Bellingham National

The luck of the draw

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

With the digital world at our fingertips, it’s easy to forget it wasn’t too long ago that humans required little more than writing implements and paper to communicate with each other.

“Bellingham National,” an exhibit currently on display in the main gallery at Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher Building, aims to lend attention to the art of drawing, another practice that has taken a backseat to technology in modern times.

“What makes drawing an especially rich topic today is the profound transformation of our everyday lives by digital media,” guest curator Catharina Manchanda explains in a missive near the beginning of the show, which features works by more than 25 artists from across the country who entered their works for consideration in the juried exhibit.  “As the handwritten memo, the written diary, and letter writing have dwindled or vanished, and our day-to-day communication and information sharing conducted largely in front of screens, we are witnessing a profound material shift.

“In it most direct physical form, drawing has an immediacy and material quality that registers differently under these new conditions,” Manchanda adds. “Its very ‘slowness’ becomes significant at a time when the flood of digital imagery and information keeps shortening our attention spans. From a more linguistic and conceptual vantage point, drawing connections, drawing on memory and history, and drawing understood as notation and trace, open distinct possibilities for artists working across a range of mediums.”

Those who won the luck of the draw and were chosen from among the more than 300 artists who applied for a spot in “Bellingham National” represent a fascinating cross-section of creativity. From the literal to the abstract, the pieces help show viewers how individual artists create their works—and how “drawing connections” comes into play.

For example, Seattle artist Dawn Cemy’s “Body sketches for furniture,”  drawn in 2016, turned into life-sized, cartoon-looking sculptures in 2017—and the tangible result of her imaginings garnered her a first-prize cash award from the exhibit’s jurors.

And in addition to detailed drawings by the likes of Kelly Bjork (formerly of Bellingham), Colorado’s Marsha Sha, Brooklyn’s Bert Bergen, Seattle’s Klara Glosova and Whiting Tennis, and Vashon’s Ann Leda Shapiro, the exhibit also contains videos, a neighborhood-length knitted hose on a reel by Bellingham’s Christen Mattix and, in a dark room off the main part of the display, the clear sounds of a pen or pencil being used to draw on paper.

“I could have listened to it for hours,” my gallery date said when reflecting about the exhibit. “There was a music to it I hadn’t considered before. In fact, I’ll probably hear it when I draw or write from now on. To me, that was one of the most enticing parts of that exhibit—and it was in an otherwise empty room.”

If, upon perusal, a particular piece in “Bellingham National” speaks to you, keep in mind that anyone viewing the show can vote for a “popular choice” winner through Sept. 3. By Sept. 6, the results will be tallied and the artist with the most votes will receive a $500 prize. Naturally, you’ll choose your own winner by voting with a pencil and a piece of paper.

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