NAC on the UES

Serra @ Starr

The weight of my body causes the floorboards to creek as I cautiously approach one of Richard Serra’s drawings. From a distance the form of Serra’s line struck me as the dominant feature. Images of skid marks in parking lots, of the coiled snake that does not want to be treaded upon, of a determined child fisting a crayon, grinding the waxy point down to a dull stub—these associations melt away now that I am within arm’s reach of the object.

Up close I can see that these drawings were done on transparencies, not paper. The thick black material Serra drew with looks like creosote that’s been in the sun; its physical properties are exactly opposite those of the clean-cut, clear plastic sheet. Holes, presumably where Serra pinned the transparency to whatever backing he used to draw upon, are visible in the corners. The surface is not only punctured, it buckles and bulges—heaving almost, and summoning up images of slate grey waves beneath an anvil sky. Nothing placid here.

             I stand at an angle, oblique to the surface of the work and see now that this crusty dark material has been applied to both sides of the transparency. This is why the work does not sit flat in its mount. I am looking through the drawing as much as I’m looking at it, realizing as I do that the backside of the drawing is visible to a degree on the front. The effect is something like seeing one’s reflection in the window through which one looks out and views a landscape.

There is a superimposition that occurs, a layering that seems crucial to the work, though it may be less conceptual than intrinsic to the artist’s process. Maybe the double-sidedness was not a preconceived notion, but the natural result of a Serra’s methodology; as if the artist ran out of transparencies while he was drawing and simply began using the backsides. It is not unthinkable, but then, why would Serra have used transparencies if he didn’t intend to take advantage of their principle quality?

The repeating motif in many of these drawings is a sort of corkscrew spiral. I count the number of turns in one piece—six—and proceed to spin myself around that many times. The works blur by in a smudge of a line that approximates the marks of Serra’s drawings. I imagine them sharing a room with studies by Joseph Albers, perhaps the orange and red ones he made in Mexico.

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