Alessandra Michelangelo (1961-2009) and Helen Burkhart Mayfield (1939-1997) were outsider artists whose experiences with schizophrenia resulted in intensely psychological renderings. Michelangelo’s de Chirico-like structures are homelike, animated buildings evoking the cityscape of Livorno, Italy. Each drawing focuses on architecture and/or landscape, incorporating written language, such as ‘disegno’ or ‘drawing,’ conveying a sense of innocent purpose. Thick lines create partially recognizable forms that appear accessible in their childlike depictions in bright colors. Flat deliberate lines create a sense of depth, and the use of crayon or colored pencil generates a gestural vibrancy. In contrast to Michelangelo, Mayfield’s colorless works resemble the viscerally psychological automatism of 20th century Surrealists, appearing as sinister shadows of her internal struggles. Made during a particularly tumultuous period of divorce, jail, and homelessness, these theatrical drawings resonate with her dance and costume-making background.
Tucker Nichols (b 1970) and Ann Toebbe (b 1974) take on familiar subjects, one singular and magnified, the other intricate and all-encompassing. Flowers and vases predominate Nichols’ works, a combination of the organic and synthetic: simple, common, and accessible. For the artist, these autonomous objects in DayGlo colors vibrate with energy, expressing a relationship between, the notion of decorative objects as mundane, and the exuberant reality of vegetal life. These straightforward and rudimentary shapes in flattened spaces evoke basic entities, with their self-conscious line bringing them into new light. Toebbe reduces life to a grid, creating intimate portraits through the depiction of uninhabited home interiors. The detail and spatial tension bring to mind Édouard Vuillard’s Parisian interiors. From a distance, the drawings resemble a board game or embroidered textiles, accentuating stereotypical female roles within the home. Playful, yet mysterious, the works require close inspection to unravel the lives and histories of projected residents.
Embracing an organic line, Lynne Woods Turner’s (b 1951) and Kristen Cochran’s (b 1975) works take a minimalist approach. Departing from representation, Turner’s drawings are line and form in the simplest sense, quietly composed explorations of geometry. In a meditative dance, the lines sometimes touch, disappear, materialize, straighten, or begin to curve. Colors exist within a precisely organic linear framework. For the artist, the recurring colors of reds, pinks, and greens refer to natural forces of life, the body, blood, and chlorophyll. Cochran departs from the institutional definition of drawing and from a reliance on paper as the primary support material. Large in scale, Cochran’s wall drawings have an anthropomorphic quality enhanced by second-hand materials, which suggest a history of use. She pushes the line across the plane into real space, engaging the object of art and the world.
This group of drawings ranges from the overtly personal and political, to the subtle and austere. As Paul Klee said, “A line is a dot that went for a walk.” This basic tool provides width, texture, and tone, while defining form, space, and direction, giving an artist endless possibilities.