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Nancy Tousley

Sydney Drum
Art Gallery of Ontario, September 23 - November 19, 1978

artscanada, #226 / 227, May / June 1979.
[ 662 words ]


Sydney Drum's ten large-scale wall and floor drawings (1977 - 78) set up a series of direct relations between concepts and the artist's own body, between gesture and form. Once a decision has been made to employ a particular gesture, the configuration and scale of a drawing is determined by the nature of the gesture, by the artist's physical position in relation to the drawing, and by the extended reach of her arms and hands. Drum describes this as 'using the body as a template in space.'

Motion defined by the body equals mark. The best of these drawings are records of repeated physical actions whose visible tracks culminate in an image. Most of the images are centred within the fields, and most are symmetrical. Drawing materials, 'touch', and the character of gesture at the edges of form are crucial factors.

Two linear wall-mounted drawings made in 1977 present the most successful coalescence of idea, action and image. In the first, a 7' by 6' vertical drawing, a brush-like accumulation of wiry lines fans out from the central axis. The form is narrow and dense at the bottom, arching and more open at the top and sides. Working over the paper from the bottom up and from the centre out with a graphite stick in each hand, Drum strained to attain the farthest limits of her reach in height and width while maintaining a relatively constant central position in front of the field. The fan of upward-thrusting lines is imprinted with the physical tensions which created them. The beautiful form which results has a tremulous line quality and varied graphic density that makes its shallow space seem almost to vibrate with contained energy.

The second somewhat smaller drawing shows two tassel-like configurations oriented to the horizontal with their ends almost abutting at the centre. As in the first drawing both parts of this image were created simultaneously. Again, the sense of energy contained and created through form results from qualities of touch and line. The vibrating tension in this drawing moves outward from the centre as though the nearly touching ends of the forms provided an energy source. The filament-like line-ends dance with febrile intensity.

When Drum moves her activity from the wall to the floor the work weakens. The intimate qualities of drawings, even on a large scale, pull the viewer toward them for a close inspection. Perhaps in order to make these floor pieces project more forcefully, Drum switched from graphite on paper to heavily gessoed canvas, worked in certain controlled areas with graphite that is then displaced by a turpentine wash applied with long strokes of a wide brush. Graphite builds up along the edges of the strokes and concentrates in dark splashes at their ends. Drum's demonstrated sensitivity to surface and tone is coarsely translated by these materials. Tone becomes more a matter of contrast than of subtlety.

Compositional strategies also change; action enters the pictorial field not from a central or interior position but from outside its boundaries. Working from the two opposite long sides of the canvas rectangle, Drum now explores a principle that balances diagonally opposed reverse mirror images of strokes. There is a certain freedom in being able to walk around these drawings, but seeing them on a horizontal surface cut free from the laws of gravity is a dislocating experience. It destroys the logic of their making and, therefore, their meaning as images. The fact that they were made on the floor does not mean that we have to look at them there: think of Jackson Pollock. In the floor drawings Drum seems to have been stymied by the conceptual strictures of her methodology. Her other work hints at better things to come.


artscanada, #226 / 227, May / June 1979.


Text: © Nancy Tousley. All rights reserved.

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