By Matthew Hassell
The weight of art history bears down on few artists more inflexibly than in the case of the draftsman. One measure used to alleviate this constant pressure lies in the attempted dissolution of standard art historical categories. Is it a drawing? Is it a painting? Does it belong to the realm of sculpture? Thankfully, these questions no longer matter as much as how successfully the work arrives at its purported aim.
Shawn Kuruneru is one artist who has delved deep into what drawing means and has stepped forward with an aesthetic practice defined by a keen attention to materials and a rejuvenating panache.
His new work on view at Blackston Gallery engages the viewer from the second one enters the space. In coating a bevy of pebble-sized objects in black India ink, Kuruneru arrives at a free-form kind of modular mark making practice. Able to be transported to any support on which the work is able to rest, Kuruneru has chosen here to monopolize the majority of the gallery floor.
The walking space available to the viewer is compressed to a slim path skirting the interior walls of the gallery. Shuffling around nervously at first, one must be extremely conscious not to lay an errant toe into the work. The surrounding path serves not only as a necessary access to viewing the work, but also references the rectangular frame denoting the outer limits of a traditional drawing.
Freeing himself from the confines of binding his mark making to a surface, Kuruneru gains the liberty to create a new composition with each installation of this work. The artist has taken stipple from the page and thrust it into lived space—using gravity as his bonding material to temporarily adhere the most basic of drawing elements.
This untitled work is therefore able to be freely manipulated by the artist, conceivably even to be swept up and begun anew. This hyper-modularity allows the expressive movements used in creating the composition remain fresh, while creating something of a risky viewing experience. The fragility of the work heightens the viewers’ physical awareness by alerting them to the fact that the black objects are free to be accidentally shuffled around if one is not careful.
Although this large floor drawing commands the majority of the viewer’s attention at first, the series of works in the back room of the gallery are not to be missed. Here Kuruneru displays more traditional drawing chops, as delicate white ink has been carefully arranged on crisp squares of wood panel. As the viewer walks by, marks float in and out of sight, momentarily swallowed within the naturally reflective quality of the material. The compositions are carefully articulated so that the marks arrange themselves in undulating clouds interrupted by calculated breaks, creating gaps in the visual play of the mark making with the grain of the wood support.
The artist’s strength seems to be in a honed sensitivity and ability to activate the subtle strengths of his chosen material. Folding the known structures of drawing back in on themselves, Kuruneru arrives at a body of work that matches poetics of hand with an academic rigor and welcome invention. Clearly aware of the dialog his work has with art history, the artist has situated himself within a vein of aesthetic practice that seems rich with possibilities for fertile investigation.