New York

Joana Rosa

John Weber

Doodling is an obsessive activity, yielding images that are transitory, private, open-ended, repetitive—a visual stream of consciousness. “Doodles,” Joana Rosa’s second so-titled show in New York, made witty and graceful use of this fragile art form. Elaborating a strategy familiar to all compulsive fillers of blank space, she chose a few emblematic figures and drew them over and over, seeking to understand exactly how they were made.

Rosa’s first figure was a ballerina, clad in toe-shoes and black leotard, a leggy, sinuous creature that might have been lifted from a dancewear catalogue illustrated by Edward Gorey. Indebted to fashion sketches but imbued with a restless energy of their own, the dancers stretched, pirouetted, and contorted themselves across translucent sheets that had been worked with white correction fluid. The penciled lines were lush and precise, animating the attenuated bodies with kinesthetic verve. Yet Rosa is a stern editor of her own fantasies. Parts of nearly all the figures were blanked out. In many cases the heads were erased; in others, the feet or hands; in still others, only feet or hands remained, the rest of the page shingled with a chalky impasto of Wite-out. Next to each, Rosa had scribbled a running commentary. “No, no, no. I don’t want to be her at all, or maybe if she wasn’t being seen at all (January 10).” “Yes I want to be her. I spend most of my life doing that with my right arm (January 11).” These self-critiques were funny and accurate, deftly conflating a woman’s feelings about her body with her responses to her own creative abilities, both having to do with being seen, and judged, by others. Here and there, amongst the dancers, a child’s drawing of a horse appeared, blocky and fat, added by Rosa’s young daughter in an odd if congenial pairing of symbolic self-representations.

The second series of forms echoed those of the dancers through undulant lines and rich tonal values, as well as through their single-minded but humorous devotion to particular kinds of images. Done on collaged sheets of torn vellum, these drawings featured fantasy machines, complex assemblages of ropes, tubes, wires, clamps, screws, pulleys, and valves, glistening with rubbed pencil as if with oil. Like the dancers, these mysterious, absurd engines resonated with a quirky longing to assemble a perfect sum of parts.

The two series were accompanied by a more abstract work that further investigated the interplay of graphite, vellum, and Wite-out, and by a large-scale collage piece stapled directly onto the wall. Incorporating the motifs of both series, the marks in the larger piece ranged from spidery, hair-thin lines to dense areas of glossy, brushed black; while Rosa’s toying with scale was intriguing—doodles are usually small—their quirky details were lost in the peculiarly reflective surface of thickly applied pencil.

Rosa is a connoisseur, as well as a creator, of doodles, and for more than twenty years she has collected specimens made by herself, her children, her friends and colleagues. A sampling of these were showcased in an ongoing slide presentation. Enlarged and projected, rather haphazardly, onto the wall, each item from Rosa’s doodle museum was tagged with a small paper label identifying its origin—a nice extension of her inquiry into the ways in which the formal practice of markmaking asserts itself in daily life.

Frances Richard