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Stephen Talasnik


"Drawing on Color and Vision"
by Ferdinand Protzman

The Washington Post, Arts/Galleries, 9/23/99, p.C5

Since Betty Edwards's book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" was published in 1989, hundreds of thousands of people have come to the conclusion that drawing is no big deal.  Follow her methodology, practice diligently, and you, too, can turn out a pretty respectable rendering of any person, place or thing.  It's good fun, putting pencil to paper, but this is the computer age and old-fashioned drawing can seem anachronistic, about as cutting-edge as a manual typewriter.

Apparently no one told Stephen Talasnik.  His exhibition of new drawings at Marsha Mateyka Gallery is fresh, original, invigorating and thoroughly edgy. Talasnik is a master of drawing technique and his architecturally inflected work is inspired by actual structures such as building frames, roller coasters and boats.  But what has put his works into some of the world's best known museum collections is his relentless exploration of drawing's possibilities.

Since his show last year at Mateyka, Talasnik has taken a quantum leap as an artist.  In addition to the shades of gray in his graphite-on paper drawings of strange, M.C. Escher-like structures that writhe and twist and fold into themselves, seemingly defying gravity and spatial logic, he has produced a new body of work that features color.

And what brilliant, otherwoldly color it is.  By using acrylic infused with colored pigment to draw on an archival form of vellum made from plastic and cotton rag, Talasnik has created shimmering works such as "Blue Spinner", which looks like a giant DNA spiral about to whirl off the wall.  It's a very ambitious investigation of how line and color can define the shape, volume and emotional effect of a structure, and it succeeds conceptually and aesthetically.  It's as close as a static visual image can get to being three-dimensional.

Talasnik also delivers some remarkable work using red chalk and red pencil on paper. Unlike the vellum's flawlessly smooth surface, the paper in these works has been seriously abraded, making it like some kind of animal hide on which the image has been branded.  The tonal range is fascinating, ranging from pink lines so faint that they seem to dissolve into the paper to rusty reds scorched into the surface.

While his command of technique is awe-inspiring, the essence of his art is Talasnik's willingness to experiment with materials, to disassemble traditional forms, to strip drawing down to its barest components and then reassemble it in radical, new ways. It's not something one can learn from a book or master with practice.  It's what separates the artist from the rest of us and keeps an ancient art form like drawing evolving.