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McGraw, Drucker, Smuda

Art New England, Dec/Jan 2005 


New England College Gallery
Henniker, New Hampshire
Thomas McGraw: Elements of Diversion
Susan Drucker: Puppets and Moths
Gail Smuda: American Justice
July 12 - August 13, 2004

By Craig Stockwell

Of the three exhibits presented simultaneously in the New England College Gallery, Thomas McGraw’s stood out for its strong sense of original method and unique personal image. There are layers to McGraw’s mixed-media paintings that are intriguing to travel through. I’ll speak mostly of the small, pattern-oriented works that are more unusual than the larger, figurative works, works that tend more towards illustration. The first impression of the smaller works is of bright, dense, and colorful designs, very contemporary in their color and range of reference. Only secondarily do words, cartoon images, figures, and intentions emerge. These works are poetic in the connections they forge and one in particular was surprisingly emotional, “Mourning has Broken,” a work that slowly revealed strong feelings of loss and resurrection. 

Susan Drucker is a skilled and delicate draftswoman. Her drawings of birds, bones, and humanoid puppets are beautiful, evocative, and ethereal. I sense she is an artist at odds with this skill and some of the works show an effort to mess things up, to un-refine, to challenge the precious. In this sense her work feels uncertain but rich in possibility. 

Gail Smuda has made a series of works that appears first as small post-minimalist paintings…taking simple elements such as stripes and squares yet painting them with a lot of “hand” and thick wax overlay. There is a cut out square and shelf in each painting that reveals itself as a shelf with a book form placed on it. Each book contains, inside hollow covers, a tableau concerning various moments in American (in)Justice (Sacco & Vanzetti, etc.) This admirable effort at combining political inquiry and painting is confounded by the failure to resolve the issue of how to show these works so as to reveal the inner tableau. The danger in taking on such serious social issues in this way is that a lack of successful delivery tends to trivialize historic moments of profound importance, as well as leave the painting itself as mere decoration