New York

Blythe Bohnen

A dancer seeing Blythe Bohnen’s recent graphite drawings of “motions” remarked that they were about dance. This seems to have a certain truth, because going beyond mere depiction of random motion, they bear a resemblance to the vocabulary of choreographed movement, and the sequences of minimal or vernacular movements which characterize recent dance. Bohnen says, “My work defines and categorizes gesture to develop a vocabulary of forms possible through a single medium, a bar of graphite . . . motions consist of human actions on a surface such as pushing and pivoting.” Bohnen’s definition of her intentions shares a rhetoric with such dancers as Lucinda Childs and Trisha Brown.

Language plays a special role in Bohnen’s work. Without a written description of the movements, one is initially overwhelmed by their soundless sensuality, which is like a dancer lost in a trance, performing without music. The descriptive phrases read like litanies from a plane geometry text book, i.e. “Three similar adjacent horizontal, diagonal motions/offset on a horizontal axis.” Spoken aloud, but divorced from the drawings, they have a sonorous quality similar to the intoning of Lawrence Weiner’s propositions in the sound tracks of his films. This almost subliminal chanting of reading the descriptions to oneself seems to add a necessary musical/aural rhythm to the visual experience of the work.

Bohnen sees the drawings as relating to Abstract Expressionism, but, without its Existential anguish. The drawings can be viewed as isolating the gestures within a single Abstract Expressionist canvas and arraying them as separate units on a grid. This idea clearly relates to her earlier drawings of ovoid, brushstroke-like graphite gestures arranged on a grid. Bohnen feels that the addition of words to the drawings in the form of captions, and the structural permutations they imply, cool the intuitive quality of the work, making it more reasonable. This addition of descriptive phrases to gestural/performance drawings owes something to Robert Morris’s timed drawings.

The actual motions of drawings propose two distinctly different forms in a Yang/Yin, “masculine”/“feminine” polarity. One series involves uniform-sized transparent planes, like sheets of typing paper, which are envisioned as opening and closing in space. Simultaneously, they give the appearance of a slow-motion film of flipping pages and immobile, constructivist glass sculpture such as Sylvia Stone’s. These broad, planar “motions” are juxtaposed with another series of drawings of a line/arc between two or more points. In a parody of stereotyped sex differences, these are softer and more fluid, and the gestures or motions seem smaller, like those made with the wrist rather than the whole arm. Their contours vary from drooping, folded O’Keeffian shapes to the illusion of taut, three-dimensional stretched cloth shapes.

Ann-Sargent Wooster