Drawings That Drip, Ideas That Soar
PRJCTLA, Los Angeles
Through January 15, 2022
Written by Lorraine Heitzman
One can be relatively assured that any Tim Hawkinson show will reveal his prodigious curiosity, sly humor and impressive craftsmanship, and Drip Drawings is no exception. In the vast, brightly lit space of Carl Berg’s alternative gallery, PRJCTLA, Hawkinson’s large black and white optical drawings flaunt his conceptual bent while providing a pleasing visceral experience. Contour ink lines are cleverly manipulated into convex and concave shapes that in turn generate a strong vibrational pull, activating the room. The dizzying repetition and the points where the lines and shapes intersect generate simple optical effects in drawings that range in complexity from singular images to multiple drawings displayed in grids. Individually they exude a sparse, cold geometry that has a graphic punch. Collectively, they tell the story of the ingenious, mechanical technology that brought them to life.
The cerebral quality of Hawkinson’s work predominates in this show, and clearly the artist revels in the delight of invention. His interest in creative problem solving is apparent from his early sculptures to more recent large-scale sound installations. Hawkinson titled Drip Drawings very literally after the process he used to make the drawings, and he also includes a video showing himself at work, in effect demonstrating the technique and demystifying their construction. He doesn’t try to hide his methodology, instead he shows his hand, saying in effect, that the invention is not only the pleasurable part, it is the essence of his work. Carefully applying black ink to smooth synthetic paper, Hawkinson allows the ink to drip and controls where the drips start and stop with specifically designed tools. By rotating the paper, he harnesses gravity to create the pristine designs, save for the occasional blips where the drips went awry.
Unlike conceptual artists who favor ideas or puns at the expense of the appearance of the objects they display, Hawkinson can be meticulous about the execution of his work. The irony is that one suspects he isn’t all that invested in the form his ideas take because his ideas take precedence. These drawings are primarily about the way they were made and the inventiveness of the process. If you compare his mark making to other artworks that played with repeating contour lines, such as Martin Ramirez’ drawings or Frank Stella’s black paintings, Hawkinson’s drawings skew towards the intellectual side of the spectrum. He eschews romantic ideas about art for a systematic approach. Systems are fascinating, but perhaps they are even more satisfying when the visuals are in service of emotional content.
The visual tension in Drip Drawings is similar to optical art we have seen before, but the greater tension here is between the idea and the object. Up close, the drawings possess all the charm of ink jet prints on copy paper, lacking tactile and surface appeal, and that makes sense since Hawkinson has transformed himself into a mechanical printer. The absence of richness and materiality undermine the drawings as fully realized objects, but perhaps ideas are enough. Others may want the images to be treated as more than ideas, still, Drip Drawings has a tremendous visual impact that is reinforced by the totality of the installation. It is a dynamic looking show that immerses the viewer inside the optical effects of Hawkinson’s art, and squarely inside his creative process.