I saw the drawings of Charles Kanwischer for the first time yesterday at the Toledo Museum of Art. Had I simply gotten back in my car and made the two-hour drive home it would have been a day well spent. To call his small scale drawings “modest” would not do justice to the large-scale impact of these powerful and poignant images. All of the drawings are roughly 12 inches by 15, some even smaller. His subjects are the old working class neighborhoods of cities, the housing tracts on the outskirts of those cities, and the new subdivisions in the making on the ever expanding rings of development around the cities of America.
A reviewer states that Kanwischer’s drawings “criticize the banality of standardized suburban landscapes…” but I didn’t see them that way. The artist’s attitude toward his subjects is more forgiving, more aware of the fragility of what we have made as a culture in our struggle to define the concept of shelter and, more elusively, “home.”
A review of Charles Kanwischer’s drawings from The Plain Dealer, 7-18-10, by Steve Litt
Veteran artist Charles Kanwischer, a faculty member of Bowling Green State University since 1997 and a 1989 masterof-fine-arts graduate from Yale University, is a master of what might be called “the expectant landscape.” Though devoid ofpeople or action, his meticulous, photobased pencil drawings of suburban subdivisions-in-the-making seem to be waiting for something to happen. The result is a palpable tension… Kanwischer’s drawings are a visual lexicon of suburban sprawl. Bridge abutments, culverts, grading equipment, half-finished foundations — the artist catalogs each subject like a collector. Each image is drawn with great integrity. Kanwischer mounts sheets of paper on thick slabs of plywood and slowly builds his drawings out of thousands of tiny comma-like pencil strokes, slowly building images of great tonal complexity. The finished works criticize the banality of standardized suburban landscapes, while drawing attention to America’s seemingly endless supply of land, which constitutes a new frontier. Out of boundless possibility, the country is building cul de sacs.
The final word goes to the artist:
“…houses give form and structure to the most intimate aspects of our lives. Over time our daily routines are embedded in their spaces and surfaces. To a large degree the relationships, memories and desires composing our sense of self borrow the form of the house. In their transposition to physical form they acquire presence, but also a certain vulnerability. Ironically, the more we seek in our homes a source of refuge and well-being, the more we are brought up against the uncomfortable truth of their profound fragility.
Ultimately, I seek in my work consolation. By constructing a history of dwelling based upon fluidity and change in the landscape, I am better able to accept my position in it. I view my work as an invitation to others to take up the same challenge ” and perhaps even reach very different conclusions. I m not sure this fully assuages the anxiety created by existential pressures currently bearing down on our homes, for me or for others. I do know that the measure of solace I find in the act of drawing arises from my understanding of drawing as an act of communion. I mean by this that no matter what it nominally represents, the subject of a drawing is equally the mark of its author. A drawing is an accumulation of touches referring simultaneously to objects in the world and to the consciousness of the artist pressed into material permanence. When I use the medium of drawing to substantiate the traces of lives left in empty places and empty houses by previous dwelling, my own dwelling on the work leaves behind its trace as well. In this way drawing serves a mediating function, bringing together that which is separate in time and space. This attempt to establish communion between what is not present but invoked, and what is actually present in the facts of the material serves as the guiding principle of my work.” – Charles Kanwischer