| Terrence Heath
The Drawings of Ernest Lindner (1972)
Mendel Art Gallery and Civic Conservatory, Saskatoon, Winter 1972.
artscanada #166/167/168, Spring 1972.
[ 1,184 words ]
'The forms change; life goes on.' With ever greater concentration and increasing consistency, Ernest Lindner has pursued this philosophy of life in his art work. His most recent exhibition of drawings, which opened at the Mendel Art Gallery and Civic Conservatory in Saskatoon, February 4, 1972, offers a new and, in many ways, startling step in the visual realization of his search for the oneness of man and nature under their varied and changing forms. In these large drawings, Lindner has stared with unblinking eyes at the human figure until it has begun to yield its affinities with the surface and structural forms of the landscape. The female body loses its romantic and erotic subterfuge, becoming an object to be subsumed into the patterns of all organic life. The nude figure is the dominant theme of the exhibition but the range of interpretations which the artist has presented is surprisingly broad. His central interest is the multiplicity of position and form. Most of the drawings show the figure in several interconnected positions. Some of these studies verge on the surrealistic. Twin Flowers and Mutations, for example, show the body duplicating itself. The clear suggestion is not that of a reflection in a mirror but of the mitosis of cells. Each unit is in the process of separation.
In the main, however, these figure studies are less specific in their biological reference. Some of them, like Interlocking Figures and Reclining Nudes, seem much like superimposed photographs. In these the central interest is almost exclusively focused on the body form itself. The most successful of these superimpositions is the drawing entitled Repose. Here the images are more like reverberations of the central figure than different positions of the model.
Another group, and probably the most successful in the show, consists of superimposed figures, which are so subtly and suggestively interlinked they seem to shift before the eyes. Often they merge into northern landscapes. The folds and creases of skin have a cloud texture; the limbs become tree trunks and branches caught in the sun. Two of these are entitled Human Landscape, but the illusion is most complete in the drawing Viewpoints. Here two frontal views of the nude are superimposed. The figures merge into one another and into a landscape which is really the impression of a landscape rather than a clearly defined set of perceived objects. In two of his drawings Lindner has imposed nude figures on an explicit northern setting. One of them, Mirage, almost comes off, but Awakening is really willful and unconvincing. Perhaps philosophical considerations have triumphed over the intuitive and sensual assurance which made the illusion of landscape acceptable in the other superimpositions.
In addition to these drawings of changing form, there are a number on more conventional themes. Three portraits are included in the show. While two of these are good straightforward representations of their subjects, the third, entitled simply Drawing, has captured in lucid detail a moment of fear. The eyes look straight out of the picture and seem to fill with apprehension even as the viewer looks at the picture. Across the mouth and lower part of the face, the artist has superimposed a hand holding a drawing pencil. The technique here is the same as in the drawings of interlocking figures, but the tension between the artist's meticulous attention to the detail of hands, hair, skin texture, etc., and the intensity of the model's emotion in her stare creates a gripping and disturbing portrait. The viewer has become the viewed, and feeling somehow that he is guilty of causing the panic in these wild, frightened eyes. At the same time we cannot resist looking away from the eyes and examining the picture's detail.
Lindner uses frontality in these drawings as he has in all his paintings of the last seven or eight years. Even in the portraits the face fills the picture and there is no background. This emphasis on the foreground of the subject, to the exclusion of its surroundings, is in line with Lindner's increasing interest in the detail, indeed in the microscopy of organic life. He likes to cite the large amount of information a biologist can obtain from the rigorous examination of the tissue, cells, pores, etc., of even a small area of skin.
Two of the drawings in the show are closeups of hands. In the one entitled Hands, the model's hands, with their protruding veins and creased skin, are set in front of the very smooth skin of the torso. In the second, entitled Folded Hands, we see the details of the model's knuckles and nothing else. In this drawing a part of the human body becomes not landscape but pure form.
This is by any account an excellent exhibition. The visual and emotional impact of the drawings is very great. I found myself returning again and again to examine this drawing or that almost as if I wanted to create a perfect memory. There are weak drawings in the show — although none of them is weak from the point of view of technique. Awakening, Mutation and Reclining Nudes fail to work because they stray from the sensual and emotional into the sentimental and didactic. The majority of the drawings, however, work at a high level and a few, such as Repose, Crouching Woman and Twin Flowers leave a very deep impression.
The fourth effect is less an effect and more a device. The zoom lens on the camera allowed him to take very detailed, closeup photographs of the forest. The process parallels in a mechanical way the frontality or closeupness of the image in these paintings. The slides could provide him with information which it would have been difficult to have working directly from nature.
The only regret that might legitimately be voiced is that the reproductions in the catalogue could be better. The drawings depend on very fine variations in shading for their impact and these gradations are badly rendered in the photographs. On the other hand it is gratifying to see an attempt being made to reproduce all the drawings in the space of this 20-page catalogue.
For most of Ernest Lindner's life as an artist since the 30s, public interest in and demand for drawings has been slight. Although he has always had a penchant for working with pencil, he has not previously brought together a complete show of this work. John Climer, Director of the Mendel Art Gallery, is to be congratulated for encouraging Lindner to spend full time working in this medium.
The exhibition will tour Canada from coast to coast. From Saskatoon it has been moved to the Norman Mackenzie Art Gallery in Regina; from there it will travel to The Winnipeg Art Gallery; then in June to the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston; in August, to the Burnaby Art Gallery in B.C.; in September, to the Glenbow-Alberta Institute at Calgary; in October, to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton; in November, to Nancy Poole's Studio in Toronto; and in January to Confederation Art Gallery and Museum in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
artscanada #166/167/168, Spring 1972.
Text: © Terrence Heath. All rights reserved.
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