A Time of Bones
Pierogi Flat Files at KSU

These days drawing is a term that covers a lot of territory. Anything that isn’t specifically
defined as something else may well be a drawing, even if it includes printmaking or
photographic or digital processes, or paint, or for that matter performance. Because of this
looseness it is probably the characteristic art form of our time, which at least in the art
world is an era that alternately embraces and eschews every kind of excess, but always
dearly loves a pile of marks. You can never be too thin or too rich, or have too many lines.
In fact, contemporary art can be so thin, so fine-boned and attenuated, that it’s all but
transparent, as if it’s saying that our culture as a whole has been mixed with a medium or
solvent. Perhaps artists are just getting back to basics. Drawing, the intention of making a
mark and proclaiming the presence of the hand, is the bone of art, the playing field and
first move in an important game that humans play between touch and mind, gesture and
perception. This is in some ways a time of bones.

Artist and gallery director Joe Amrhein started the Pierogi 2000 Gallery in 1994, serving
the burgeoning arts community in the section of Brooklyn known as Williamsburg, just
across the river from Manhattan’s lower east side. It was mainly a gallery among friends,
with vodka and pierogis proffered at openings for artists who weren’t getting their share of
play in the Manhattan gallery circuit. The signature feature of the place was its flat file
collection, where drawings and prints available for public perusal quickly accumulated. By
now the files contain the work of some 700 artists and these overflowing file drawers are
known all over the world as Pierogi’s greatest asset. The white metal cabinets have
travelled to galleries in cities worldwide, including London, Vienna, San Francisco, and Los

One of the more distinguished artists at KSU is an assistant professor named Darice Polo
(Free Times 9/6/06). Polo is from the Bronx originally and like most of Kent’s art faculty
makes frequent trips back to the big city. Pierogi was well known to her as one of the best
all-round resources for up-to-the-minute graphic experiments, as well as solid work by an
immense variety of established artists. From her point of view as a drawing teacher, it’s a
gold mine for students. Since travelling was what these particular flat files do, Polo was
able to schedule a show of works culled from Pierogi as KSU’s annual Drawing Invitational
for 2007 in the School of Art’s gallery, and rented a truck.

For the show itself Polo selected some 30 works by 17 artists, all of whom are based in the
eastern United States. Several Ohio and Pennsylvania artists are part of the mix, so the
exhibit is something of a survey of characteristic styles and approaches in drawing right
now, as practiced between Chicago and New York City. Since drawing of this kind really
has national or international points of reference, and is for the most part created by a very
peripatetic generation of art makers any of whom might next be found in Seattle or Peru,
the geography is more an aspect of relatedness than an attempt at a regional vision. And
if you don’t especially like the selection on the walls or just want to see more, the flat files
are right there in the gallery

The graphic smorgasbord on display includes a little bit of many types of drawing, from the
highly skilled soft-focus realist landscape studies of Bowling Green, Ohio  artist Charles
Kanwischer (Free Times 6/21/06) and similarly adroit, almost hallucinatory portrait
drawings and nudes by Tamie Beldue (of South Vienna, OH), to the feminist oriented
narrative cartoons of Chicago artist and former Clevelander Christa Donner. Large,
splashy abstractions by Kristopher Jones of Grand Rapids, MI begin with swathes of
coffee, then are fine-tuned by the addition of a complex circuitry of small lines and circles
drawn in ink. Pennsylvania State University’s Ann Tarantino’s Breath Portrait (Pink Bubble)
was made by blowing ink through a straw, among other techniques. Looping, swooping
gestures encounter delicate passages like eyelashes, or impinge on a stylish grid. She
calls these graphic occurrences “almost patterns,” suggestive of the infinite detail of things
both natural and produced by human beings. Just as process-driven with a slightly
revolting sensual twist are works by Pittsburg’s Christopher Craychee, who should win
some kind of prize here for the most unusual medium. Using sections of carpet, he burns
images into the nap, creating very readable portraits of Karl Marx, Alfred Nobel, and a
section of Mt. Rushmore.

The largest work on view, and also one of the most innovative, is a drawing by a Pierogi-
represented artist that certainly could not fit in a flat file. On a partition wall near the front
of the space, Youngstown University instructor Dragana Crniak’s jet black marks seem to
float slightly out from the surface, appearing almost to vibrate. Varying in length from mere
spots to three-inch oblong shapes, their three dimensional appearance is heightened by a
slight vertical smearing, which acts as a transitional visual layer. Starting both near the
floor and up high on the blank ground, the marks straggle randomly, coagulating is if by
accident at eye level on both sides of the wall’s jutting corner. They’re a little like iron
filings magnified, but part of the strength of this work is its indefinite quality, a tension
between vagueness and the fact that the black is so firm, so nearly tangible. This is
exactly what makes drawing important: The marks we make, from footprints to graffiti to a
sketch in a cave at Lascaux or in an art school class room, are our autobiography, proof
of our passage through the world. But also, these traces propose a reality that is capable
of surprising us. These are things that are not there, that are ghosts of themselves, to
which hints of significance cling like the chemistry of a different, more human reality.

[Free Times 10/10/07]