New York

Terry Winters

Sonnabend Gallery

If drawing is understood as an unconsciously directed pattern of lines that eventually resolves into an evocative, peculiarly organic image, then Terry Winters is one of the masters of the medium. His drawings convey a sense of emotional conviction, even if the emotion cannot be named, and even if the nature of the organic object represented cannot be specified; this ineffability only adds to the work’s mystery.

The overgrown terrain of works such as the ecstatically bright Potential Surface of Density, 1995, suggests a rapidly mutating mass of enigmatic feeling. For Winters, it is as if density were, in and of itself, expressive ripeness. His trick—it is a Surrealist one—is to transform what seems like a meticulous drawing of a detail of nature into the symptomatic expression of emotional terra incognita. Winters often unwinds his line only to weave it into a psychic web, as in Tenon’s Capsule 3, 1994. The very dense central element can be read as a germ cell, and the web that emerges from it as an expression of that cell’s latent energy. As with Side-Imaging, 1995, there is a sense of near explosive drama. Winters seems to be trying to balance “freely” expressive, at times turbulent line, with a self-contained, even self-sufficient “core,” full of mysterious, influential Being. Works such as Modeling Shadows, 1995, which lack a conspicuous center integrate open and closed space with greater subtlety. Many of the earlier, less frenetic drawings, such as Visan 1 and Visan 8 (both 1992), seem to map a subliminally familiar landscape. In general, Winters’ early drawings are more closely bound to the model of an object, whereas the later works reflect a more intricate, expansive expressivity.

Winters belongs to a line that originates in Max Ernst’s and Andre Masson’s automatism and fascination with hyperdetail, descends through Arshile Gorky’s surreally intimate gardens and Jackson Pollock’s gesturally flooded paintings, and finally emerges in Joan Mitchell’s morbidly eloquent refractions of nature. Mitchell’s works almost return to Monet’s impressionistic reflections of the landscape, which is where, it seems, Winters wants to go, however different his sense of the natural world. That is, however fictionally and pseudoscientistically, Winters is directed toward nature, even though he is uncertain what its import is, and like a lapsed nature mystic hopes to recover his faith in it. His drawings share less the excited dynamics of the first surreal automatists than their fascination with the mysterious, seemingly ab- surd details of organic growth. Winters’ works have little of Gorky’s lyrical if controlled impulsiveness and none of Pollock’s abandon. Like Mitchell’s paintings, Winters’ drawings are measured in their impulsiveness—seductively designed and object-oriented (albeit through the detour of the object’s reflection or shadow). In other words, art historically speaking, Winters’ drawings bespeak a certain entropy—ironic decadence or regression—which is confirmed by the fact that they are more beautiful than anguished. They are not surreal expressions of unrequited desire, but shadowy reflections of nature. That is, Winters is less a surrealist expressionist than an all-too-impressionistic realist, an artist who is motivated not by raw emotion but by the desire to force perception to its limits.

Donald Kuspit