Los Angeles

Edgar Arceneaux

Edgar Arceneaux’s Drawings of Removal is less a set of drawings than a perpetually in-progress studio space inaugurated in 1999 following a trip the artist and his parents took to his father’s hometown of Beaumont, Texas. Contemporary Beaumont barely resonated with what the father distantly recalled after four decades’ absence or what his son had visualized from family stories. Covering walls with paper; sketching, doodling; adding more paper; cutting through to reveal underlying layers; transplanting fragments between sheets; and playing with spatial orientation and expectation, Arceneaux uses drawing as means and metaphor for negotiating memory.

Comprising multiple visions of houses, fields, a graveyard, and an apparent industrial site and based variously on observation, recollection, invention, or all three, the growing accumulation of drawings is competently though not fastidiously rendered in pencil and ink as well as other materials like foil tape. Though connected to specific memories, it’s ultimately about the matter (read both: “issue” and “stuff”) of constructing memory in general and as an aspect of art. As artists from Joseph Beuys to William Kentridge have posited, when piecing together the unrecoverable, the process ends up as the product. Arceneaux’s scenario includes not only his erasures and notations but tape, pushpins, reference materials, and the shipping containers that have brought the project from one location to the next. As I found in six visits over the course of the show’s first eight weeks, the work can change in slow steps or swift leaps. Like memory, it’s subject to change, reinscription, reversal, fast-forward, and tangents. Sometimes Arceneaux is there working and sometimes he isn’t; books, which most recently included an art-history text open at a reproduction of Courbet’s Studio of a Painter: A Real Allegory Summarizing My Seven Years of Life as an Artist, 1854–55, come and go, as do a host of other variables that might seem incidental but add to the fluctuation of meaning that’s at the heart of this project. Floor-to-ceiling mirrors installed along one wall served at one point to reflect and double the drawings and allow the visitor to see him- or herself amid the ongoing (re)construction. Then the mirrors themselves became drawing surfaces, adding to the wonder and confusion as one found oneself (and, on good days, the artist) caught among drawings reflecting drawings. The reflections become more fragmented as the mirrors are carved up and covered over—an aspect of the piece as visually compelling as it is metaphorically moving.

Talking while working, Arceneaux joked that he doesn’t imagine the piece reaching completion until he himself reaches his end, a kind of conclusion that, hopefully for the artist and his viewers, is a long way off. But even at such a moment this work will remain a matter of unfinished business.

Christopher Miles