Essay by Peter Stankiewicz, 2019
In making drawings like these the artist must have proceeded more in the spirit of dance than in that of deliberative, sedentary craft.
Looking at these drawings I picture the artist as a dancer who chooses his own expressive body. In this case a body made of ink and paper. They are as much performance as they are design. In this kind of work the ink is never intended to be, and never could be, entirely under control. The quality of effect depends on motion, quick physical gesture. No deliberation is possible while the ink is flying over the paper. It is improvisation without choreography or score, but not without a standard.
The artist must be sensitive to several factors at once: the texture and porosity of the paper, the viscosity of the ink, how heavily the brush is loaded, the degree of spring in the brush- which must be neither too flaccid nor too stiff. Then the size of the brush must be suited to the size of the picture and the desired effect. The number of factors at play, consciously considered or not, are many, and each viewer can doubtless name and point out their own.
And it may be that having become sensitive to all these qualities, the artist must cultivate and achieve a confident indifference to them, without entirely forgetting them, in order to act freely.
The relation, the distinction between ink and paper is near absolute. Nothing tentative can enter in. This medium emphasizes the immediacy of the act, makes visible the irrevocable moment, where fluidity becomes permanently fixed.
Some of the marks are clearly made by the movement of the brush across the paper, some clearly by quantities of ink dropping onto the paper from above. The ink was fairly thin, as we can see by the tiny edges of the shapes seeping out into the white, which in places almost suggest fractals, but not thin to the point of losing its opacity. In fact any extensive translucency or any thin wash of ink would have been contrary to the aesthetic of the artist’s work as a whole, which in material terms deals firmly in solids and not atmospheres. (In terms of thought and emotion there is certainly atmosphere.) A more thickly mixed ink would have given an impression of greater slowness, dryness and friction, which evidently was not wanted. In some areas the ink has saturated the paper and formed a more reflective surface. The vertical proportions of the drawings, sometimes rather narrow, give a degree of tension to the compositions, which becomes one of the elements that unite the series.
These factors constitute some of the anatomy of the process, but the result depends above all upon an intangible. This could be called something like the spirit, the nexus, the crossing of all energies and materials present. The localized zeitgeist of a fraction of a second.
The next critical phase is the exercise of discretion, the expression of sensibility, in the selection and rejection of drawings. How many were rejected we cannot know, but I imagine it might have been a fair proportion of the total made. The remainder show how the artist intended to represent himself and his formal message. Any drawing clumsy in the wrong way, out of proportion, too stiff or too lax would have to be eliminated.
But then we must entertain the possibility that there were no rejects- that what we have is a complete series of drawings made one after the other, each one accepted by the artist as fulfilling his intention. In an interview, Stankiewicz once said of his process in sculpture that he didn’t make changes or adjustments- “Once I do it- it’s right!” Could this imply that the series of drawings as a whole is a unified document, with nothing cut out? His declaration shows an attitude that would suit the medium of sumi ink, where no correction is possible.
The drawings share several qualities with the sculpture. In both cases it is a question of a malleable material, subject to randomness, which ends up fixed into a composition. (The steel is indeed malleable as it can be cut, bent, ground, and welded, and it is random in the shapes available in junkyards, and in the surprises available in their relations.) In both cases the border between presence and absence, figure and ground, is absolute. There is no shading between the edge of a steel mass and empty space, and no shading between the opaque density of ink and the luminous paper. One more shared quality- the method of composition is in a way the art of drawing without drafting, as the sculpture is the art of sculpting without modeling. As images the materials stand firstly for themselves.
The artist kept several of his framed drawings similar to these on the walls of his house in Massachusetts. They always seemed to convey a sense of dignity and a certain degree of mystery, because of the obvious confidence of the artist in wielding the maximum contrasts of black and white in inexplicable but somehow correct arrangements, and the drawings’ implication of an emphatic and undecipherable message. When such works are made, they establish a sense of retroactive necessity for their existence. Before they existed, they could not quite have been imagined, but now that we have them, their need to be just as they are is striking.