Critics’ Picks

Hipkiss, Bulwark #8 (detail), 2017, graphite, silver ink, silver tape, and metal leaf on paper, 89 x 16".

New York

Hipkiss

The Drawing Center
35 Wooster Street
April 6 - August 12

Each of the art duo Hipkiss’s graphite, ink, and metal-leaf drawings—more than seven feet tall—are composed of seven tondos, stacked. Within each tondo is a section of a magnificent imaginary plant. The rendering is reminiscent of Victorian botanical prints, in which the eye of the scientist dominates that of the aesthete. The line quality is certainly reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley, as well as H. R. Giger and Erté. The elegance contrasts nicely with the ink’s direct presence on the paper. Notations along the edges of the works are diaristic, inscrutable.

The drawings’ spliced geometric forms feel like ants, caterpillars, or multiplying cells. It’s as if H. G. Wells had returned with illustrations from a strange and flourishing planet filled with flora-and-fauna hybrids. It is significant that the title of each drawing begins with the word Bulwark and is followed by a number. Naturalists such as John J. Audubon, Karl Blossfeldt, and Pierre-Joseph Redouté treated their subjects as specimens, which necessitated the death of the object of investigation. Countless living things have been sacrificed for curiosity and representation. Hipkiss, however, use a precise kind of inner observation in the service of creation. Representation, for them, does not involve killing. Every Bulwark is a tower of celebration devoted to the protection of life.

It is always a thrill to discover such fully realized art—Hipkiss’s Alpha and Chris Mason have been making work together since 1983. Bulwark #5, 2017, is an accumulation of doily-shaped tondos. Elegant cascading squiggles safeguard delicate branches within. The branches appear to be releasing pollen or grasping for tiny flecks of life: sustenance against our intrusions.