Drawings That Are The Envy of Every Painter

A painter friend recommended that I stop by the exhibition of drawings by Suzan Frecon now on view at the Drawing Room, an annex across the street from the Drawing Center. After doing so, it occurred to me that drawing painting , the title of Ms. Frecon’s show, is just the kind of thing a painter would recommend. If that sounds like a dig, it’s not. The 50 or so watercolors on display are gratifyingly casual and a pleasure to behold. Yet if you guessed that Ms. Frecon’s work might hold the greatest fascination for specialists–i.e., those for whom painting is a practice–you’d be right. One wonders, in fact, how long the uninitiated might stay with the pieces. Not very long, I think.

What is striking about Ms. Frecon’s drawings is also what can make them seem like trifles–their brevity and looseness, their offhand élan. Each one is an informal investigation of craft that can be likened to stretching one’s muscles before the main event. The images are straightforward and unfettered, doodle-like but not doodles. They’re almost always lively. Indeed, of all the watercolors featured in drawing painting , only one falls flat: a blueprint for a painting done on graph paper. This piece suffers from the same malady that afflicts Ms. Frecon’s paintings, or, at least, those that I’ve seen: over-plotting.

Unplottedness, then, is the reward of the drawings. Employing a palette dominated by a brooding rust, Ms. Frecon applies brush to paper, watches where it leads her and leaves well enough alone. The drawing here is largely a matter of calligraphy, although the artist’s brush never achieves–or, for that matter, aspires to–the pointed elegance we may associate with that genre. Homely and blunt, Ms. Frecon’s line activates the page tentatively, tenderly and oftentimes lumpishly. Yet it always discovers its purpose–by tangling into architecture, partaking in acrobatics, thickening into mass, or finding a place to “sit” within the perimeters of the paper. The pictorial issues Ms. Frecon explores–scale and format, figure and ground, how much is not enough and how little is just right–are stated with a rigorous, free-form curiosity. This quality carries the work farther than one would initially think possible.

The precedents Ms. Frecon’s art recalls are sterling: Klee in its particularity, Guston in its probity and a 6-year-old child in its esprit. If the last comparison plays into the old complaint of “my kid could do that,” let’s just say that most painters go to their graves without achieving the kind of directness and ease Ms. Frecon can claim. Besides, Ms. Frecon isn’t a kid; she’s a sophisticated artist. Her drawings are bound to be the envy of her peers–the object of admiration, too. Suzan Frecon: drawing painting is at the Drawing Room, 40 Wooster Street, until Feb. 21.

A Surrealist Painter Wielding a Camera

Looking at the recent color photographs of Jan Groover, currently the subject of an exhibition at Janet Borden Inc., one comes to the realization that their peculiar character is due to her approaching the medium more as a painter than as a photographer. Of course, such a commendation could be construed as an insult to Ms. Groover in particular and photographers in general. Photography is, after all, its own thing. Still, Ms. Groover probably doesn’t mind. If anything, her recent work evinces an impatience with “straight” photography–that is to say, snapshots taken of the world in which we live. Instead, she opts for realms that are less real, if not quite surreal.

Ms. Groover’s photographs depict dreamy vistas of keepsakes, knickknacks and oddities. Imagine the ephemera of one’s desk drawer–the drawer in which we squirrel away all of the stuff we don’t know what to do with but don’t have the heart to dispose of–as seen through a clarifying, anti-gravitational scrim. Plaster putti , broken beakers, sea shells and Saran Wrap drift silently through Ms. Groover’s photographs, at times overtaken by an obscuring sfumato. That sfumato turns out to be dirt and dust, and Ms. Groover’s ethereal scenarios are elaborately contrived still-life setups photographed through receding panels of glass.

The tension Ms. Groover creates between floating spaces and an insistent frontality draws the eye. Yet the longer the eye is drawn, the more tricky the pictures seem. We never get beyond a “how did she do that?” response to the photographs, which precludes a deeper engagement with the work. Actually, I shouldn’t say “never”–a couple of the photos, with their soft explosions of light and precise twistings of form, do have the stuff. Which leads me to believe that what Ms. Groover needs is an editor, one who will sort the magical wheat from the gimmicky chaff. As it is, one leaves Borden puzzling over whether the photographs are as good as they are–or whether I can recommend them to you. Jan Groover is at Janet Borden, Inc., 560 Broadway, until Feb. 16.