surprising that the unevenness of tone in some of these works creates the illusion of openings and shimmering depths that suggest a geography of darkness. The drawings' rich patina of ink is further animated by an intricate texture of incised lines that invite the eye to follow after the artist's pen. It is also informative to note here that Bowlby is interested in physics, because some of light's main properties are frequency, intensity, and wavelength, all of which can be observed in the properties of the black lines.

The drawings of A Certain Density require a revision of expectations and adjustment of perception. In the process of layering lines, the works evolve from a black-on-white scheme to an allover black with a few white interruptions. The latter appear to be accentuating highlights but are in fact the background, thus calling into question the traditional figure-ground relationship. These drawings are not what they at first glance purport to be - black pieces of paper - but are white sheets that have been given obsessive attention and care. Dark is a version of light.

1 comment: