The mind-boggling complexity of Andrea Way’s mixed media drawings makes for a masterful encounter with a creative practice that absorbs traditions of mapping, diagrammatic abstraction, meditation and harrowingly fine mark making. Oddly, the viewer experiences a shock of self-awareness when confronted with Way’s intensely sustained attention to rigorous, rule-based methods of working. The unfaltering focus required by this work and the willingness of the artist to give herself over to its time-stopping pace is a singular devotional act But more than the mental rigor, meditative presence and finely calibrated delicacy this work demands, it is the multivalent references to science, aboriginal maps, linear schematics, the Outsider Art of Hiroyuki Doi, and Terry Winters’ graphic work from the late ’90s that give Way’s drawings their richness and allure. Way’s works also align positively those of Bruce Conner, Mark Tobey and John Cage, all of which were on view at the Crocker Art Museum’s 2012 exhibition, Approaching Infinity: The Richard Green Collection of Meticulous Abstraction.
For this exhibition, her fourth at the gallery, Way displays eight black-and-white drawings made between 2013 and 2014. Modestly scaled at 30 x 22 inches or 39 ¾ x 31 inches, they rely on various methods of deploying ink, pencil, paint and tiny beads of glass. These elements are worked wet-on wet, with finely lined ruling and outlining, yielding an obsessive collection of densely packed and layered schematics. While they seem to begin with a linear armature, developed and embellished with intricate patterns, there are also microscopic scenarios of spontaneous gesture and random, watery play. To the dichotomy between the rule-governed and the random, Way also offers an ambiguous reading of scale. Her works can be seen as microscopic views of particles or networks of complex electronic systems – or as aerial views of archeological sites or migratory patterns. Given such titles as Fog and Ice, Signal Cell and Snowball Effect, it’s apparent that Way’s interests dwell in the sphere of what is intangible, exemplifying Klee’s credo: “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.
In Way’s hands, the process of slow, repetitive creation leads us to encounter patterns laden with meaning and mystery. Her methodical interrogation of systems becomes a two-dimensional mechanism for the abandonment of self, putting us in touch with the profound, conjuring the indescribable and un-nameable. This is work of a mature artist working outside the rattle and hum of current trends. ”
As the artist explained in an 2012 interview published on the occasion of a 30-year career retrospective at American University Museum in Washington, D.C.: “In many respects, I have felt more like a naturalist or a scientist than an artist, and have never been concerned with fitting into a recognized art movement or group. I’ve always trusted my intuition to move me in the next direction. I knew that if I just kept working the ideas would flow. My part of the bargain was to keep making the effort – and to trust.”
Thus, the show’s title, Off the Grid, is entirely apt.
Andrea Way: “Off the Grid: Recent Works on Paper" @ Brian Gross Fine Art through February 28, 2015.
About the Author:
Julia Couzens is a Sacramento-based artist and writer whose work has been widely shown, most recently at the di Rosa Preserve. Her drawings and hybrid objects are in museum and public collections throughout the U.S. These include the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts; Berkeley Art Museum; Oakland Museum; Weatherspoon Art Gallery, University of North Carolina; and Yale University. She lives and works on Merritt Island in the Sacramento River delta.