Wednesday, February 26, 2020

On mark-making - Travis Nicks

Mark-making to build clever images is compelling. If you take a sec to look real close, a mark seems distracted and imprecise, but step back and the aggregate is emotionally impactful; more than the sum of the marks. Some contemporary artists are doing truly mesmerizing work by combining mark-making to form shapes and figures. I’ll talk about the work of mark-making contemporary artists Saeki, Korty, Fairs, and Yamamoto. They work respectively in light pencil, mixed drawing media, soft dark graphite, and even salt grains to assemble big pictures from small straight lines, deliberately curved lines, repetitive loose shapes, or recognizable patterns. In the new millennium, these four have taken the marks from mark-making from controversial abstract acts of expression to delicate, interesting parts of a thematically understandable and emotionally resonate whole.

Back to cave paintings, through stylistic cultural art, through the impressionists, to today, mark-making has been a universal act. (Dissanayake, 2015) Mark-making is natural. Put a crayon in a kid’s hands and textural marks appear. More traditional western art has tried to obscure markings to refine images. Shading, smoothing, blending, and texture flattening methods have worked to make images appear to have materialized with no mechanical actions showing the process of creation. The marks used by mark-making artists are larger and deliberately revealed as distinctive lines and shapes. Then they are assembled together to show a larger image with its own voice. Hiroe Saeki is probably the clearest of the four I’ll describe. In Saeki’s 2004 Butterfly Flower #27, she assembles a layered orchid-like flower from small inorganic circles and mildly organic wobbling lines to make the flower with ponytail-like curves fitted between thin, nearly straight lines to make the stem. (Saeki) Looking closely at the marks they are delicate. Drawn together the circles look like fancy Japanese “washi” paper. But together, the marks make a gentle little flower. Another Japanese artist, Motoi Yamamoto, take these delicate “washi” paper-like shapes in a different direction in style, scale, and medium. His salt crystal drawing installations cover basketball court-sized floors with salt, often as evenly spaced lines of pure white crystals. His 2005 piece Labyrinth was a 34 square-meter visually rigid drawing of one-inch salt lines looking like an uninviting white labyrinth as a circuit board. (Yamamoto, Labyrinth (2005)) An installation drawing from 2007 is a massive 105 square-meter drawing of wobbly intermingling lines looking more like a topographical map of the valley below a large salt mountain at the center of the piece. (Yamamoto, Labyrinth (2007)) These marks taken on their own are compelling, but taking the image as a whole is another experience entirely as the little marks assemble into a larger image. David Korty brings us back in scale to Saeki’s work but is more motion heavy that the static work of she and Yamamoto. An untitled Korty drawing from 2003 shows two kinds of mark-making in the piece. (Korty) The drawing is of something like a parking lot at a public park; ground, trees, fence, cars. The trees are made of broad, jagged markings drawn to look more like the geometric lines of stained-glass windows. The ground is a textural juxtaposition. Those lines are four to five parallel lines in short wrapping curves wobbling across the page or doubling over onto themselves without crossing. The result is a small landscape that comes across as comforting on the ground and jarring in the trees. All this emotion coming across from aggregated mark-making. Tom Fairs takes the motion of Korty and adds darkness and aggression to the marks. The resulting pieces are whimsical or at least never darker than your average Scooby Doo haunted mansion. Fairs tiny 2004 Untitled drawing is a 25 square-inch walking path with a gate and overhanging trees made up of scratchy, quick marks in the graphite tones of different hardnesses and pressures. (Fairs) The image has some motion and seems more inviting and chill than static or foreboding. It is exciting like a summer breeze is.

All of this emotionally resonant work is done with distinctive mark-making. A style where the whole is more than the sum of its smaller marks.



Dissanayake, E. (2015, July 20). What Ancient Marks Reveal About Modern Makers. Retrieved from American Craft Council:

Fairs, T. (n.d.). Untitled (2004). Bomb Magazine.

Korty, D. (n.d.). Untitled (Cars with Broken Fence), 2003. Greene Naftani Gallery.

Saeki, H. (n.d.). Untitled (Butterfly Flower #27). MoMA.

Yamamoto, M. (n.d.). Labyrinth (2005). Return to the sea. Gallery Sowaka, Kyoto, Japan.Yamamoto, M. (n.d.). Labyrinth (2007). Return to the sea. Sumter County Gallery of Art, Sumter, South Carolina, USA.

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