Thursday, February 10, 2011

“Text Portraits” - Ben Durham, Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery

Fairly simplistic, large-scale portrait drawings are what one sees upon first glance when viewing the work by artist Ben Durham. Disheveled faces glare back at you in a fixed trance of contempt and cold gazes penetrate through you when moving through the gallery from portrait to portrait. Each image is a mug shot. This may explain the defensive eyes that peer back at you. Durham knew each delinquent; after all, he grew up with them. Perhaps the depth in process in which the detail manifests, is why we see such an eerie breadth in the tale each image tells. A tale that we know is there but may never fully understand because we are on the outside looking in. Durham’s process is hand-making the thick and textural paper and the graphite is layered so thick in places that a soft, almost carpet-like appearance is created. What may be the most fascinating detail is that the entire portrait is composed of only text. The text tells the tale of Durham’s thoughts on each individual, but the end product that we see is illegible. Durham speaks into a recorder his memories of the individual and plays them back, on a loop, as he works.

There is fascinating detail disguised by simplicity in these “text portraits” by Ben Durham: his honesty gives him the ability to pull us into an uncomfortable world and make us acknowledge our willingness to be there. The collection is unique in a way that cuts through the mainstream art world and displays a level of raw beauty that exists in a world that seems so far away from the galleries, museums and their frequenters in New York City.

1 comment:

  1. First, some nit-picky grammatical issues: Starting a sentence with "which" is not advisable, though I do like the abruptness of the sentence before it: "Each portrait is a mugshot." So maybe you could change it to "This may explain..." instead.

    The fifth sentence, beginning with "Durham knew each delinquent," reads a little awkwardly-- I would suggest taking out the "after all" or splitting it up into two sentences. Same with the sentence that begins, "He speaks into a recorder.."

    The use of the word "ground" to describe Durham's marks on the paper evokes a very rough, concentrated connotation that I'm not sure is best suited here. You are right about the pencil breaking through the surface of the paper but as I recall, the writing itself was quite fine and light on its own.

    As far as the critique, it may benefit you to describe the space when you talk about walking through and interacting with the portraits-- for instance did the size, layout, design of the room play into this relationship between the art and viewer? About how may pieces were there and was there any notable variety in the works?

    Overall very interesting and I'm glad someone tackled this show! I found it pretty haunting myself...