Circle Tred (detail), c. 1953-1955
Ink on webril
75" x 33"
The works by Sari Dienes on display at The Drawing Center embody a gritty, yet relatable image of NYC. She used a process of mark making that stood out from many abstract expressionist artists of the 50's. Thus, Dienes created black and white pictures that are textured and abstract, but more importantly recognizable. In fact, the source for the marks came from the ground beneath the feet of New Yorkers.
Upon descending the stairs, I’m impressed to see about eight or so ink rubbings on webril (a type of cotton padding) that are rich in detail. NYC, from 1953, has a horizontal orientation with a half circle shape in the upper right section. The semi-circle appears like a sun radiating to the other corners of the image. As soon I see the letters 'N Y C' imprinted on the inner section of the semi-circle, it becomes clear that I am looking down at a sewer grate in NYC. The layers of the rubbing bear down on the paper, the ink providing a weight that carries the stamp of the street. Another piece, Circle Tred, evokes the types of industrial-design patterns that I might step over on the way to work; such as a grid of circles with pound signs.
About three layers were juxtaposed on top of one another, creating the effect of photo-montage. Although obscured in almost every work, there comes a point where the imprinted-subject reflects an unacknowledged beauty, history and collective memory of sites on the ground.