Drawing Together is an exciting opportunity for both artists and non-artists alike to have the chance to create with an abstract artist in a relaxed act of shared expression. Taking place at Big Orbit Gallery from April 24th to May 16th, the objective of this exhibition is to get individuals to express themselves creatively through a medium and form of conversation they would not normally use.
During the first three weekends of the exhibition, abstract artist Felice Koenig will have a series of 90 minute drawing sessions with members of the public who can sign up on the website of CS1 Curatorial Projects, the project’s organizer. Sharing her joy in art-making with other people, each collaboration becomes a conversation between Koenig and the participant, and each resulting artwork becomes a form of communication between two individuals responding to each other on the page. By collaborating on these works using simple art-making tools, paper and colored markers, participants have the opportunity to create unapologetically and to draw as so many children (and some artists) do, without the fear of aesthetic judgment or failure.
I visited Koenig’s studio at the beginning of February and we spent almost two hours working on one of these collaborative drawings together. This was our first time meeting, and the conversation made through the simultaneous expression was an interesting and powerful way to get to know each other. I am a shy person by nature, but Koenig’s warm and unrestrained enthusiasm immediately put me at ease. Being welcomed into her home studio was very comforting in that unfamiliar situation, and is something to be reflected in the exhibition through the construction of a comfortable, small-scale studio within the quiet environment of Big Orbit.
What was intimidating for me at first was the blank abyss of the paper, but once Koenig jumped into her rhythmic patterning it was easy for me to follow with my own responsive mark-making. As we drew, certain topics of the conversation became eternalized on the paper, and looking back on the work we made it is surprisingly easy to recall these. As Koenig described for me during that first meeting, drawing with people brings up deeper topics of conversation than the small talk and gossip most people engage in on a daily basis. From each of our college experiences, to what drew us to Buffalo, and even intimate details of childhood, we talked about things that I usually reserve for conversation with people whom I have known for a long time and have no fear of criticism with. It was so easy to go on discussing these things with her that neither of us questioned when the work would be finished, or what exactly would determine that. Just like a verbal conversation we came to a point where we could both sense that the visual interaction was over, and in this way each collaborative drawing will naturally come to its own end.
The loving nature of Koenig’s meditative paintings carries over into this unique project, reflected by her focus on the healing nature of manifesting oneself through repetitive gesture. The simple nature of the act of certain abstract works is what allows for the meditative experience. In her own art-making practice, Koenig methodically applies layers upon layers of paint to her work, creating intricate patterns that appear when viewing the work up close. Koenig’s own paintings, some of which are owned by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, are characterized by their complex, abstract patterns and soothing color schemes. As a result, she understands well the beautiful sense of reflection in the art of making simple marks. In Drawing Together, she goes on to share how this practice of slowing down encourages the participant to reflect on what he or she has been focusing on in life and then translate those thoughts abstractly to the page.
Drawing Together is reminiscent of two classic participatory art projects, which make the viewer’s interaction with another person “the art.” Many artworks of this nature focus on the public interacting with an artist-made object or event without directly engaging with the artist or having a unique effect on the final outcome. Lygia Clark’s visionary work Roupa-Corpo-Roupa: O Eu e o Tu from 1967-69 involves two participants, one man and one woman, putting on plastic suits with hoods covering the eyes.
Each is designed to give the wearer the feeling of being the sex of the opposite participant. The two suits are attached at the middle through a rubber tube symbolic of an umbilical chord. In the viewer’s engagement with the objects, Clark is stimulating experience in a specific way intended to produce a single physical, sensorial outcome, one that heightens awareness of everyday experience.
Drawing Together is also evocative of Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present, which took place during her retrospective of the same title at Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2010. In this work, Abramovic sat at a table for hours each day during the three-month course of the exhibition allowing visitors to silently sit across from her for a period of time, looking at each other in the eyes.
The exchange between the artist and participant was powerful, but silent and did not create any physical art itself. Koenig’s project is also about creating a profound connection with members of the public, but the emphasis is on drawing and creating together and less about a performance of endurance. Abramovic’s practice, in contrast, is built on an exploration of the limits that the human body can physically withstand.
Koenig is acting on her desire to extend her painting practice into a focus on connection and relationships, one that can be more easily shared by making art with the public than when a single painting is hanging in a gallery. Almost yogic in its intent, the project eliminates having a final object as its sole purpose, and instead focuses on the beauty and value of the experience itself. Each interaction is capable of standing apart from the others, yet remains connected in its creation of one powerful, cohesive message.
Felice Koenig and Hannah Olek, New Friend Hope Drawing, 2015, from the Drawing Together series, paper and colored markers, Collaboration with CS1 Curatorial Projects
Drawing Together opens on Friday, April 24th with a reception from 7:00-10:00pm. The exhibition will run until Sunday, May 16th with a closing reception from 7:00-10:00pm where prints of drawings will be for sale. There is also an accompanying artist’s book to be released over the summer, How to Draw with Friends, Friends of Friends, and Strangers. Serving as an instruction manual, it will also include an interview with curator Claire Schneider, Director and Founder, CS1 Curatorial Projects, an essay by Nova Benway, Assistant Curator, and Curator, Open Sessions program, The Drawing Center, New York, NY, and a handful of thoughtful reflections from participants.
-Hannah Olek, Canisius 2017, CS1 Curatorial Projects Intern