San Francisco

Jack Levi, Robert Combs, Bruce Conner, Gerald Gooch, Richard Graf, Norman Stiegelmeyer, Joan Brown and Susan Hall

The San Francisco Art Institute’s Annual Invitational Drawing Show was, as usual, interesting and stimulating. Keen intelligence in exploring the resources of various graphic media was a hallmark of most of the work exhibited. By tradition the designation “drawing show” adheres to this event, although its scope has been broadening over the years to encompass an ever greater range of graphic media, including painting on paper, collage involving the use of paper and/or textile materials on almost any ground, and, of course, most recently, various uses of polymer materials (other than as paints). However, although drawing in its most limited and conventional definition was hardly predominant here, unalloyed pen and pencil draftsmanship provided the vehicle for the exhibition’s most engaging statements.

Among works meriting special mention was Jack Levi’s untitled ink drawing, in which the involved manipulation of a continuous line created areas of dual readability through a purely linearly contrived ambiguity of negative/positive space functions; i.e., long segments of the convoluted continuous line are readable as figure definition or “outline” in two directions or polarities simultaneously. One reading of the left side of this linear “gestalt maze” significantly reveals the elephant head of Genesh, Hindu god of esoteric wisdom, guardian of paradox and riddle and hence, Brahmin cousin to the Sphinx. Clearly interested in involved and quasi-tessellative functions of complex and densely meshed linear filigree were Robert Combs and Bruce Conner, both represented by ink drawings.

Figurative themes in the exhibition ranged from the realistic and sardonic six panel serial pencil drawings entitled Not So Free by Gerald Gooch (in which successive panels freeze key moments in the evolving gestures, attitudes and facial expressions of a prostitute and her client during the progress of initial monetary negotiations) to the two watercolor fantasies A Statuesque Beauty and At the Bath by Richard Graf. These works too are multi-paneled, but not, in the strict sense, serial or even sequential in any obviously necessary or determined way, for Graf continues to work within his established style, evolving free-associatively related groups of quasi-Surrealistic dream fantasies, erotically toned, usually lyrical, sometimes wistfully comic.

Norman Stiegelmeyer, one of whose ink drawings—an untitled fantasy with figures—was reproduced for the exhibition poster, was represented also by paintings on paper including Trouble on Jade Mountain conjuring the eerie landscape of myth and allegorical fantasy in rich, optically vibrant colors. Joan Brown contributed pencil drawings continuing her recent preoccupation with animals, while Susan Hall’s Woman In Her Crowded Living Room was a subtle essay in line drawing of poetic, evocative expressiveness. While the artists here mentioned presented the most immediately arresting work, none of the many contributors to this exhibition failed to sustain a solid level of competence and inventiveness.

Whitney Halstead