There’s an instant accessibility to Joan Linder’s drawings now on view at Fiendish Plots. They are, to use the exhibition’s title, a look at the “Anatomy of Everyday Things.”
So the subject matter of the five large drawings -- four pen and ink, one colored pencil, is of the commonplace -- a vacuum cleaner, an old mattress, a bare tree and a kitchen counter covered with everything you could imagine that could be there.
The fifth, however, isn’t so ordinary -- a detailed drawing of a cadaver with its torso opened, its muscles and intestines on display.
But that view was, in fact, an everyday thing for Linder, who took her students to the University of Buffalo’s Gross Anatomy Lab to draw, then created a body of work herself, drawing what she saw there over a period of months.
That makes the work in “Anatomy of Everyday Things” personal. But the imagery is universal -- and that allows the work to touch on themes -- of wonder and anxiety, utility, mechanics and observation, and the beauty of the everyday, if one only looks for it.
Linder’s drawings are based on real objects. But they’re far from photo realism. On closer inspection, the vacuum cleaner is “bent” in ways that reflect an artist’s view of the machine, the objects on the counter aren’t tightly rendered and, notably, the ink drawings have small blotches and dots left by the nib of the quill pen Linder uses in her drawing.
Those signs of the hand make the drawings, to some measure, about mark making. And Linder distinctively makes those marks -- hundreds of thousands of them.
The 15-foot-tall “Blue Tree” is the oldest drawing in the show. The 13-foot-long, accordion-fold book “Counter, Sink” is the most recent.
Comparing them, the evolution of Linder’s technique becomes apparent. Of the five drawings, the tree contains the least amount of cross-hatching, the counter and sink, and the vacuum cleaner the most.
So a tiny shadow of a cup, no more than 4 square inches, has to contain 1,000 little marks at right angles, creating a dense, dark blue.
“Mattress,” the colored pencil drawing, is more than just Linder’s capturing of a 1960s mattress that had served three generations of her family that was being thrown out.
With its wavering lines of light blue, pink, yellow and black separated by an underlying gray, Linder’s mattress becomes a take on minimalism and the intersection of abstraction and realism -- art about art, which is very often the true subject matter of contemporary art.
Some of those qualities can be seen in the objects that cover the sink -- some hinting at what they really are, some more closely rendered. But those objects also represent Linder’s reality -- the jar of peanuts, for example, a nod to her father, who, apparently, likes peanuts.
But again, the cluttered counter comes not directly from reality but from a reconstruction, the objects removed from the counter and taken into her studio to be drawn on the counter in their imagined place.
The counter drawing is the place of origin for the exhibition’s sixth drawing, a small depiction of a pair of evaporated milk cans that look like they could have come from the 1950s, a depiction, that along with the mattress, opens up the exhibition to becoming a view of time as seen through everyday objects.
“Richard,” the cadaver, doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the work thematically. But there is a connection that can be made -- that “Blue Tree,” “Richard” and “Mattress” are about death, the tree a temporary dormancy, the mattress on its way to the landfill and the cadaver, he’s really dead.
That view puts a different spin on “Anatomy of Everyday Things.” But it is just one of many ways that the work can be viewed, opened up by the commonplace accessibility of Linder’s impressive, evocative drawings.