Los Angeles

Alice Asmar

Sabersky Gallery

Huge sheets of rice paper, energetic pen and ink line, a facile hand, and hyper-active imagination are the ingredients of these delightful drawings by Alice Asmar.

Subjects that include gigantic sunflowers in “Sunflower Fantasy,” a fanciful piece of driftwood that becomes “St. George’s Victorious Dragon,” and a Pacific Ocean Park backdrop for “Peggy’s Wash,” span 3 x 5' sheets of paper in a style of draftsmanship that combines the essence of High Gothic Rose Window tracery, 18th-century botanical illustration, and Japanese kakemono techniques.

Line is supreme. Early drawings done while the artist was in Italy show the beginnings of this fascination (which the artist says stems from her Lebanese background), but the line rather conventionally curves and swells to define contours and depth relationships. In the more recent drawings, line seems to be freed from these restraints and assumes a more sophisticated and autonomous role. One can still read the spatial relationships between objects in the drawings, but no longer by the conventional means of two-point perspective, shading, depth recession, etc. Rather, the artist’s sure draftsmanship and vivid imagination become the standards.

Oriental influence is apparent, not only in the choice of rice paper, pen and ink as materials, but also in composition. For example, the artist uses what might be called a “rising viewpoint”; each element in the composition seems to be at the observer’s eye level, a characteristic of Eastern art. Further, “Hibiscus” is treated like a hanging screen, setting off to best advantage its sparse composition and wide expanse of untouched paper.

Occasionally, the artist added a delicate blush of color by first making a collage of bits of colored paper, then covering the whole with a sheet of the translucent rice paper to receive the pen and ink drawing. The muted effect achieved is strikingly similar to that of the hand-colored woodcuts of the contemporary Japanese artist Shiko Munakata, where color is brushed on the back of the paper. One such collage, “September Memories,” contains a delightful bit of whimsy. Incorporated into the drawing of buildings and flowers are faithful line renderings of Michelangelo’s “David” and an Oriental actor done in the manner of Sharaku.

Several books and wood constructions are also included in the exhibition. The books are made up of continuous drawings on accordion-pleated sheets of paper, while the wood constructions are supposed protests against sterile contemporary skyscraper architecture. Neither is as successful as the drawings.