rounding the corner
Kit White, 1999
ROUNDING THE CORNER
A line drawn by the hand forms a signature. It is distinctive to the individual who creates it. By its nature, it signifies an intent to make the presence of its author known. And, as the late American painter, Philip Guston once observed, “any mark made accrues meaning regardless of the intention of its maker.”
Intent and accrual. These are the twin components of the made mark. In an abstract image - one derived from the form of the world but apart from it - accrual is essential to the realization of intent. A mark too deliberated precludes the attachment of meaning that the viewer brings to it. Something which Guston foresaw as a vital part of the mark’s life. Here, the lacuna between intent and perception is the space that the viewer fills with his or her association. This is the location where an image finds completion. It arcs the stimulus created by the image maker with the reaction of the viewer.
This is the evocative space that Linda Schrank creates in her abstract images. It is an activated space, alive with both incident and accident; filled with deliberate references to historical images we know yet transformed into autonomous entities which we do not know. The conflation of the two is a metaphor for the way we see. And how we see, especially the degree to which we insert our personal and cultural histories into an image-encounter, delineates who we are.
In etching especially, where images emerge from an aggregate of marks, the signature of the hand and therefore of the individual, is everywhere. Each form is indebted to the individuated expression of touch - and touch, the dispersal of pressure through the drawing stylus, is the trace of the eye through the hand. It is through the hand that these images speak of the body. But it is not the body itself which is summoned, but rather a metaphor for the body as a signifier for presence. For the attenuated lines that undulate through Schrank’s sensuous images are autonomous. They are not a constituent part of some likeness, they are the image itself, embodying the force that propelled the hand that made them. They occupy space with the same authority as a human figure. They are both surrogate and counterpart. Equal in weight.
The space which Schrank’s lines occupy is also a conjured field. She describes “using a continuous linear rhythm to create volume,” so that line becomes both fire and the space that surrounds it, vessel and that which is contained by it. She speaks of “making the empty space full,” of the “interval being as important as the mark.” This is an idealized space, and as such it relates to the idealized spaces of Italian quattrocento paintings which have influenced Schrank’s imagery profoundly. One image in particular, that of Christ’s baptism, several versions of which are pinned to the wall of her studio, seems to have influenced her visual vocabulary. In each of these versions of the scene, stylized waves of water in parallel furrows pass over Christ’s torso, implying both surface and depth. In Schrank’s paintings, these stylized waves evolve into undulating parallel lines that designate movement and passage. They are the site of engagement between body and fluid. To create these lines, Schrank makes “combs” to scrape and apply paint. These combs mirror the numerous depictions of the Virgin’s hands which also line the walls of her studio; the stiffly parallel outstretched fingers implying the repetition of movement. The relation of hand to motion is both explicit and metaphorical.
Though this new suite of seven etchings, Rounding the Corner, differs in many respects from the paintings and large drawings which have preceded them, they are clear extensions of an abiding set of issues. The dense layerings of thick pigment with elusive linear images emerging and retreating have here given way to open fields of shimmering color with two and sometimes three wavering vertical lines transgressing the space. The process of “losing and finding” which propels her painting method, has found a leaner, more deliberate form in these prints. Stripped of the materiality of the painted surface which drives the process of her painting, Schrank has had to distill her principal issues: the interaction of the animated line in space. By paring down her vocabulary, she has isolated the most salient characteristics of her images and made more overt her intentions. But she has done so without losing the mystery of the undefined that is so critical to keeping an image open to the intimacy of personal experience.
New mediums require new solutions. Many of the changes in the imagery seem dictated by the difference between ink and pigment. In the paintings, the immersion of line within the accreted layers of thick paint creates an ambiguous space and underscores the commingling of fluid and body, a sense that boundaries between the two are sometimes fragile or arbitrary; that the material states of being to which we look for assurance are in fact changeable, transformable. It is the idea of transformation that underlies the ritual of Baptism, the recurrent image of wave and body that Schrank appears to repeatedly reference, sometimes overtly, often subliminally. In this suite of prints, the wave, in the form of line, now becomes body, and the shimmering fields are fluid, evanescent, a boundless medium which gestates that which occupies it. The linear elements both act on the space that surrounds them and conversely define it by their movements within it. In Rounding the Corner III, 1998, two contrasting lines, one olive green, the other russet, gyrate down either side of an oscillating warm gray field, binding the central area and drawing the viewer into the empty space. It is a space that seethes with an enlivened molecular energy; a field that envelopes and pulsates, becoming what Schrank calls “breathing made visible.”
The volumes within these images all gain definition from the rhythmic dance of lines passing through them. In Rounding the Corner IV, 1999, the lines assume paths of differing intensity,some assertive while others fade like vapor trails, signifying the trace of a former movement. Each act has a history and a future and, like the painting which preceded these images, the process of leaving and becoming, of “losing and finding” asserts itself. In this way, these prints must be viewed as a complete breath. A diastolic cycle. Open ended, but interdependent, each image feeding and giving birth to the next.
The first image of the series, Rounding the Corner I, 1998, is a slightly ominous black and white print. On the left, a darkened ghostly shape like a hood head arches back, barely touching the side and top which a single black line whipsaws down the right side, skirting the edge of a cross-hatched dark circular field that barely reaches the edges of the picture plane. The tension between the coiled energy of the rearing shape and the sprinted line is palpable. In the following image, Rounding the Corner II, 1998, the tension is dissipated, dispersed into a combed field of energized waves over which play two opposing lines, seemingly the survivors of the prior encounter. Though each image if new, elements sometimes survive from one state to another, preserving the echo of former incarnations. This echo is a form of memory, not unlike our own subconscious meanderings where the past continually reasserts itself in the present. We carry within each action the combined effect of our whole history. It is this parallel to our own inner processes that gives these images their delicate and intriguing resonance.
These images are not mimetic portraits of our outer selves, but rather they gently follow the delicate thread of logic that propels our thought. Like porpoises shadowing a boat, thee abstractions trail our thoughts, trajectories and conclusions, former decisions and their ghosts, the return of that which one thought was left behind. As the series title implies, they refer to the way our lives change, moving toward some events away from others. These images are meditations on process and discovery. They are a window and a mirror. They are the place where intention and accrual meet.