"Black Wing" by Beverly Ress (2012)
"Black Wing" by Beverly Ress (2012)

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As children, we all learn to communicate with drawing. In material and process, it’s so accessible that we can take it for granted as a fine art or fail to grasp its essential role in the conceptual development of finished artworks. Continued curatorial focus on projects like Linn Meyers’s “Our View From Here,” a large, site-specific wall drawing at the Hirshhorn, or this spring’s Drawing Now Paris, the only international fair dedicated to drawing, reveals the complexity and versatility of a medium familiar to all of us, artists or not.

The Brentwood Arts Exchange is hosting an exhibition of 18 artists whose works stretch beyond skill to challenge the possibilities of the medium through March 11. The artists curator Nikki Brugnoli-Whipkey selected, all college instructors, employ drawing in both their studios and teaching practices. Two of the most influential educators in the D.C. area, Helen Frederick and Janis Goodman, contributed works that exemplify drawing as both vanguard and traditional. Frederick’s mixed-media installation of prints on custom paper represents indirect lines on the surface within a newer mode of experience, whereas Goodman’s graphite drawings stage an exquisite tension between realistic and abstract mark making.

Some of the most exciting works explore the parameters of material and surface while deftly expanding definitions of line or gesture as the end product of drawing. Beverly Ress folds, cuts, and extends paper from the wall, and materials like powdered graphite fall from the surface onto the floor. The gestural ink in Rebecca Kamen’s “Afterimage” has been laid on paper towels. Gently pinned into a grid on the wall, a delicate sculpture of inked mylar suspends before them and nearly disappears from sight into the echoed lines. The direction and density of lines in Matt Pinney’s “Cedar Forest” suggest landscape subject matter but reduce image to pure gesture. Strips of aluminum mysteriously applied to torn canvas evoke the spatial depth of relief sculpture, while its carefully executed incoherence resists traditional form. 

The artists share a common role as college instructors, but each executes the exhibition’s theme of mapping territories to different effect. Such territories include the act of plotting a line as the most basic gesture of drawing and as an encounter with space and memory. Works that accomplish this effectively allude to the unconscious presence of both lines and drawing in our daily lives. In “Scout Sets Her Plot,” an ambiguously narrative diptych, Carole Garman playfully evokes childhood activities that recall the universality of drawing. In a video entitled “Stitch” by Lisa Austin and Tom Weber, a man walks through the streets of Edinboro, Pennsylvania, leaving a line of white powder on the sidewalks with a device similar to the Dry Line Field Marker used in baseball. The playful absurdity, interspersed with digital maps documenting his progress, forces viewers to contemplate the terrains where we “leave our mark.” Likewise, the exhibition elicits new territories for creativity from an accessible means of creation. 

At Brentwood Arts Exchange through March 11. 3901 Rhode Island Ave., Brentwood, Md. Free. (301) 277-2863. arts.pgparks.com.