Barbara Drucker: Calendar Notations

At Artworks Gallery, December 7, 1996-January 11, 1997

See Also:  Barbara Drucker: Gleaning

Barbara Drucker's "Calendar Notation" paintings at Artworks may initially strike viewers as enigmatic. Their minimalist collections of painted green, white, red, and purple Avery dots arranged in rigorously gridded arrays force a kind of mathematical mood. The first question they seem to pose is what kind of formula might have generated their abacus-like patterns. Then, gradually, they come into focus for what they are: highly abstracted calendar pages with colored dots that stand for days. Each of twelve paintings has seven columns, thirty or thirty-one dots, and top rows that begin where the dots at the bottom of the previous one leave off.

Yet even when this recognition dawns on us, the meaning of their colors remains a puzzle. Red, green, white, and purple dots are distributed erratically around the calendar pages, forming a small diagonal line of red here, a vertical rectangle of white there, an L-shaped patch of green, or a swath of purple. Red dots often appear isolated within fields of green or white. One can only guess that they connote something like "red-letter days." And the purple falls in an area of the year (somewhere near the end of winter) that suggests a holiday season like Easter. In fact, the colors are borrowed from a Roman Catholic religious calendar, where red stands for Saints' Days and purple for Lent, and colors are associated with emotional values (purity, sadness, passion, etc.). Green stands for "ordinary" days as opposed to "sacred" ones. Yet Drucker has deliberately omitted any identifying text in order to give the calendar a more "generic" significance unassociated with any particular religion and more easily associated with the seasonal cycles of nature that religious holidays often follow.

What the calendar paintings ask us to think about, it seems, is something more like the relationship of the individual to a larger social structure of communal events. A calendar, after all, is a tool for organizing social life, with particular days or periods set aside for social interaction (going to church, celebrating a holiday with one's family, remembering the social significance of a particular historical event like national independence, or simply communally harvesting particular crops). The calendar paintings thus become symbols of the reliance of individuals on the social world around them (and that world's reliance upon the natural world), while remaining unspecific about the kinds of things that best hold a community together.

Of course, just as individuals cannot exist in the absence of a social support network, social structures rarely succeed if they do not accommodate individual differences. And this may in a strange way account for another element of the calendar paintings. While the artist could easily have chosen to use pre-colored Avery dots for the work, she chose white Avery dots and meticulously painted each and every one (even the white ones). Viewed up close, the dots retain the stroke of the brush with which they were painted--the kind of gestural evidence that tends to connote individual expression. And while the act of painting each dot is an attempt to "individualize" it, the painting of each and every dot is like the act of "attending to" each and every individual who will make up the social structure of the whole.

In addition to the gridded calendars, Drucker has painted more loosely expressive versions of the calendar abstractions on paper. Not too strangely, these paintings begin to look like architecture, with a door here, a window there, the top of a flat roof defined by white above a rectangle of green, and various recesses and alcoves, depending on the depths of field created by the sizes and interaction of the color fields. Occasionally they look like a tiered village on a hill, one house behind another. Or they look like the floor plans of eccentric dwellings. In the context of the gridded dot calendars, one is tempted to see them as "close-ups" of the houses of the "individuals" suggested by the painted dots.

And elsewhere, in what looks like an even further "close-up," Drucker has arranged the calendar dots for two different years into spiraled circles on separate translucent vellum pages and has turned the vellum toward the wall so that the paint-stained edges of the backs of the dots show through. The softer effect suggests something more personal and "warm" than the rigorous grids of the rectangular calendars, as does the idea that we are "inside" (i.e., behind the painting) looking "out." The two circles might well be two breasts, and the days might well be the days of a particular woman's life.

Barbara Drucker's "Calendar Notations" are highly abstract works, based, as they are, on the format of the calendar. Yet we miss the point if we remain at that beginning point of abstraction, since the artist has invested the forms with aesthetic elements that call attention to the human social and individual lives that are implied by the idea of calendars. While she starts out counting days, for example, she ends up counting people. And what begins by looking like a mysterious mathematical grid grows as we contemplate it into an organically patterned symbol of some utopian social order in which all persons (or dots) have a place that does not unduly distort their individual differences. While forcing us to stare at forms we might consider to be mere divisions of mathematical time, Barbara Drucker makes us contemplate "time" otherwise--as the interweaving of social and individual life within the cycles of nature.

Peter Kosenko, unpublished (December 1996).

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