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Drawing the Line presents works on paper, sculpture, and fabric pieces from the Museum’s collection that reveal new approaches to the integration of drawing techniques into media that have not been traditionally associated with these genres. The exhibition includes works in the MCASD collection by Amy Adler, Jacci Den Hartog, Kim Dingle, Eugenie Geb, Iana Quesnell, Margaret Honda, Marta Palau, and Nancy Rubins. Tania Candiani is also represented with a new large-scale textile on loan. These works are brought together with additional pieces by invited artists Marisol Rendón, from San Diego; Mely Barragán, from Tijuana; and Lynne Berman and Shizu Saldamando, from Los Angeles. Together, they present a wide gamut of approaches to drawing, ranging from traditional tonal renderings of landscape views to diagrammatic representations of situational maps; from realistic portraiture to the metaphoric use of the figure; and from mark-making as a record of past events to drawing as performance.
In the history of academic art, drawing was seen as a means and not an end in itself. Drawings were produced as preparatory studies for the production of paintings or sculptures; it was that which lay under painting, a scaffolding or structure to support and organize brushstrokes and color. As a preparatory study of nature or the human figure, it was a tool to aid the artist in perceiving and reproducing the world realistically; but its primary function still was to remain hidden, part of the artist’s toolkit and relegated to the studio or classroom. Changes in drawing’s status as an art medium began to take place during the 19th century with the Impressionists, who as they broke with academicism, began to produce drawings for their own sake, and to explore all the qualities of the media—the soft sfumato of pastels; the disturbing, dry darkness of charcoal—to carry the content of their art. The Impressionists interest in perception and representation of modern life through engagement with the surface qualities of their media dislodged the preeminence of narrative and opened the door to the potential of formal and material experimentation over content.
It is precisely drawing’s directness as a medium that gives this genre its ability to be fully receptive of an artist’s nascent intentions. With none of the theoretical weight of the painting genre to contend, drawing remains a space of open experimentation unobstructed by a historical tradition that demands specific analysis. As a genre, it does not give over easily to categorization and resists traditional definitions and the elaboration of a consistent discourse based on formalist values. Rather, the nature of drawing is not limited by media, nor is it characterized by a format. To draw is to engage in a creative space outside of the prerequisites of language in which experience and idea come together through line. Its potential lies, therefore, not in the success of drawings to represent, but in the potency of the medium to express directly the gestures and intensity of its making—to memorialize, meditate, act, and think through the performatic, bodily activity of making a line.
The artworks on view reveal a bias towards the performative qualities of mark-making, shading, and diagramming, incorporating aspects of performance art linked to the integration of the feminine body as a critical site of personal and political power.

Drawing / Dibujo, 1993
graphite on paper/
grafito sobre papel
Museum purchase and gift of the artist and Paul Kasmin
Gallery, New York
© Nancy Rubins

Author Peggy Phelan has argued that early feminist performance art is characterized by a particular attitude towards touch, which requires “that we put the sentient body at the center of knowing.”1 While none of the artists in the exhibition have “performed” their drawings before a public, many prioritize their own bodily engagement with the material of drawing over a sustained period of time. The subject of Nancy Rubins’ Drawing (1993), for example, is the activity of drawing itself. Implied in the work’s vigorous graphite crosshatching are the artist’s own actions upon the paper, This shifts the drawing from a representation of something into an object that embodies the artist herself.

Director, 2006
pastel on canvas / pastel sobre tela
Museum purchase, International and Contemporary Collectors Funds
© Amy Adler 2006
Photo: Pablo Mason

Something similar occurs in Amy Adler’s Director (2006), a work that represents the artist’s reconsideration of her own creative process. Utilizing primed canvas instead of paper as a base, the Los Angeles artist provides the viewer with an unmediated experience of the medium as applied by her hand. She situates herself in the middle of the process, as it were, as a way to subtly subvert the qualities of the media, because the image that appears is created as much by the trace of graphite left behind as it is by its absence on the corrugated surface of the primed canvas.
Drawing is a trace; it is evidence of a deliberate action. This is highlighted in works by Iana Quesnell and Lynne Berman, two artists whose interest in diagramming their own lives overlaps with their preoccupation with space and narration. Iana Quesnell’s Triptych: Migration Path (2007) describes the artist’s movements as she travelled between La Jolla, the former location of her studio, and her Tijuana home via the public transit system. Her astonishingly detailed drawings are self-referential and experientially driven. The large pencil and graphite works on paper are multi-dimensional cartographies that follow her movements through a specific territory, narrowing in on the particular coordinates where she settles for longer or shorter periods of time. Similarly, but utilizing a highly abstracted and personal mark-making language, Los Angeles artist Lynne Berman represents tours she has taken through highly contested sites of Jewish oppression, such as concentration camps in Eastern Europe. Berman explores the “relationships between fictionalized spaces, historical social spaces, and the formal language of space in the work of art.”2 Her drawings result from calligraphic “notes” taken during her travels. Once in the studio, these notes are translated into a variety of watercolor drawings; some use language descriptions, others layer the calligraphic notes into an abstract recreation or spatial score of her experience.

Triptych: Migration Path / Tríptico: Vía migratoria, 2007
graphite on paper / grafito sobre papel
Museum purchase, Louise R. and Robert S. Harper Fund
© Iana Quesnell 2007
Photo: Pablo Mason

Tour of Tours: SeeKrakow-Auschwitz. June 27, 2007 / Tour de Tours: VeaKrakow-Auschwitz. Junio 27, 2007, 2008
watercolor and ink on paper / acuarela y tinta sobre papel
© Lynne Berman
Courtesy of the artist

Both of these artists inflect their work with a feminist interest in grounding their point of view within a growing matrix of visual associations in order to explore and problematize notions of subjectivity. This is an approach also shared by other artists in the exhibition and particularly visible in the work of Tijuana artists Tania Candiani and Marta Palau, both of whom apply drawing to a variety of media that includes textiles and various forms of installation art. Tania Candiani’s Lo visible intervenido (That which is visible intervened) (2005) overlays the artist’s subjective viewpoint upon everyone else’s. Lo visible intervenido represents a view through an existing window in a historic building in downtown Mexico City. Commissioned to do a site-specific piece, the artist covered what would be visible to others through the window with what only she had seen. “The perception of what is real is a personal construction,” Candiani states, adding, “In this work, the lines that make the landscape are narrative elements, and the thread is the visible material I used to ‘read’ the exterior world.”3 For Marta Palau, however, context and site are understood subjectively, but are also enmeshed in an inescapable historical and cultural matrix.

Lo visible Intervenido /
That Which is Visible Intervened, 2005
thread sewn on canvas / hilo cosido en tela
© Tania Candiani
Courtesy of the artist

Front-era (2003) is an abstract installation created from 41 individual twig ladders arranged into a triangle of 13 ladders on each side to evoke her interest in cabbalistic ritual, sorcery, and feminine mystical power. Mexican pre-Columbian mythology, in particular the prehistoric cave paintings in Baja California, influenced both the form and content of her work. The hyphenated title is a double interpretation of the Spanish word for border, a word that can arbitrarily delimit any space or object. Front-era speaks to a time of the border and the aspiration—as well as the danger—ladders and borders imply.

Front-era, 2003
installation of 41 ladders made of small branches / instalación de 41 escaleras hechas de ramas
Museum purchase with proceeds from Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego Benefit Art Auction 2004
© Marta Palau 1993
Photo: Pablo Mason

Proud Boy from the series Golden Boy / Proud Boy de la serie Golden Boy, 2008
pencil and acrylic on paper /
lápiz y acrílico sobre papel
© Mely Barragán
Courtesy of the artist

Other artists in the exhibition use drawing as a means to comment on popular culture and ethnic and gender identity. Women’s roles, gender relations, and the sexualized female body are long-term preoccupations of Tijuana artist Mely Barragán. In her latest ongoing series, Golden Boy, she features a body-builder to problematize her own assumptions about gender by exploring the objectification of the male figure. An interest in describing and investigating subcultures marks the drawings and paintings of Los Angeles artist Shizu Saldamando. Of Mexican-American and Japanese-American heritage, Saldamando focuses on subcultures that have created identities that depart from mainstream representations of Hispanic minorities towards more fluid, ambiguous, and complex identifications that are, nevertheless, self-aware about their cultural differences. The artist Marisol Rendón, who was born in Colombia and now lives in San Diego, also finds in her work a means to explore the cultural divide. In her drawings, common objects are transformed into complex repositories of memories and meanings to reflect the culture at large and her memories and life experiences.

At 1:00 am /
A la 1:00 am., 2007
charcoal on paper /
carbón sobre papel
© Marisol Rendón
Courtesy of the artist

Maria Daniela y su Sonido Lasser Concert, Asuza, CA. /
Concierto de María DanielA y su Sonido Lasser, Asuza, CA., 2008 graphite on wood / grafito sobre madera
© Shizu Saldamando
Courtesy of the artist

Passing a Pleasant
Summer III / Pasando un verano agradable III, 1998
polyurethane and steel /
poliuretano y acero
Gift of the Alberta duPont Bonsal Foundation

© Jacci Den Hartog 1998

Whether focused on the act of drawing itself, on subjective exploration, or on identity, drawing has emerged as a fluid and experimental medium. Several works in the exhibition, for example, are sculptures in which properties derived from drawing are foremost. In the relief of Jacci Den Hartog, the barbed wire protective devices of Margaret Honda, and Mely Barragán’s plush-fabric piece, form is defined not by mass or volume, but by line, creating a sense of a drawing in three-dimensional space rather than a solid object in a room. In these pieces as in others in the exhibition, the sense of immediacy derived from the works arises equally from the simplicity of drawing as a means of expression as it does from its transparency as a conveyor of the artist’s intuition, experience, and intention.

Lucía Sanromán
Assistant Curator