New York Sun

September 26th, 2002



When “Drawing Now,” an exhibition of contemporary drawing, opens in mid-October at the Museum of Modern Art, some serious attention will be directed to a medium that has been gaining momentum. Proof of this can be seen in Chelsea, where shows are being devoted to three artists who concentrate on drawing: Russell Crotty, Jacob El Hanani, and Lordy Rodriguez. Although their styles and interests are distinct, they share an obsessive concern with precision and detail. All three construct rigorous systems of notation, which nevertheless allow for variation and play.

Russell Crotty is an amateur astronomer, and his drawings are based on recording the activity of stars and planets from his self-built Malibu observatory. The sketches he makes while perched on a ladder with his eye glued to the telescope lens evolve into drawings on single sheets of paper, hand-made books, and globe-like Lucite spheres. His current installation consists of seven of these drawing-covered sculptures. Suspended from the gallery ceiling, they condense infinite expanses of space into intimate works, whose surfaces are showered with fine, repetitive black pen strokes. 

In “The Leonid Meteor Shower, white streaks of meteorites shoot across a mysterious, star-studded sky. The backlit silhouettes of the trees and buildings around the observatory circle the bottom of the sphere. One can’t help being captivated by this artist’s intense engagement with the phenomena he depicts. Born out of a mixture of romantic and empiricist impulses, the minute details of these drawings convey an experience of wonder and awe. 

Where Russell Crotty’s drawings depict cosmic phenomena, each of Jacob El Hanani’s works is a micro-universe crowded with tiny, almost invisible motifs. Mr El Hanani, who was born in Casablanca and raised in Israel, came to New York in the mid-70s, when time-consuming, laborious processes were definitely out. His work went decidedly against the grain. For decades, he has been producing exacting, highly controlled compositions, which require close scrutiny. Although his reduction of drawing to its barest elements – a pen and three of the artist’s fingertips – pays homage to the minimalist abstractions of Agnes Martin and Sol Lewitt, his compulsion to repeat marks, characters, and lines of text is motivated by cultural associations. 

In “Basket and “Gauze, the surface is built up out of hatch marks that are woven into sensuous, rippling patterns of varying intensity. The degree of concentration required to create these works forces Mr. El Hanani to work for no more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time, and a single drawing can take anywhere from two to five months to complete. The dense, complex surfaces of these small drawings turn them into something more interesting than formal experimentation. 

The most interesting works are those that involve Hebrew letters and script. Mr. El Hanani cites the repetitive quality of Jewish prayer and childhood memories such as the ornamental pattern on his grandmother’s teapot in Casablanca as essential inspirations for his drawings. He also associates the execution of repetitive motifs with the religious texts he was forced to copy over and over as a school punishment. 

“Alphabet Grid is composed of a nearly illegible pattern of Hebrew script – the language is important in many of the works. Incomprehensible to most viewers, and largely rendered opaque through repetition or dispersion, the words acquire a material presence independent of meaning. “Letter- fall, too, is composed of a delicate web of Hebrew letters and, abstract lines, which tumble down and across the sheet of paper with uncharacteristic lightness. 

Viewed together, the works reverberate with a hypnotic intensity, while the prolonged concentration they demand leads one’s attention to dissolve into an interior landscape of reverie.

Inspired by cartography, Lordy Rodriguez’s ink drawings vacillate between representation and abstraction. From afar, their smooth surfaces resemble computer printouts of actual maps exploding with bright color. Closer up, you can see how meticulously he delineates and fills in masses of land and water, which are laid out on a grid-like ground. 

In “Gulf Town with Ferry Lines, an undulating coastline breaks off in bits and pieces into an aquamarine sea. Patches of green and brown earth frame bold purple and pink patterns – reminiscent of the marbled effect in certain works by Philip Taffe – which are interspersed with smaller areas of crisscross lines. 

These fanciful landscapes are far from accurate geographical records. Mr. Rodriguez was born in the Philippines, but lives and works in Texas. He made his first map while studying art in New York. Homesick for Texas, he fused New York City and Houston on one sheet of paper, initiating his ongoing depictions of “dislocations. Sometimes, he jumbles together actual geographic locations. Often, as in “Island and Lake, he invents entirely imaginary formations. 

The exhibition also includes a four- screen video installation attached to the ceiling of a separate alcove. The installation records four car trips, which Mr. Rodriguez documented with a video camera strapped to the car. The result is a flow of blurry, black-and white images of the asphalt road traversed by the car. The’ deadpan quality stands in sharp contrast to the highly imaginative drawings. 

Mr. Rodriguez, who is in his mid-20s, is undoubtedly a talented artist. It remains unclear whether, like Russell Crotty and Jacob El Hanani, he will turn his current project into a long-lasting obsession with drawing. 

“Russell Crotty” at CRG Gallery until October 26 (535 W 22nd St., 212-229-2766).