by David M. Roth
I’ve often wondered what makes drawings by sculptors so appealing. Could it be that drawing, because it’s not an end unto itself, affords sculptors greater freedom? Or, because the expense of fabricating objects in steel or bronze necessitates accurate modeling? Whatever the case, their efforts exist in a category apart, as do those of Bay Area artist Linda Fleming whose explorations of space and volume occupy a unique niche.
Her sculptures, rendered in cut steel, have no apparent beginning or end. Shapes merge, veer off and coil back onto themselves, recalling topographic maps writ large. Conjoined, they form spikey objects that stand on triangular points, looking like stars or giant butterflies, reflecting the artist’s longstanding interest in astrophysics and other mind-bending fields of inquiry. What’s not readily apparent is that most of her sculptures harbor, within their bounds, a replica of themselves. Meaning, every shape you see has bolted onto it, a complementary interior form that is a perfect double of what’s on the outside. These
mirror images, painted in contrasting colors, emphasize their sameness, difference, and, most of all, their reliance on each other for definition and physical support. So instead of merely defining objects and voids, as Richard Serra does, Fleming’s see-through sculptures demonstrate how two versions of an object coexist in the same physical space. To that, Fleming adds yet another twist: the insertion into those objects of negative triangular shapes, further confusing notions of inside and outside. Her works don’t just occupy space; they reach into it, through it and around it, posing ontological questions about what we know and how we know it.
By these measures, you might expect her drawings to be pale approximations of what she achieves three dimensionally; but instead of performing illusionistic tricks to compensate, Fleming opts instead to create a sense of motion by employing the mannerisms of Op. To some extent, she’s always done so, but in this suite of drawings (organized by Casey and Associates Art Advisors and Brian Gross Fine Art for the 425 Market St. office tower lobby), she brings that element to the fore by situating sinuous waveforms inside triangular shapes. Sized in varying dimensions and set smack against each other in contrasting colors, they show serpentine lines bleeding into each other across borders, sometimes congruently, other times clashing. These oppositions generate plenty of motion by themselves. But by laying swirling semicircular marks atop this activity, Fleming creates gyroscopic effects. Red Ripples (2022), Yellow and Gray Waves (2022), Blue Sparks (2022) and Ochre Sinue (2019) all exhibit this characteristic, each in different ways. Yellow and Gray Waves comes closest to replicating the spatial confusion seen in the artist’s sculptures. In this, wave-filled triangles collide inside an open-ended wedge that unfolds at two ends like origami. Stare at the point where the shapes converge, and you’ll experience a mild sense of vertigo induced by clashing patterns and colors set in an indeterminate architectural space.
Several older works, also on view, merit attention. Saturn Bottle and Faceted Jug, exquisite graphite drawings from 1989, remind me of David Maisels’s X-ray photos of ancient art objects, while Stone Stairs (2006) mimics what photographers call light painting, achieved by moving a camera around at night with a slow shutter speed to record patterns “inscribed” by available light. These, as it happens, closely resemble those Fleming creates in steel.
As the artist put it in a statement accompanying the show: “When I abandon drawing for actual physical space, I find I am drawing with light and shadow…The drawings are traces of moments in time when my thoughts were caught just having emerged into physicality…”
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Linda Fleming: “Drawing Came First” @ 425 Market Street, San Francisco, through March 18, 2023.
About the author: David M. Roth is the editor, publisher and founder of Squarecylinder, where, since 2009, he has published over 400 reviews of Bay Area exhibitions. He was previously a contributor to Artweek and Art Ltd. and senior editor for art and culture at the Sacramento News & Review.