The Pencil of Nature is a group exhibition exploring the dialogue between drawings and photographs. The title of this show is borrowed from the first illustrated book of commercial photographs which Fox Talbot published between 1844-1846. One of the inventors of photography, he was motivated by way of his lack of skill in sketching. However, in the context of this group show, "the pencil of nature" alludes to the symbiotic relationship between photography and drawing in current practice.
As far back as the 1840s, painters used photographic studies as an aid. Many painters such as Corot and Degas have made their own photographs for use as studies as well as independent works. However, in the 150 years that have passed since the invention of photography, and with digital technology monopolizing the field, there seems to be a look back at the play between works on paper and photography. Certainly Rauschenberg can be seen as the patron saint of this vision, particularly with his use of manipulative techniques which form a hybrid of photography, drawing and printmaking. By singling out individual artists with unique visions who are all in some way straddling the media, it is hoped that we will have a new awareness of this historic alliance.
This show brings together artists who are fully aware of the history and uses of reproduction and graphic representation and work with them in a variety of innovative ways. Several of the graphic artists employ highly realistic imagery that is thoroughly based in photography, as seen in the drawings of Joseph Stashkevetch and Rob Matthews and Vija Celmins. In a sense, they are using the photograph in much of the same way as the 19th century painters. But today, with photographs readily accepted as an independent and valued medium there must be other reasons for these choices. In the case of Amy Adler, the artist mediates between mechanical and graphic reproduction in a theoretical way. Matthews makes subtle changes in the photographic imagery. In all cases, the carrying out of a detailed representation of a photograph, whether in a minute or grand scale, meditates on the abstract qualities of any depiction. Not surprisingly, most of these graphic works are in black and white, adding another level of abstraction.
Alice Attie, Brian Wood, Sebastiaan Bremer and Royce Howes actually combine media together into an integrated image using the photography as the matrix. Because the photograph represents objects in the world, the presence of sculpture is always implied and becomes the third medium in the dialogue. In Vik Muniz's "For the Good Times" he uses the literal and photographic representation of rubber tubing to create a linear drawing. David Goldes recreates a drawing by Picasso in three dimensions using wire netting and then compresses it back into two dimensions by photographing it. Zeke Berman has historically woven together drawing and sculptural renderings recorded photographically, while Nic Nicosia illustrates the pictorial space as "an arena in which to act" through photographically depicting himself making a large action drawing. Abstraction as found in nature and in the materials of photography is explored photographically by Robert McCann and Marco Breuer, while Christine Hiebert suggests the transparency of film by sweeping a brayer across her gestural drawings.