NY Arts Magazine Art Review: Sky Pape

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Sky Pape Retrospective: Ink, Scissors, Paper, at River Stone Arts
Review by Pamela A. Popeson, NY Arts Magazine, July 2007

A strikingly impressive mid-career retrospective of the artist Sky Pape’s work is currently on view at River Stone Arts, a 10,000 square foot gallery space in Haverstraw, New York, a small, arty blue collar town on the west bank of the Hudson river twenty-five minutes north of New York City.

Pape’s work is widely exhibited and is in several major museum collections including the MoMA and the Guggenheim as well numerous private collections. This exhibit features 59 abstract drawings from six series or bodies of work dating from 1998 to the present. While each of the series communicates its own set of investigations and revelations there is sense of interrelated explorations felt at the heart of the larger body of work.

In physics, work is defined as the product of a force times the distance through which that force acts. The same definition can apply to the arts. With Pape’s work the distance is hopefully not yet fully known but the force running through these six bodies of work is best described (by name in Chinese at least) as Qi, or Chi, he Chinese Taoist concept of a force, a circulating life energy, inherent in all things.

There is no single word in English to describe this force, perhaps because Qi is known, felt and understood viscerally rather then intellectually. And in the way that Qi is much more than its definition Pape’s drawings are much more than a description of the materials or the manner of her manipulations of the materials. The drawings are essentially poetic narratives or intimate abstract portraits of the existent energies, organic and inorganic, found in ourselves or in nature, energies we recognize as life force (AKA Qi.)

Being inherent in all things, Qi is felt by all beings and by definition felt universally and individually at the same time. Similarly we respond to Pape’s drawings with a personal reaction to a universal experience.

In the earliest series in the exhibit “Inklings,” Pape has built simple yet sublime abstract patterns from torn and reassembled handmade paper (expanding it and/or folding it back on itself) combined with or accompanied with her specific ink work. In “Drawing Breath,” her most recent body of work, the artist blows inks onto, over, and across handmade (and in some cases rare) papers and cuts and layers fields, forms and filigreed line drawings of paper. These lithe and lyrical abstract collages seem to have come to us straight from the aesthetic realm of the ether, fluent in all languages and ready to communicate if not an innate comprehensive knowledge of all things then certainly a wonder at life.

The works are placed by series in intimate groupings, yet the openness of the space offers views of each group juxtaposed with an earlier or later group, revealing the shared themes as well as a sense of the artist’s journey. The ink work of the “Inklings” drawings leads to the impossibly bold and free yet poignantly precise brushed ink strokes of the saturated ink drawings of the “Behind the Seen” body of work with a stop along the way for exploring the form and meditative movement achieved though the layered graphite lines in the “Silver Lining” group.

Pape considers herself a drawer and uses the set of traditional drawing materials: pen, inks, in brush, pencil, graphite, and papers. Clearly the work comes out of the drawing tradition, but it goes to a very contemporary place in the most meaningful of ways. Pape says a goal is to “add to the vocabulary” of drawing. However, her intimate relationship with her materials allows her to take her drawings to a point beyond what would seem possible, moving well past adding to the vocabulary and into the position of expanding the fundamental grammar of drawing.