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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