“Best When He’s Messy”: Jason Brinkerhoff’s Unfinished Drawings
Taking a cue from Morton Feldman’s remark that “the love of the past in art is something very different to the artist than it is to the audience,” it’s fair to assume that the audience can remain attached to their favorite masters all their lives without very much ado. For the artist, however, a fixity upon certain figures can have unforeseen ramifications. Dictums such as this one show a (not always useful) concern over invention and replication, and demands that each new creation be also novel. One way to face this essential problem, “the anxiety of art,” to borrow Feldman’s phrase, is for the artist to put his/herself in a position to create work that is outside what they already know, so that “it speaks with its own emotion” and alternates from the tides of history. In his new publication of unfinished female nudes, Unfinished Drawing (2009 – 2014), newly out from Portland Oregon’s Ampersand Editions, artist Jason Brinkerhoff’s work both pays homage to the past and speaks to the moment-to-moment creative act, crystallizing his world in a dizzying series of forms.
Brinkerhoff’s work also raises questions, which upon further consideration, answer themselves. What are the historical meanings hidden beneath the aspects of Brinkerhoff’s figures? Where do all these nude women come from? If Brinkerhoff begins with a subject to which his apparently wild, half-abstract, half-representational style conforms, what on earth could it be? In the past, it wasn’t so easy to find so many naked women to draw. In Brinkerhoff’s nudes, a possible schema or constraint for Brinkerhoff seems traceable to what is found within art books and visits to the Modern wing of big city museums. The viewer is handed a certain nostalgia, an ever-shared celebration of past works, in pastiched references on subjects throughout art history. But nowhere can there be found the commentary such reference might otherwise necessitate: each piece in Unfinished Drawing maintains the appellation of “Untitled.” The female nudes in Brinkerhoff’s new publication seemed, as it were, to have been lying in wait for him throughout the entire 19th and 20th centuries, to resonate with each other through the turning of pages, rearing for a seemingly eternal return with unlimited repetition when considered in a larger context.
For the countless uncanny likenesses found in the nudes, whether explicitly or implicitly generated, neither the figures nor their famed male artists shall be named here; further attention to a fondness for past masters is simply less interesting than what’s to be gleaned from the artist’s style. And in the case of Unfinished Drawing, there is to be found a wieldy sum of sure-handed renderings of half-wrought drawings and collage beginnings, which the artist had been accumulating for years, until Ampersand proprietor Myles Haselhorst discovered them in a box during a studio visit. Flipping the page to have a look at the publication’s first reproduction, No. 58, Untitled (2009) — made using graphite, oil pastel, and acrylic on paper — one finds a pleasant if not mild introduction to what’s to follow: one demure eye, a nose, and the lips of what seems to be a woman with scribbled hair and a half-shaded face. The torn and found aspect of this piece is easily discernible. A few pages in, No. 2, Untitled (2010) in ink, graphite, and colored pencil, full of neon and gray scribbling and thinner dark ink lines, is unreadable in the figural sense, which offers relief from the veneer of resemblance found elsewhere.
The following page, print No. 159, is abstract in a different way: this figure has no face, head, or even a neck, meaning it has been whited-out using correction fluid, as a new, much larger face and androgynous body appears to be appearing in thick black ink to its right, perhaps with tongue alack. The sense of space in this composition, still early on in the book, is formally augmented by one thin line in the background to create a third, however unstable, dimension and a never-ending wall which sets our all-body figure in hot pink underwear in a rather close-up pose. A last notable aspect of this figure is that her one hand, the right, is rendered naturalistically, which makes the other, more stump-like limb seem to dissolve before its viewer, simultaneously reminding one of those little wooden modeling figurines.
Another, No. 41, possesses a similarly prosthetic figural look, which more resembles a wooden mannequin, seated with one stump of leg pointed toward the ground and the other with foot upon the surface on which she sits. This lady appears collaged, with her arm seemingly cut from another page, and a torso of blue-and-pink stripes with a circular, patterned right breast (just one) which also looks to have been cut and pasted. There is, in this piece’s textural variation, as one finds in others from the book, a curious sense of écorché, which, used for anatomical painting or sculpture, gives view of the body with the skin removed in order to display the musculature of the form.
Brinkerhoff is at his best when he’s messy, and unconcerned for representation; he possesses a remarkable ability to improvise and mix-and-match mediums, and scatter space by the use of collage and line. The carelessly brushed or “pushed” black ink lines of No. 133 Untitled take the viewer’s eye away from the act of recognition (into imagination) with a willful and wavering accent, over the surface of the page, as if to then have one feel around for raised and dried clumps of paint or wet ink spots.
Brinkerhoff’s messiness, this flourish of disorder set to a rhythmic texture via his diverse mediums, offers a highly pleasurable experience of tactility. The unpremeditated impasto — juxtaposed with sudden, finer lines — offers surprise, and is more expressive than any of the facial expressions (which are admittedly jejune) of the figures he presents. Brinkerhoff’s allowing of recurrence into his creative endeavor has, as reported by Haselhorst’s keenly penned introduction to this publication, and evinced by Brinkerhoff’s hundreds of works comme ça, signals the continuous production of new works. One can foresee the generation of even more possibility from further challenging constraints, and a rigorous consideration of figural properties that the images certainly raise. The cycle of female nudes á la the male artists of the past is closed for such talents.
Heinrich, Will. Jason Brinkerhoff: Unfinished Drawing: 2009 – 2014 (Portland: Ampersand Editions, 2014). Regular edition. ISBN: 9781941556078, 177 pages, $45 (Deluxe edition $850)