“Schema: Works on Paper” is a drawing show. But there’s no figurative work anywhere on the walls of Nebraska Wesleyan University’s Elder Gallery.
There’s not a single line of graphite to be found on the paper that is the support for all of the pieces in the show.
Rather, all six of the artists use ink, gouache or watercolor -- or, in the case of Matthew Sontheimer, typed passages in collages that, by the strictest definition, might not even be drawings.
These materials are not preparatory for a work in another medium, often displaying the artist’s skill and certainly demonstrating its intent as a final work.
The dense, smartly crafted pieces from University of Nebraska-Lincoln art professor Sontheimer fit that definition and, in three of the works, manipulate the same basic image.
“Label Conscience,” the first in the series, is covered with typewritten passages of dialogue and critique, much of it about printing and design, with an explicit reference to sculptor David Smith overlain with an image of four small sculptures and a plunger with "Ferguson" written on the side.
In the diptych “Driving Sideways,” the first half adds a reference to the Nosher Sculpture Center, and the second half strips away most of the type, leaving the Smith reference inside a large gray square.
Finally, “An Awkward Ruling -- Stutter Included” uses whiteout on much of the type and presents a numerical code to solving the puzzle of its meaning. (Check with the security desk to get a look at one of the solutions to this intriguing set of images.)
Sontheimer’s fourth piece isn’t traditional drawing either. “Halloween Costume” is a typed, signed and dated death certificate from Louisiana recording the demise of one Matthew Sontheimer -- a macabre, Duchampian joke.
While there are no figures in the show, there is a powerfully narrative piece -- “Case Study: Self Portrait” from Lux Center for the Arts gallery director Bri Murphy.
A scroll covered with a grid of small squares, triangles and numbers, the piece is based on a page of an old psychiatric guide for nurses that hangs next to it. In the guide, the nurses charted observations of psychiatric patients’ behavior in neat rows.
On the scroll, Murphy recorded her own behavior for a year, documenting her life with bipolar disorder. That knowledge makes the piece into a brave, powerful work.
Some of the work is pure abstraction -- Amy Ruffo, a Pennsylvania artist, uses cross hatching and very dense dark passages to create vibrant abstractions, while works of Connecticut artist Robert Lansden like “The Shape of Time Five” appear to move in wavelike fashion.
The work of Samantha Mitchell, another Pennsylvanian, appears organic in nature -- tubes that could be plants or worms, coiled and looped together to create thick whole pieces. In a series of “box” images, there’s an empty rectangle in the middle of the tubes that corresponds to the color of the title, “Untitled Ball #10.”
Lastly, Colin Keefe, a Philadelphia artist, creates large works, with titles like “Rupture,” “The Everything Machine” and “Architectural Pollination Study 18” that appear to be aerial maps that delineate streets and perhaps buildings. Those “maps” in several pieces are combined with swirling organic-appearing imagery that might be insects -- or not.
Taken as a whole, “Schema” accomplishes its stated goal of demonstrating the drawing as a primary medium. It also shows, in all cases except for Sontheimer’s superb, hard-to-classify work, an unstated goal of showing that drawing doesn’t need to be figurative or in graphite to be effective.