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Detail of sketchbook, Ben Tolman, 2011

Process seems to be a theme lately in D.C. galleries. Hillyer Art Space recently hosted 700 volumes from Art House Co-op’s Sketchbook Project. Arlington Arts Center is calling for artists to submit studies created in preparation for finished works. The Kreeger is examining Tom Wesselmann’s drawing process. All three exhibits call special attention to drawing.

Two of Washington’s alternative arts spaces are also hosting drawing exhibitions. Though each exhibition pushes the convention of drawing and exhibits a variety of drawing methodologies, neither show really moves the visitor far outside the comfort zone.

With “Off in a Corner, “Flashpoint presents two bodies of finished works that purport to push the boundaries between high art and cartooning. Murakami has already transgressed those lines with reckless abandon, and this show adds little to the dialogue. As a drawing show, it can be summarized as a study in contrasts linked by alcohol. Adam Dwight re-imagines the biography of Candace Lightner, the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, with a series that is mostly gouache on panel. Gouache, of course, is paint—-but Dwight doesn’t handle the medium in a painterly way, instead using it to fill space between the lines of his drawings.

Contrasting Dwight’s works are the (literally) hundreds of mostly achromatic ink drawings by Dana Jeri Maier—-each on a bar coaster. Whereas Dwight has a clear theme resonating throughout his series, Maier’s work is a view of compulsive drawing that revisits ideas but doesn’t care to stick to a specific narrative. Unless, of course, that narrative is sticking to the format: drawing on bar coaster. The work is akin to Andy Moon Wilson‘s business card series from a couple years back, wherein he drew meticulous doodles on 2-by-3.5-inch cards—-a series that, according to Maier’s blog, she is familiar with. Of course, Wilson isn’t the first artist to plug away, iron man style, on a series.

A few blocks north, Transformer hosts “Sketch,” for which 16 emerging D.C. artists submitted sketchbooks. The exhibition is participatory; people observing the show are welcome to add their own drawings to the wall thanks to a healthy supply of drawing tools perched on a ledge. On April 30, Reuben Breslar will even host his second “Draw-In” in the space—-another opportunity for visitors to Stop by Transformer and draw.

At the center of the exhibition is the sketchbook: that wonderful diary where artists work through their ideas with writings, drawings, collage, rips, staples, stitches, tape, and an assortment of other mangling. While a typical sketchbook might give an unvarnished glimpse into the intimate and often messy workings of the artist’s mind, at Transformer, the sketchbooks functions more like finished works of art, only smaller and with a fold. For instance, Bradley Chriss’ book is filled with his meticulous tiny doodles. Jenny Walton documents her rehabilitation, learning to draw with her subordinate hand and diagramming exercises.

Detail of sketchbook, Oreen Cohen, 2011
The only submission that pushes the conventional boundaries of the sketchbook—-and of drawing shows in general—-is Oreen Cohen’s. Though the gallery is providing white gloves for guests to handle the sketchbooks, you may want to opt for latex, at least if you don’t want to be totally skeeved out. Encased in wax melted from tea lights, Cohen’s book preserves detritus found in the woods, including rusted metal, a tuft of bear fur, and a dead bird. She’s stuck to the basic function of a sketchbook—-a document of the artist’s ideas and experiences—-but her approach is pleasantly in-your-face.

“Off in a Corner” is on view to May 7 at Flashpoint. “Sketch” is on view to May 7 at Transformer. Photos by Natalie Cheung/courtesy Transformer.