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Exhibition Review of Leonardo Drew: The Core and Beyond the Wild Blue Yonder

Winter 2015
Winter 2015
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For the past 38 years, Paul Wong has been artistic director of Dieu Donné, a New York City non-profit organization founded in 1976, where he has developed and pioneered groundbreaking technical advances in the field of creative hand-papermaking. He has collaborated with artists such as Chuck Close, Richard Tuttle, Kiki Smith, Jim Dine, Robert Cottingham, Jessica Stockholder, Jim Hodges, Richard Artschwager, Donald Baechler, Louise Bourgeois, Ursula Von Rydingsvard, and Yun Fei Ji, among many others. Wong uses the papermaking process in his own work to create major installations such as "Fargo/Far-To-Go" exhibited at the Plains Museum in Fargo, North Dakota in 2003, and "Paper Spaces" at the Neuberger Museum in Purchase, New York in 1997. He has received visual artist grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts (1997) and the Joan Mitchell Foundation (1988). He has taught, lectured, participated in visiting artist programs, and juried exhibitions nationwide. In the near future Wong plans to return to his own work after many years of intensive collaboration. Always with great anticipation of new work produced in handmade paper by any such notable artist, I celebrate Leonardo Drew's second show at Pace Prints featuring work produced in his 2013–2014 collaboration with my longtime friend and colleague, master printer/papermaker Ruth Lingen and her alter-ego paper collaborator Akemi Martin at Pace Paper in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Drew's first show in 2012 at Pace set the groundwork for continued experimentation and development of extraordinary print and papermaking processes. In the current exhibition, Drew and his collaborators offer new editions in cast paper and paper/print hybrids that are technically inventive and full of artistic bravado.

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It is clear that Pace Paper has brought to bear their thorough knowledge of the paper medium and their longtime experience in facilitating an artist's vision to the realization of these seemingly insurmountable new interpretations in papermaking. Going to Pace Paper to chat with Ruth and Akemi about their collaborative project with Drew was a great opportunity to talk shop, compare notes, and affirm our mutual roles as "Paper Heavy-Weights" in our unique niche of the contemporary art world. They immediately pulled out a drawer full of tests, pigmented pulp swatches for matching production batches, schedules, proofs, procedure logs, stencils, magnesium photo plates, and a huge pile of empty pigment bottles accumulated in the corner of the studio. Leonardo Drew could be heralded as the Silver Surfer of Papermaking with the extent of metallic silver supershine consumed in these editions. But what is the story behind the cobalt blue of the predominant pieces—a color that has never before surfaced in his monumental studio work of regenerated wood structures? Ruth explained that while sitting up on his ladder to oversee the proceedings of some of the 90-inch-tall works, Drew was struck by the color of the sky through the paper studio's skylight. As a counter play in his project, he decided to pit the intense sky blue against his customary palette of blacks and ash/ brown hues related to tree roots. In fact, he brought in actual tree roots to be made into impossibly deep molds to cast in paper pulp. These "core" sections live at the center of many of the editions, representing the root system of life and regeneration, a key element of Drew's philosophy that radiates from much of his work. The scale and depth of these new works were major challenges for Pace Paper, but they brainstormed, developed ingenious solutions, put in relentless hours, and in the end, produced shimmering results. The technical feat of the immaculate paper casting of these root structures can be appreciated in work such as 26P, a trio of pigmented cast-pulp sections over-painted with asphaltum and silver pigment. The interplay of reflection and light on the surface of these works trick the eye when trying to determine the work's materiality. In fabricating the work, the ultimate tool used to cast the pulp into such deep recesses turned out to be an oversized tweezer and a lot of elbow grease. Other smaller cast editions—such as 28P, 29P, 30P, and 31P—demonstrate an expert handling of colored pulps with their nuanced gradation in high-relief molds of composed wood fragments. In another example, the pulp-painted passages in 32P are beautifully executed—a rusted ship afloat on abstraction. For the larger unique work titled 37P, Drew layered two cross-sectioned root systems in its lower domain and upper core to complete the impact of viewing this glistening internal interlude grounded in the earth. I was enthralled by the smaller works 40P, 41P, and 45P, that sprung from the imprinting of wet linen paper onto loads of silver, cobalt blue, and ash brown pigments slathered on photo-etched magnesium plates. Under intense pressure, pulp and pigment fuse with an uncertain degree of control, creating variables across 26P, 2014, 15 x 16½ inches each of three, cast pigmented handmade paper with hand-applied inks and pigment, edition of 10, published by Pace Editions, Inc. the edition with each one making itself into a final, unique, but related, image. Wabi-sabi, a Japanese aesthetic term, has been attributed to Drew's work in that it embraces transience and imperfection in beauty,1 where "nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect."2 Drew's artwork is ongoing, continuous, always in process, and perhaps unfinished, where materials are gathered and are recycled from piece to piece. But we have these impressions in paper that capture a moment, here to stay for all of us to contemplate. The author wishes to direct readers to the following online resources for more information about Leonardo Drew and his work in handmade paper: "Leonardo Drew, February 27–April 25, 2015," Pace Prints, http:// Casey Lesser, "Leonardo Drew Challenges Himself and the Traditions of Printmaking," editorial, February 25, 2015, https:// -himself-and-the-traditions-of. "Leonardo Drew," Tamar Zinn (blog), November 3, 2012, http:// ___________ notes 1. "Wabi-sabi," Wikipedia, last modified June 12, 2015, wiki/Wabi-sabi. 2. Richard R. Powell, Wabi Sabi Simple (Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2004).