Wash Drawings

Harwood Museum, February – May 2002

Over the decades of her inventive career, artist Marcia Oliver has created a distinctive, consistent visual language in splashy, contrasting color and monochrome, on large canvases and small prints, with ceramics and bronzes. Her currently running show at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos (M Oliver New Drawings: Honoring the Tao) discloses her current renunciation of color  and enormity “in order to produce effectively, a singular focus, minimizing all distractions” by “choosing simple materials and acknowledging the primacy of drawing.”

The “single focus” highlights the idiosyncrasies of her viewpoint. Her show consists of seventeen small square works on paper, drawings rendered in graphite and ink wash, cast in relief by a dash of collage and some barely discernible tints of hue. The drawings strongly imply that Oliver’s  continuing preoccupation has been with form, or rather, forms, and their mutual alliances and  quarrels. Her whimsically shifting shapes, their cousins, aunts and distant relations, a veritable cast of characters, have populated her work all along, restlessly meandering through variously colored  aqueous suspensions.

They can seem almost as ripe with meaning as an alphabet, sometimes resembling letters, petroglyphs or runes. In the deceptively simple drawings at the Harwood, these forms take stage center, cast against stark white, circling one another like skaters on a rink. Or they fly off-­frame in all directions. Or they appear to be just entering from the wings. They often come equipped with propelling  appendages, limbs or tails or wheels. The motion they convey confounds expectations­­ are they shifting locations or evolving new shapes? They look oddly and often fiercely alive.The viewer is tempted to impute motives to these amoebic mechanical critters.

Flow lines,spaces, and semi­frames make insinuations about their relationships. Are they attracted or repelled by the other occupants of the page? They exist in deliberate but obscure juxtaposition. Oliver’s chosen title for her show suggests they could be yin and yang, going each its own way. The language of art has no subject or predicate but does operate through gesture and sign, with an  affinity to the choreographies of species not our own. The critters who inhabit the graceful work of Marcia Oliver hold a similar inexplicable surprise, soliciting attention in the manner of elephants parading trunk to tailor a cheetah on the heels of a gazelle.­­

– Marilyn Gayle Hoff