VIEWING KARRI PAUL'S RECENT SCROLL-LIKE DRAWINGS IS NOT UNLIKE READING A POEM. Line by line, the drawings reveal detailed landscapes through an accretion of information. In Landscape with Wasps' Nest, an abstract rendering of crystalline forms radiating from the right hand corner materializes into a close-up of the honeycomb of a wasp’s nests. Clarity of the landscape is gained through the movement of the eye, right to left, top to bottom. Thus, reading might be a better term than looking when encountering Paul’s work. We read each strike of the pencil until a whole coheres.
THE DRAWINGS' likeness to poetry is not surprising since Paul, just before entering the MFA program at UT, acquired an MFA in creative writing at the famed writer’s workshop at the University of Iowa. Her drawing practice is tightly linked to her writing practice. In a recent poem Projected, Paul describes a room illuminated by a green globe placed against a wall:
I MUST ADMIT, HOWEVER, THAT THERE IS SUCH A
BRIC-A-BRAC OF LONESOMENESS AND SOLITUDE
IN NATURE SOMETIMES, FOR EXAMPLE, RED OR
YELLOW FLWERS, OR AUTUMN RUSSET TREE TRUNK,
I SHALL NOT CONFUSE YOU WITH ALL THE VARIATIONS
THE THEME of nature and its attendant alienation appears in this poem just as it does throughout her recent drawings. The work Landscape with Siamese Fighting Fish, Bighorn Sheep, and Garden Snail exhibits very little foreground or background, rather, each image is layered on top of the other, creating the appearance of the earth’s strata. White space occupies the top layer, broken by tightly rendered horizontal lines that morph into the diagonal of the wings of a duck mid-flight. Below, three sheep stand apart on a mountain; a curve of white space below reveals intricate forms hidden in light and shadow.
PAUL'S DRAWINGS are both imagined and real. In the making of a work, she studies images from National Geographic as well as personal photographs she takes of her surroundings. And while consistently creating allusions to nature and grand landscapes, Paul frustrates our reading through her rendering of ambiguous shapes and forms or the skewing of perspective. This resistance to straight mimesis is related to her view of grand landscapes as discomforting and foreign. “An undeniable artificiality accompanies the grandeur of scenic landscapes such as California’s rocky coastlines, majestic deserts, and citrus groves,” she states. “These strike me as postcards, movies sets, painted cardboard cutouts. ‘Scenic’ translates as ‘sterile’ since no place feels real; no place is home.”
JUST LIKE the large spaces between words that appear in many of her poems, the negative space that bleeds into and around the landscapes acts as a source of tension or transition, the material representation of an empty landscape. The white surface of the paper is just as important to Paul as the pull of the graphite. “I believe that white space should be activated.” Paul explains. “Some of my favorite areas are those where a white portion within the drawing touches, empties into, or merges with the white space of a margin.”
AT THE END of her poem Projected, Paul returns to the globe and the projected image, a metaphor for her skepticism toward the beautiful and sublime, the detailed and ambiguous world she creates in her drawings:
HOWEVER, ALL THESE ALL OF THESE RECEDE FROM US,
AS WE FRAME COMPOSE PROJECT THIS IMAGE
ON A WALL, IN A DARKENED ROOM THE DAINTY GLOBE
WHICH IS OUR ONLY INTEREST IF ANYTHING,
TURNING AROUND, IN THE DARK BEFORE OUR ILLUMINATED FACES
KATIE GEHA is a PhD candidate in the Art History Department at the University of Texas. She runs the Apartment Gallery, SOFA. She wrote this piece for the brochure accompanying my drawing show, compose project this image, at the University of Texas at Austin's Courtyard Gallery, 1900 University Avenue, AT&T Executive Training and Conference Center, May 5 - September 2, 2011.