Musical Lines

Terry Winters: Facts and Fictions

an exhibition at the Drawing Center, New York City, April 6–August 12, 2018
Catalog of the exhibition with contributions by Claire Gilman, Peter Cole, and Rachel Kushner
The Drawing Center, 153 pp., $20.00 (paper)
Private Collection/Terry Winters/Matthew Marks Gallery
Terry Winters: Schema (57), 1985–1986

There’s a Nichols and May routine from the early 1960s about a high-strung worrier of a mother who’s going to the hospital for some tests. Her grown son asks her over the phone what the doctors intend to do. She tells him, “Well, they’ll X-ray my nerves.”

That bit came to mind walking through the exhibition “Terry Winters: Facts and Fictions” at the Drawing Center. In drawing, one feels the nervous system at work. It is where the connections between the hand and the brain, between thought and action, and between action and reaction are made most immediately. Winters is one of the preeminent graphic artists of his, or anyone’s, generation, and the show is by turns mournful, ebullient, mathematical, and sensual.

There are different types of graphic talent at work today: the imagists, like George Condo or Karen Kilimnik, who use line to bring an imagined world to life, and the more abstract mark-makers, like Jasper Johns or Charline von Heyl. And there are those artists who take something from each camp, like Amy Sillman or Joe Bradley. For Winters, his primary allegiance is to the materials of drawing themselves, their ability to record a sensibility. Some artists see and then draw; others, like Winters, draw first, then see. Of course the drawing and the seeing occur almost simultaneously, like instant replay for the hand.

Winters uses marks to build, categorize, extenuate, and react more or less at the same time. His pencil moves at different speeds and degrees of pressure, either with short-span repetitions—back and forth, back and forth—or long and broad arabesques. Often, the gathering up of short, emphatically laid-down strokes, bristling with tensile energy, works in contrast to the outer-directed energy of the exploratory and encircling lines that create a sense of form and impose structure or pictorial cohesion.

Think of a border collie running in a wide loop around a flock of sheep—sometimes a compressed mass, other times scattered in random-seeming clumps. The sheep don’t know they are being herded; the collie knows that it’s doing the herding, but is not thinking about creating form. The sheep and collie can’t have the overview that is provided to the artist. This is one of the central, and I think lovely, paradoxes of art: the artist is both the sheep and the collie, as well as the aerial photographer documenting their interaction from above.

Here are some Terry Winters drawings that illustrate what I mean: Addendum/3 (2014) is an egg made out of smaller eggs, or a fly eye made out of hundreds of seeing cells, all held in a rectangular spiderweb. And the inside of a well or mineshaft seen from above, as the egg form begins its endless descent. The drawing is complicated by some grace notes on the upper-right edge…

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