Drawing the line
Local artist’s work goes straight from his head to paper
Local visual artist and poet Bob Garner, known for his signature minuscule watercolor paintings and his spare, evocative poetry, brings his love for the minimal home in a very big way in a new exhibit on the walls of the Upper Crust.
His collection of 5-by-7-inch (big by Garner standards), framed black-ink line drawings hang alongside the colorful collages and fanciful, oversized, papier-mâché masks made of recycled materials by his longtime friend, local artist Rod Caudill.
The loopy lines creating some of the endearing little abstract human-like figures in Garner’s ink-on-paper drawings give the viewer an unmistakable sense of movement and playfulness. Other “portraits” are constructed from tinier, tighter lines, but are no less alive. Even Garner’s sketches of tiny houses centered in a sea of white can be interpreted as having human qualities—windows are easily interpreted as eyes peering out over a an almost-smiling line of a siding “mouth.”
“I like to draw small and tight, or small and loose,” explained the bright-eyed, 60-year-old Garner, who graduated from Chico State in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in art. “My drawings are almost like an extension of my poetry, because they’re small, they’re linear. When I write poetry, many come from ‘automatic writing.’ These drawings are almost like ‘automatic drawing.’ They’re very immediate, straight out of my head.”
Like good poetry, Garner’s figure drawings give the most pared-down, yet ambiguous, hints of expression. It is possible to see a face (once one decides that it is, indeed, a face and not just a random swirl of curlicues) looking in different directions, all in the same figure. Garner is a master of multiple meanings in both his poetry and his drawings—there’s plenty to be read between the lines of his art.
One tiny figure that appears to be dancing seems to rise straight out of Garner’s bold signature in the left-hand lower corner of the drawing. One of his little houses with ambiguously face-like windows and door is flanked by two trees that also look like they might be wings. A couple of drawings feature creatures that are somewhat satyr-like, with their suggestion of horns and hooves that are so minimalist that one could also easily argue that they are no more than scribble.
A person playing an upright bass comes to mind in one of Garner’s pieces, with its big, rounded, curly lines. The delightful drawing also evokes thoughts of two people dancing, or perhaps just the movement trails left behind by a solitary dancer being chronicled by time-lapse photography. Another drawing depicts a squiggly little figure sitting on top of the world—or a really big egg.
The least abstract of all of Garner’s drawings—a recognizable profile sketch of a portly man wearing a cap—barely hints at facial expression with what could be interpreted as a slit of an eye and the merest suggestion of what could arguably be called a mouth.
Garner’s most abstract figure is so abstract that it easily looks like just an arranged collection of whimsical swirly lines, yet it distinctly makes one think “dancer” because of the shape of the arrangement and the kinetic quality of the lines drawn. And there’s that foot- or hand-like figure sketched at the very bottom, which makes one think of a ballet dancer posing en pointe or maybe a funny circus clown standing on one hand.
The pure joy in Garner’s work is that the beauty is in the eye of the viewer, whether one sees a gathering of totally abstract lines or the physical expression of a figure looking off into the distance. Whatever the interpretation, Garner’s work is sure to please.
One could argue that, by creating such small works of art, Garner’s pieces are environmentally friendly. His partner in the show, Caudill, takes that idea a step further.
Caudill makes interesting use of recycled materials in his colorful, oversized masks that peer down at café-goers from the Upper Crust’s south wall, adjacent to his large, framed collages composed of computer-generated images on paper.
One mask employs plastic dish scrubbers in various bright colors for its hair and big, googly eyes. Another resembles an elongated monkey face. Its unusual eyes are fashioned from dried starfish with rocks for pupils, and its ears appear to be two halves of a dried-twig Christmas wreath.
Caudill uses other Christmas craft items—a wooden evergreen tree for a nose and an artificial poinsettia for a mouth—in the creation of his monkey face. It’s his unusual, artistic use of craft-store items—in this piece and in his highly abstract “non-face” mask that makes use of a fake sunflower and a red wooden heart—that sets his work apart from the everyday, and alongside Garner’s pieces, makes for twice the fun.