Art Commentary: Extraordinary Drawings at Ross School

Considering the entire history of art, drawing has not occupied a top position. How very wrong this supposition has proven to be.

Since prehistoric times, there have been sketches on rock and cave images; in the 12th and 13th centuries, monks did illustrated manuscripts. Since then, important artists, covering diverse styles, have created some of the most important images in the world, from da Vinci to Cezanne, Goya and Picasso.

The current show at The Ross School Gallery celebrates another salient use of drawing: “Exquisite Corpse,” a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. Initiated by the surrealists, this exercise was once a parlor game called “Consequences” and often revealed grotesque and incongruent imagery (like ants coming out of a hand in Dali and Bunuel’s film, Un Chien Andalou).

Samples of Ross’s “Exquisite Corpse” are not as surreal, often featuring figures that are more playful and whimsical, like “Homage to Fantasia” by Kryn Olson, Eric Dever and Linda Capello. This isn’t to suggest that all the works are lacking incongruency. Certainly Eric Ernst’s man wearing a gas mask gets things off to a good start in the drawing he did with Carly Haffner and Grant Haffner. The intriguing aspect for this critic are the varied artists who contributed to the project, commissioned by Ross senior, Caitlin Cummings. There’s a great potential here for arresting and potent drawings.

Collaboration is also the name of the game in a work by Jennifer Cross, Ross Dean of Visual Arts, where people can add a small drawing or symbol to her rose image  (“Roses in the Studio”). It reminds one of a method used by the late Ray Johnson who developed “mail art.” You might say that Ross faculty member Ned Smyth also collaborated with his parent when he did a work to honor his father’s book. The large image, featuring columns in the foreground and a church structure in the background, recalls Smyth’s public sculpture in New York’s Battery Park City where vertical forms complement the horizontal shapes. Other faculty members, like Jon Mulhern and Soraya Brooks, give credence to the formal qualities of drawing.

Included in the show are also works by students and interns, a special touch that honors the connection between the Ross art community. Consider, for example, the charcoal pencil drawing by Olivia Meihofer where figures are bold and memorable, Jason Song’s work, which won a LongHouse Reserve award, and Elia Doyle’s “Torso.”

Other artists’ works are displayed in the exhibit, each establishing a special bond with the art program: Cuban artist Manuel Mendive who spent some time drawing with the students (Ross School is planning a trip to Cuba next year.); East Hampton’s Jack Ceglic who drew with the students as well and Sag Harbor’s Christopher Haile whose large landscape drawing  is a moving tribute to his life.

Work by Jack Ceglic

Work by Jack Ceglic

Lest we forget the real value of this exhibit, we must remember that Arts-in-Education is an important part of our public and private curriculum, with The Ross School proving how well it can work.

“Extraordinary Drawings” on view at The Ross School Gallery, 18 Goodfriend Drive, East Hampton until Nov. 8. Call 631-907-5000 or visit ross.org.

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