Saturday, November 3, 2012

Leonardo Drew

I recently experienced two, count ‘em 2, exhibits featuring the work of Leonardo Drew.  I say experienced, rather than saw, because the extraordinary physicality and emotional impact of Drew’s work demand that you fully engage with it.

 LEONARDO DREW, Number 155, 2012

Wood, 55 x 58 x 61 inches

Although I have included photos from the gallery websites in this post, it is simply impossible to get a true sense of Drew’s work without experiencing it directly.  And what follows is just a small sample of what was on view in each of the galleries.

The exhibit at  Sikemma / Jenkins included a multi-room piece (which Drew spent a month installing on site), several large scale wall reliefs, as well as somewhat smaller wall sculptures, constructed from thousands of pieces wood -- thin strips, slivers, blocks, some charred and painted.  The individual pieces of wood were stacked against each other, suspended from the ceiling, strewn on the floor, tightly wedged together, elegantly pieced in layers, and, in some sculptures, combined with other materials such as metal and graphite.

LEONARDO DREW, Number 161, 2012
Burnt wood, paint
Site specific installation, dimensions variable

Another view of Number 161,  a three-room installation

LEONARDO DREW, Number 162, 2012     123 x 185 x 24"
Wood, wood, metal, paint, gouache, thumbtacks, ballpoint pen, graphite, paper

When I walked back and forth through the gallery, the raw and ominously towering presence of the large installation (Number 161) was balanced by the elegance of the wall sculptures, such as Number 155.  Although the pieces of wood in several of the wall sculptures were less jagged and often more uniform in texture and size, the forms thrust out from the wall in a manner that felt menacing. 

While the sculpture left me very much aware of Drew's handling of materials, the show at Pace Prints triggered an intense spiritual response.   I consider myself to be deeply attuned to nature, but this work took me to new places.

LEONARDO DREW     12P, 2012       66 x 70"
Three-color pigmented cast handmade paper

To label Drew's offerings at  Pace Prints  as prints, is to me a misrepresentation of the work (although the pieces are offered in small editions.)  Instead, consider them wall sculptures from paper pulp and other materials.  In 12P, shown above, what you can't see is the deep (several inches) sculptural relief of cast paper in the central panel, or the dense skeins of fibrous networks that surround it.

The imagery is derived from roots . . . . and we are asked to experience the roots in all their glory and intensity -- as dense, fibrous mats,  or thick, sculptural fragments, in earthy sepia or as a thin silvery network.  While many of the pieces were executed in dark sepia and black, several were pale cobalt blue and others had overlays of a silvery pigment.

LEONARDO DREW    17P, 2012       36 x 36"
Pigmented handmade paper with cast paper-pulp addition

Drew describes this body of work as “monstrosities created in paper pulp.”  I see this body of work as urgently demanding that we commune with, inhale, cover ourselves, with dirt, loam, earth, whatever you choose to label the stuff from which vegetation arises.  I was awestruck by the sheer virtuosity of this work and shaken to the core by the deep spirituality they evoked.

To learn more about Leonardo Drew, I suggest that you read  Nancy Natale's excellent post about the artist and his 2010 exhibit at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Mass.


  1. Thanks for posting this, Tamar. I saw both exhibits too and took nearly 200 photos. I seem unable to blog recently and also unable to pull out some examples from all those photos I have because there are too many choices. Here is the link to my piece about LD at the DeCordova Museum and within that post you will also find links to several other posts about him.

  2. Thank you for introducing me to this remarkable artist