Review: Larry Cressman's Land Lines
There’s not much question that someday University of Michigan's emeritus art professor Larry Cressman is going to have his requisite career retrospective—many of them, in fact. But Land Lines at the University of Michigan's Rotunda Gallery is going to have to serve this purpose in the short term.
In this last decade Cressman has held only three local exhibits: Installation Drawings: Dogbane at the U-M East Quad Art Gallery in October 2016; Material Matters in conjunction with ceramicist Susan Crowell at Chelsea’s River Gallery in November 2009; and his Ground Cover/Covering Ground Drawings at the River Gallery in April 2014.
Yet through this period, he’s also had exhibits at the Dennos Museum in Traverse City; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the Hewlett Gallery in Pennsylvania; the Nelson Gallery at the University of California-Davis; the Hill Gallery in Birmingham, MI; and the Richard M. Ross Museum in Ohio.
What these far-flung locales have seen is Cressman’s remarkable work at its minimalist best. His work is comprised of the patient accumulation of hundreds of sticks and twigs in intricate patterns that both delight and defy the viewer’s eye.
It’s one of those modernist artforms that some might say is common enough for anyone to produce—until one actually tries. It becomes apparent soon enough that it takes a thoroughly uncommon attention to detail and a patient aesthetic to piece these works together in their exceptional equilibrium.
These “line drawings” sit somewhere between the three-dimensional form and the nearly infinitesimal two-dimensional line. It is, of course, merely the coarseness of our vision that insists on differentiating between these two dimensions because they are ultimately only a matter of physical degree.
As Cressman says in his artist’s statement to the exhibit:
“A line drawing released from the flatness of paper can exist anywhere. It can venture into our space. It can be kinetic. It can cast its own shadow. The scale of the drawing is only restricted by the architectural space in which it is placed. Work that is temporary allows an additional freedom—any ephemeral material is possible—glass, rubber, electrical wire, plastic, sound, sticks—all materials I have used in my installations over time.
"Most recently I have focused on the use of sticks and twigs—specifically raspberry cane, dogbane, daylily and prairie dock. Gathering this material from fields near my home has become a part of the drawing process. The gestural quality of each plant and the physical nature of the material (density, weight and brittleness) all play a role in my installation drawings as I explore work that is reflective of both the structure and randomness of the environment.”
It’s this drawing with physical form that makes Cressman’s art so uncommonly compelling. The variable line of shadow in conjunction with the often nearly imperceptible flow of air coursing through the site cause the twigs and sticks to sway against the gallery wall—and these investigations into almost indiscernible elevated space make the installation’s stunning forays into multiple dimensionality all the more marvelous.
It’s possible—and indeed preferable—to spend an extended period of time visually tracing Cressman’s line through his varied stems and twigs. Each work features a strikingly different configuration and pattern. What they do share is a focus that makes them readily recognizable as Cressman’s handiwork.
Perhaps the signal artwork of the Rotunda Gallery exhibit is 2015’s magnificently oversized eleven by six by three foot “Shift” installation. This daylily stalk, graphite, matte medium and glue tour de force is an unquestionable masterwork that illustrates Cressman’s art at its most accomplished.
His three-dimensional etched line has been released from its flat surface as modulated diagonal stems protrude from the work’s vertical limbs crafting a heady, disruptive spur to its otherwise sublime symmetry. Each horizontally mounted twig has its own distinct integrity as no two stems exactly resemble each other, even as each has the same individuating appearance.
There is, therefore, an internal harmony to the stray disorderly offshoots in “Shift” that most certainly highlights the similarities and differences of Cressman’s artistry. And it’s this keenly rendered gestalt that rewards our attention.
Among other Cressman works, 2015’s “Centerline I” carries this theme with its binary horizontal rows of raspberry cane, graphite, matte medium, and pins hovering against the gallery wall—as opposed to the similar yet overlapping rows of raspberry cane, graphite, matte medium and pins in 2015’s “Centerline.” Cressman carries his folding of materials together in the latter work with as much regularity as in the former strictly constructed drawing.
Each of the 15 Cressman artworks in this exhibit traverses this intricate divide between dimensions—abiding silently both trace and shadow—to draw our attention to the world that lies in-between. His subtle asymmetry keeps us off balance even as the artwork's paradoxical equilibrium holds our attention in balance.
John Carlos Cantú has written extensively on our community's visual arts in a number of different periodicals.
University of Michigan North Campus Research Complex: "Larry Cressman: Land Lines" will run through April 29, 2016. The NCRC Building 18 Rotunda Gallery is located at 2800 Plymouth Road. The NCRC is open Monday-Friday 8 am–6 pm For information, call 734-936-3326.