The experience of Deb Sokolow’s new drawings at Western Exhibitions is as important as the story being told. Bungled plots, secret caverns and the machinations of deceptive postal workers are once again exposed by her curious, paranoid protagonist in a non-linear and unending story penciled on lined, white drawing paper. These gripping tales lure us into this series of visually spare artworks. With only a few diagrams embedded in the text, one primarily reads these drawings rather than gazes at them.
This slight shift in perception dramatically changes the experience in the gallery. One must stop and stand while reading each word to glean the meaning of an individual drawing or chapter. This unusual experience in the gallery focuses attention on the act of reading, on how the story is internalized and interpreted. Traditionally, drawing tells an entire story in a single image using visual symbols. Sokolow adheres to this convention in part because each drawing is one chapter detailing a complete scene, but she also cleverly flouts the rule by adding footnotes in separate drawings. The viewer or reader pieces together the parts of the story, as told in each drawing or chapter, in order to understand the meaning of the entire series. Viewing Sokolow’s new drawings is like reading a collection of short stories, or like viewing a large sculpture, moving around the object, stitching together the parts visible from many viewpoints to form a sense of the whole object.
The impact of these perceptual challenges is to drive us from any routine we might typically engage in while looking at drawings in a gallery. This experience is mirrored in the story itself when the frustrated narrator, visiting a museum of Minimalist art, is “unable to find any nude, pornographic-like portraiture to enjoy,” but, just before leaving, discovers a cube-shaped sculpture that is a secret portal. It is not hard to imagine someone having a similar initial response to Sokolow’s spare new drawings, yet this fictional encounter unlocks another side of these as well: the mysterious power of this work lies in the way our experience in the gallery is intertwined with the story being told. (Regan Golden-McNerney)
Through December 31 at Western Exhibitions, 119 North Peoria