Laurie Fendrich

Jan Cicero Gallery

Comprised of 55 drawings all done between 1990 and 1992—51 of which were pushpinned directly onto the gallery wall—this exhibition documented Laurie Fendrich’s incessant investigation of the possibilities of geometrical abstraction. Done as models and studies for potential paintings, Fendrich’s drawings took a kind of sustenance from their sheer accretion; there seemed to be no need to focus too deliberately on any one image in particular, and this multitudinousness provided an attendant balance. She presents infinite combinations and recombinations of inventive polygonal shapes that parallel the picture plane, restlessly interlocking in intriguing symmetries across a rectangular field. This material, not without echoes of the work of artists like Ben Nicholson or Stuart Davis, or even Juan Gris, is given new life here by its democratic and straightforward amiability.

All done in Conté on paper, Fendrich’s horizontal works came in four sizes, ranging from 9 by 12 inches to 19 by 24 inches. Within these parameters she meanders at will, using the white of the paper and the black that she makes share the stage with the buffered range of the three or four grays she creates to lie between the two. While ostensibly all abstractions, these works often suggest things like mandolins, jugs, and bottles, reinforcing a connection between Fendrich and some Cubist strategies. But, as with those prototypes, her subject transcends any legacy of a specific object, and turns instead into the sheer delight of the multivalencies of planar articulation. The slippage of parallel zones of activity, the crazy rhythms and dissonant harmonies they create, their perpetual shifting from substance to absence, becomes very absorbing. Sometimes Fendrich is the classicist, with just a few stern and bold gestures that move impassively across the surface, concentrated and quietly downtempo. And then on the next sheet she explodes, getsfussy and overdetermined, cluttering up a drawing with so many jarring possibilities and push-pulls as to rend it hopelessly as-sunder. But even these works achieve some kind of equilibrium. Fendrich’s horizontal framework leads her most often to attempt to balance the left and right sides of her compositions, and to float her polygons with a decided cognizance of the edges of her paper. Background and foreground often become relative terms, as her activity, the purposeful indeterminacy of its spatial focus, keeps these zones in flux.

While preferences undoubtedly surface—I was most drawn to Fendrich’s smallest work, in which there seemed to be a more organized symbiotic relation between her gesture and the scale of the described shape—the key here seems to rest not in the rigorous application of principles of connoisseurship, but in an openhanded surrender to the fascination of witnessing an expert performance. Fendrich’s crayon strolls with a skill acquired by long practice, and the vaguely historicist air of her drawings is finally comforting and peaceful. She juggles her elements well, and here manages to keep all of them aloft.

James Yood