Last Call: Anne Nelson at Staple Goods

Anne Nelson, Untitled Green II (left) and Untitled Green I (right). Both 2012-13. Mixed media. Courtesy the artist.

Editor's Note

It’s the last weekend to catch Anne Nelson's “Punch List: Recent Drawings” at Staple Goods. Before it's gone, Emily Wilkerson reviews.

The intimate drawings and mixed media works by Anne Nelson on view this month at Staple Goods are the predecessors of her larger abstract paintings. With planes colliding and horizons deteriorating into the foreground, they exhibit the same complexities within the boundaries of small sheets of paper. In her Monuments series, black and white rectangular shapes and repetitive markings oscillate between recognizable landscapes and unfamiliar voids. Nelson produced these works while listening to Ken Burns’ documentary series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Natural phenomena and monumental forms are made visible through basic gestures—hatching reminiscent of grass and lines that morph into grand steps—while vast gaps in the drawings leave room to imagine the could-have and should-have-been great monuments and preserves of our nation.

These are not the only ghosts present. The specter of painter Agnes Martin also lingers among Nelson’s drawings. While Martin’s familiar grids appear in but a few of Nelson’s images, the systematic renderings of lines and marks, as well as an ethereal color palette excited by bright watery blues and deep greys, in many of her works recall Martin’s sparse, contemplative paintings. For example, a diluted sky blue contrasts its light orange counterpart in a loose system of horizontal lines in Ward III, 2012. Untitled White I, 2013, also recalls Martin’s approach to form but evidences many departures from her precisely organized canvases. In this work, repetitive horizontal lines drawn in pencil create a structured background that is set off balance by a column of light methodical hatching on the left. A grouping of small black markings and colorful rough-hewn rectangles and ovals overlaid by translucent vellum at the bottom center of the piece further breaks the otherwise orderly image.

“Punch List: Recent Drawings” is full of similarly unexpected moments. Upon first glance, Untitled (Black and white), 2013, is a simple composition of a black rectangle siting comfortably next to its white counterpart. With further study, segments of red and purple pop out from under the black rectangle and the branches of a tree become visible, while swarms of lines undulate under the white. Nelson’s negotiation between representation and abstraction appears more spontaneous in her drawings than in her exacting paintings. The definition of a sketch, these works nevertheless yield dynamic compositions that reward sustained viewing on their own.

Anne Nelson, Untitled Drawing (left) and Untitled Drawing I (right). Both 2013. Mixed media (left) and pencil on paper (right). Courtesy the artist.

Editor's Note

“Punch List: Recent Drawings” on view through May 5 at Staple Goods (1340 St. Roch Avenue) in New Orleans.