Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Essay: Anna Redwine

April Turtle, 2007
Carbon on primed panel
24 x 37 in.
$ 825

ANNA REDWINE – Life In One Breath
By Wim Roefs

Anna Redwine’s young career has been a balancing act between drawing and painting. In her 2001-2003 series of self-portraits on panel, the black-and-white grease pencil drawings are streaky and painterly while the colored oil and pencil works rely as much on finely drawn lines as on color. A series of mostly non-representational works on paper, painted in the Bavarian town of Frauenau in 2004, retain despite their painterly qualities a strong sense of draftsmanship. 

Her current animal renderings look and feel at once like drawings and paintings. The carbon renderings of the insects, birds and other animals are drawings, but the surface they’re on suggests that Redwine wanted to take them beyond a life as a drawing. The support consists of birch panels covered with layer upon thin layer of rabbit-skin glue mixed with powdered marble, “woven” with a brush alternately in opposing directions to increase the structural soundness of the surface. After she applied these layers of traditional gesso, Redwine sanded the surface until it was porcelain smooth and ready to draw on. 

The particular whiteness of her surface emphasizes space in ways that acrylic gesso or bleached paper might not. The stretcher behind the panels, which pushes the pieces off the wall, does so, too. The stretchers also give the artworks more heft than most would associate with a drawing. “Having such a substantial surface and structure legitimizes the economy of the drawings, which are deliberately sparse,” Redwine says. “When I drew them on paper, they were interpreted as little sketches or preliminary drawings.” 

“For me, in my work, there isn’t a great difference between drawing and painting. Color is important to me in its ability to function as a visceral metaphor and to describe a place or memory or something not altogether with me at the time. But when I draw from life, color seems almost silly to me, contrived even. I draw because it’s raw, because drawings allow the viewer to have the same experience that the artist has. I am always concerned with life, and I believe in the life of a drawing.”

“When I labor over a painting, the thrill of it, the life, is gone. Drawing is raw and honest and risky and exposed. Even when I erase or redraw a line, the evidence of the entire life of the creation is there. To me, the process is the art, and the end product its result.”

Redwine took the immediacy of drawing up a notch with her animal drawings. After painstakingly preparing the panels, after drawing animals from life, outdoors, in her sketchbooks for months to prepare, and after observing her eventual subjects sometimes for hours, even days, the final drawings on panel were done in a minute or two or just seconds. 

The lizard moved around. A bug on the “wrong” side of a leaf kept her waiting. The mosquito bit her left arm as she drew it with her right, rather large, at the top of the panel, to indicate its proximity. The drawings in most cases only take up a fraction of the 48” x 24” panels, leaving vast areas of crucial negative space. By deliberately placing her renderings just so, mostly off-center, Redwine activated the space in a way that conveys how the animals inhabited the area around them when she drew them. 

“When the animal leaves, the drawing is over,” Redwine says. “If the animal moves, so do the marks I make. In East Asian calligraphy, this approach of creating an artwork in one sitting, never to work back into it, is referred to as painting in ‘one breath.’” 

“In this body of work I use the verb ‘to draw’ to mean not only to place marks on a surface but also ‘to extract’ or ‘distill.’ I extract the essence of the animals. I channel their life as I observe them. During the best drawing experiences, I feel in my own joints the way their bodies move and I am able to predict decisions they make as they interact with their environment. At these times I view the animal with empathy as another living thing. When I was in Costa Rica, I was taught the phrase, sort of a national motto, ‘¡pura vida!’ Pure life. That’s my ambition in art.”

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