New York

Dotty Attie

Dotty Attie also makes narrative series of images, both with and without text. But instead of photographs, her images are meticulously executed drawings based mainly on details chosen from paintings by Ingres, the Mannerists, and other masters. But she selects like a photographer. I mean she treats several centuries of paintings as a field of available images from which she is free to abstract tiny passages.

Most of the paintings she has ransacked depict moments of history or myth from which the painter sought to extract a moral for the edification of his contemporaries. They were deliberately composed to be static—to reflect the timeless and ordered implications of their content. The figures, whatever the actions they may be involved in, are depicted in the codified poses of action or calm derived from Classical antique sculpture. Attie’s work rides on the tension that results from containing parts of these images within a narrative matrix something like a comic book with its cinematic implication of movement from panel to panel. This tension, together with the allusiveness of her tidbits, generates frankly literary series, less involved with plot than with the inference of some unspecified action yet to come.

Attie crops details—draped figures wielding sticks, breasts, crotches, gloved hands, the cheeks, eye and ear of a face—so that they are enigmatic. Conjoined with lines of text written in the dry style of Victorian pornography, works such as If You Give Your Consent, He Said imply the underside of painting and literature, a covert range of libidinal impulses. To a large extent, this is sexual politics. Attie plays the familiar game of juxtaposing quotes out of context to sublime the inherent eroticism from the paintings—by male artists—of past centuries.

In an earlier age, Attie’s drawings after Old Masters would have indicated her respect for their grasp of their craft. As it is, her series invite a reexamination of these artists’ intentions. Since drawings as studies are freer records of intention than the paintings they prefigure, Attie’s drawings are a kind of recreation of fragmented studies, a rerouting. It is as if to say, “Let’s break this up and see how it might be put together in another way.”

Attie indicates her ambivalence about drawing per se in A Literary Illusion, a nine-panel work based on Ingres’s 1807 portrait of the landscape painter Granet in Rome. Attie makes tiny strokes across the paper, rather like a video scan, to reconstruct the visage of this dashing figure. In the third panel, a ragged burn starts to follow the drawing down the page until at last it is consumed. The effacement is almost an apology.

Alan Moore