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Holography Sculpted Wood Holocaust Dan Sutherland STCC Exhibition

Tues, Wed, Fri, Sat:
9am to 5pm
12am to 8pm
1pm to 5pm


Dan Sutherland drawings 1991 - 2001

Introduction This exhibition traces the development of an artist's drawings from his arrival in San Antonio in 1991 to the work he currently produces as a professor in the painting department at the University of Texas at Austin. It is a mini-retrospective of Sutherland's first ten years in Texas working as a professional artist. More importantly, the exhibition provides the viewer with an overview of the roles drawings play in contemporary art. From sketches used to work out ideas for a painting to full-scale graphite drawings of such bravura draftsmanship that they challenge the primacy of paintings, Sutherland's work is always fascinating in its complexity and richness.

One of the hallmarks of Dan Sutherland's draftsmanship is its great diversity. Some of his drawings, like Regaled Cover-Up, are incredibly complex amalgamations of bits of paper, stick pins, ink, graphite, and watercolor. These elements are layered one on another with older drawings sometimes peeking out from behind. These masses of lines and colors and forms are often placed inside wooden crates with doors attached with serious hardware. They take on a sculptural presence on the wall. Other drawings, like Tethered Malignant Stew, shed all of these crates and incrustations and are comprised solely of the many tonalities of graphite.

The reason for such diversity is the artist's desire to explore the various possibilities of the drawing medium and to push the boundaries a bit. Drawings are often seen as stodgy or old-fashioned in these days of multi-media installations and performance art. Sutherland's drawings, however, take on our very concept of what a drawing can be and they often blur the lines between painting and drawing and sculpture and drawing.

Form and Meaning It is difficult to summarize all of the forms that Sutherland uses in his drawings. The most prevalent-and certainly the most memorable-are the big, bulbous, fleshy things that the artist paints and draws like a twenty-first century van Eyck. These forms which the artist often beautifully models using a silvery, Vermeer-like light are not readily identifiable and yet they are oddly and uncomfortably familiar. Other favorite motifs include undulating forms that art painted or drawn to look like shimmering silks and damasks or great, voluminous forms that seem to envelope some of Sutherland's compositions like threatening clouds of smoke or fog. Some of the compositions are tied together with complicated lines twisting around different parts of the drawing and turning upon themselves. They tie everything together, literally and figuratively.

Sutherland's works seduce on several levels. The convincing spaces, tactility of objects or surfaces, and the intricacies of layers tempt and challenge one to explore them visually. The interconnectedness of the images whether formal or thematic demands an interpretation of the work because the images seem to be working in concert. Like any good art, Sutherland's must be looked at. The more one looks, the more one sees. Those who have been fortunate enough to live with his work never grow tired of it because of the very fact that it is not easily explained with a one-line definition. Rather it changes and evolves every time it is examined anew.

These works are not, however, empty doodles. All of the elements are chosen for very specific reasons. In other words, the artist manipulates and controls how the viewer perceives the work. Forms and motifs are taken from illuminated manuscripts, seventeenth-century Dutch still life and landscape paintings and from a myriad of other cultural and historical sources to trigger our collective cultural memory. Just as dying flowers in a Dutch still life suggest the brevity of life, Sutherland's bits of pocked flesh also suggest decay, but decay of what? Of course, one thinks of the Dutch precedent, but could this also refer to the perceived status of contemporary painting?

A development that has occurred in Sutherland's work over the past ten years is a simplification of composition. In turn, there has been a seeming simplification of subject matter as well. Comparing the drawing Prep Angle Tassel Angel with the slightly later watercolor Malignant Endgame with Travel Plans reveals a change in the artist's focus. In the earlier drawing, the viewer's eye moves all over the composition taking in each little detail. It is a frantic, phantasmagoric exercise in which many bits of information are communicated. In the watercolor, however, the eye is immediately drawn to the fleshy forms in the center of the composition, then they slowly take in the subordinate details in the margins of the composition. This change in Sutherland's work not only creates a hierarchy of visual importance, but one of iconographic importance as well. The viewer sees the fleshy forms as more important than the surrounding forms because they are placed in the hierarchical center of the composition. This also puts them at the forefront of any discussion or exploration of meaning.

This focusing in on a subject, achieved through compositional devices and the specificity of light, reaches operatic heights in a recent painting titled Alluvion and its attendant drawings. Here there are still references to art historical traditions of still life and landscape painting. The vast expanse of sky, for instance, makes one immediately think of the monumental and dramatic skies of Jacob van Ruisdael. This is not an image of decay, however, but rather of triumph. Here the flowers are blooming, nestled in an anthropomorphic valley of beautifully depicted fabric, potent symbols of fecundity and life.

-- Lyle Williams from the Dan Sutherland exhibition catalogue of The Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum (San Antonio).
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