Thursday, October 10, 2013

Marilyn Frasca’s “Like This” at Childhood’s End

The Weekly Volcano, Oct. 10, 2013

And Then the Boys Played War
The 71 drawings in Marilyn Frasca’s “Like This,” at Childhood’s End are stunning. It is an exhibition of drawings done since 2001. All of the drawings are done with pastel or other media drawn into monoprints. Each picture tells a story, be it the story of Squaxin Indians recreating an historic canoe trip or depictions of Native American legends, be it a tender rendition of people with their animals, or art about the horror of war and the events of Sept. 11, 2001. They are memories and events real and imagined, created with sensitivity to form, balance, texture; and each picture, no matter how real or how detailed, began with what the Surrealists called automatic writing — marks on a surface derived from the artist’s unconscious.
There is power here. And love. And humanity.

The earliest drawing in the show is a little black and white image that Frasca created by inking a Plexiglass plate, messing around with it and finally driving her Subaru over it to create an abstract image of densely textured areas.  The piece is called "Terror of the Situation." It looks like a horse’s head. Frasca said, “This is something Gurdjieff refers to in his writings that happens to people when they are pondering very difficult questions. At the time I made this I was deeply disturbed by the USA support for war.”

Every other piece in the show is an outgrowth of this in which she created textured areas on paper
One Song
through similarly made monoprints, and then, over time, studied the textural areas until she found images within the abstract forms and drew them out with pastels or other drawing implements. Many of the earlier ones were reactions to the attacks on Sept. 11. The whole back wall of the gallery consists of war-related images made in this way, including a large drawing of two Palestinian women standing in front of Picasso’s great anti-war painting “Guernica.” One of the women is holding a candle, which resonates with the arm holding a lamp in Picasso’s painting, a metaphor for light shown on the horror of war. A nearby wall text includes a clipping from Maureen Dowd’s column in the New York Times which said that when Colin Powell addressed the U.N. in the buildup to the Iraq War he had “Guernica,” which hangs in the U.N., covered up because he could not make the case for going to war with it in view.

Each picture in Frasca’s show is a dialog between the abstract and the figurative; between smooth, flat areas of color and roughly textured shapes; between the conscious and the unconscious; between images seen and images imagined. 

A drawing called “A Gathering” is almost completely filled with a large textured area that looks like a rugged Cliffside with — as if she grew out of the cliff — a winged angel to the far right. The angel is the only recognizable image, and everything except her face is filled with the original textural marks. At the opposite extreme formally, none of the original texture remains in “Daily Practice.” It is an image of a woman with outstretched arms upon which three birds are perched. Somewhere between these in terms of the balance between abstract textures and realistic figure drawing is “Where Ever We Go,” a drawing of two standing women in which the textured areas become robes or shrouds that wrap around the two figures. Only the head of one woman can be seen, and only the eyes of the other.

Like This
The piece from which the show takes its title is “Like This.” It pictures a person holding two masks in his hands. One is a dull gray mask of a face with no eyeballs. It covers the person’s face. The other mask is yellow and its tongue is sticking out. As the person changes masks he or she becomes “like this” and then “like this.” The artist said that it was only after completing the drawing that she learned that both masks are traditional in Native American culture.

A canoe journey inspired “Leaving Squaxin.” Every year the Squaxin Island Indians paddle more than 100 canoes throughout Puget Sound to celebrate the revival of traditional travel on the ancestral highways of the coastal Pacific Northwest, stopping at indigenous territories along the way for cultural celebration and sharing. In 2012 they landed on the beach below Frasca’s home. She was astounded by the sight and to commemorate this event she created this largest work in the show, a picture of an Indian woman paddling her canoe. It is one of the few pieces in the show in which the textures are allowed on the body. It is as if the woman’s body is transparent and you can see these rich textures through her arms. Metaphorically perhaps that would be the history of the tribe seen on her flesh.

One of my favorite pieces, partially because it is so different from all the others, is “The Far Shore,” showing a fisherman in a stormy sea near a rugged coastline. It reminds me a lot of some of Winslow Homer’s watercolors of fishermen on stormy seas. There are also two little wash drawings that are entirely different from everything else in the show. They are among the newest pieces and may be harbingers of what’s to come next.

This may well be the best show you will see this year. It is an exhibition should that should be shown in a major museum featuring works by a woman who, by all rights, should be represented by big-time galleries in New York and Los Angeles. Count yourself lucky that we have it at Childhood’s End in Olympia.


[Childhood’s End Gallery, Like This, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, through Nov. 17, 222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia, 360.943.3724]

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