Critics’ Picks

Nicola Tyson, The Gaze, 2015, graphite on paper, 13 x 13".

Nicola Tyson, The Gaze, 2015, graphite on paper, 13 x 13".


Nicola Tyson

Drawing Room
1-27 Rodney Place Elephant and Castle
September 28–November 12, 2017

Nicola Tyson’s forty-six figurative drawings and monotypes here radiate urgency from their fiercely scored lines, febrile contours, and abbreviated limbs. There are no aestheticizing filters here—the violent immediacy of scraped ink and obsessive pencil hatching is thrust against us in these pictures of uncomfortable, sometimes brutally modified bodies.

The five large drawings along the back wall hit you first. Each shows a self-possessed and confrontational woman. In Great Pants, 2016, darkened whorls of scratchy pen lines suggest gouged eye sockets. Her mouth is a cancellation of broad slashes; her hair has the geometry of a helmet. This forbidding figure strides toward you on legs three times the length of her torso. The ink on these drawings has been applied rapidly—an explosion of marks that go from spidery thinness to vast swathes of black bandaging.

An adjacent room holds a set of smaller graphite nature drawings, visionary in their awkwardly looming close-ups of insects, birds, or lizards, as in Hefty butterflies begin their migration, 2015, where irregularly jutting, spotted wings crowd and tilt at one another like warplanes in a dogfight. Their alien angularities present a weird reality, as if experienced by the agitated subterranean creature of Franz Kafka’s 1931 short story “The Burrow.” Tyson’s work arrives at a baleful imaginary that oscillates between the recognizable and an assortment of peculiar contours and tonalities that rebel at their referential function. We marvel at these agglomerations of abrupt gestures that evade any secure or rational knowledge of things.