From Wagner to Waits

Josef Albers, teaching at Black Mountain College, emphasized to his students that to see a thing well enough to draw it they must be “fully awake.”

Three current, local drawing exhibits are likely to open viewers‘ eyes, as well — to three vastly different approaches in craft and concept.

Gregory Masurovsky, a student of Albers at Black Mountain College who’s lived in Paris for many years, uses a labor-intensive method to create the mysterious works on display at Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center.

The other two artists live and work in Asheville. John Dempsey III is showing a collection of portraits and figure drawings at the gallery at the Fine Arts League, a downtown art school. True to the institution’s traditionalist approach, Dempsey works in classical mode — including classic presentation; pieces are enclosed in mats and wood frames. Figure studies are done in conte crayon (this is an assumption, since no information was provided about dates of the works or materials). The line is strong and sure and the resulting drawings are simple and pleasing.

Dempsey’s head studies exhibit a number of similarities: Almost all of the subjects here wear some kind of turban, and many of the women look worried. But the strongest of the graphite portraits is “Head Study for Fresco.” The head is beautifully constructed — the dreadlocks look ready to move. Two conte portraits, though, are the show’s most spontaneous pieces: “Christopher at Work” is loose but skillfully rendered; “Scott” has well-defined facial planes and expressive eyes.

Leaving the drawings of Dempsey for those of Lauren Scanlon is like exiting a Wagnerian opera for a show featuring gruff rock-poet Tom Waits. Her work is real, gritty: It is serious — and yet refuses to take itself too seriously. Scanlon’s series of drawings, collectively titled Flying, can be seen in a portfolio at Long Shot Gallery. The unframed works are created with gouache, pastel and graphite on Arches Cover paper soaked in coffee.

Strongly conceptual, Scanlon’s ideas flow and free-associate from one work to the next: out come images of men who stand, arms outstretched, as if working to maintain balance — pretending to be able to fly, but flat-footedly earth-bound for all that. Periodically, a rooster struts by.

Scanlon based her image of a crow on an experiment done by scientists who placed a female of that species in a box close to another box containing food. The same scientists were surprised when the crow was able to bend a piece of wire to reach the food in the other box.

But they were the only ones surprised, Scanlon’s work seems to be saying.

The artist’s female figures are fascinating: One is an innocent-looking young girl in a bustier and pantaloons, her hair pinned up, her hands held under her chin. Another, “Bunny Girl,” strides confidently across the page in a striped pullover, dark-rimed glasses, mini skirt, chunky shoes and bunny ears. The third figure is a woman in a slip. She wears a hat, big boots — and appears to be pouring from multiple kettles.

It’s a fitting image — Scanlon’s own process is many-layered, fearlessly experimental and vociferously human. The artist works the surface of her paper hard; some pieces are made up of various-sized drawings attached to other drawings, and are appropriately cross-stitched, in places, with a flesh-colored embroidery thread.

[Connie Bostic is an artist and writer living in Asheville.]

Gregory Masurovsky’s work will show at Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center (56 Broadway; 350-8484) through Saturday, May 29. John Dempsey III’s exhibit is up at the Fine Arts League (25 Rankin Ave.; 252-5050) through Tuesday, June 1. Lauren Scanlon’s Flying, a portfolio exhibit shown by appointment only, is on display at Long Shot Gallery (13 1/2 Eagle St.; 877-4552).

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