Dawn Clements’ large drawings bear the scars of her process. Wrinkled, torn, and dirty, they mark an artist who physically throws herself into her work by kneeling on paper, dragging it across the room to a better perspective, and unceremoniously folding it to access the center. The completed drawings are never framed, but hung raw; thin, white, crumpled paper with surprisingly intimate ink renderings covering the surface. Concurrent to Clements’ process, the viewer has to physically maneuver the drawing, crouching and craning in turn. Thus, the works become as much sculpture as drawing in their physicality. But what makes Clements’ work endlessly fascinating is the way that it envelopes the viewer into her world. In J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, Franny becomes obsessed with a religious mantra. This mantra, when performed constantly, will allegedly incite religious feeling in the reciter. Similarly, when a viewer of Clements’ work becomes suitable absorbed in the details, she begins to experience the piece not as a viewer, but as the artist. The participation is no longer rote, but instead, active.
Recently, Clements’ work was included in the 2010 Whitney Biennial. She has been interested in panoramic domestic interiors, either her own dwellings or film compilations from the 40s and 50s. The piece in the Whitney, Mrs. Jessica Drummond’s, is a ball-point pen drawing from the film My Reputation. As is characteristic of Clements’ work, the perspectives within the piece shift and merge into each other, creating an unsettling landscape. Clements always draws from a source, and thus her film panoramas are drawn from different scenes; a detail here, a detail there. Large expanses of white indicate the areas that are never revealed. Her from-life domestic scenes offer the same differences in perspective, a result of her physically moving around the space to get better views of things. There’s a distinct tempo to her work–the white or more linear areas are read fairly quickly, but are often sandwiched between detail-laden expanses that demand time. In an interview, Clements says that she wants her work to feel as if it “existed in a bigger space of time. Like Cinema, it moves and the experiences takes time and that maybe is slower. Some works of art are slow; they walk instead of run. I think a lot of my work is slow.”
At Clement’s latest show, she drew on-site until the day of the opening. The completion of the image was thus marked not by its compositional completion, but by time. The gallery, Boiler Gallery, has, fittingly, a large boiler taking up one of its four walls. Clements chose this as her subject and meticulously recorded the rust and grime that lay upon its surface. The bottom of the paper is heavily detailed. Drawn with a brush, the ink is so thick it feels heavy. Sparse and linear pipes lead us upward, and a peppering of unreadable sentences are intermixed with the topmost drawing. One begins by engaging with a particular detail in the dense regions until another attracts, and they form a sort of path through the work. Undoubtedly, this is the same path the artist took to draw the object. One finds herself as entranced with a line or a shape as the artist herself was, as delighted by a passage, as fascinated by the graphic quality of the ink. Clements’ true talent is how her work acts as a conduit rather than a barrier between herself and the viewer. Her drawings are so personal that they become universal.
There is a wonderful moment when, upon turning from the drawing, you are confronted with the actual boiler and find yourself running your eyes along the same path the drawing took, viewing it from Clements’ perspective. Through this she transcends the drawing and lingers, interpreting your next few steps through the world.