Four Directions, 2009, gum transfer and monoprint on paper
Dissection, 2009, gum transfer and monoprint on paper
Valois/Con-Daw-Haw and the Great Law of Peace, 2009, graphite on vellum
"The Haudenosaunee Project: Prints, Drawings and Pastels by Pamela Rozelle Drix" represents an ongoing foray by the artist into the culture, religion, geography and history of the Native American peoples of Upstate New York — probably better known as the Iroquois. The show reveals Drix to be an image-maker of uncommon nuance and ambition.
"Haudenosaunee" continues a series of engaging shows put on by the Ink Shop in the Community School of Music and Arts' first floor lobby — a cooperative program inspired by the Shop moving into the second floor of the CSMA-owned building about a year ago. According to Drix, this is the first solo show at the CSMA in recent memory.
The bulk of "Haudenosaunee" is made up of a series of variations on a single motif: the pelt of a female Adirondack grey wolf. Drix has the real pelt on a wall in her studio and the pelt has a story. The creature was the gift of Joe Soto, "a Native American of Tia'no heritage and Cree training" who provided spiritual guidance during the recent death of her father, an amateur archaeologist and an enthusiast of Native culture. The gift has clearly captured her imagination during recent months; all but one of the pieces here (a landscape) dates to 2009.
Drix draws upon Iroquois traditions of animism and spirituality — she speaks of her identification with the she-wolf, her strength and power as well as her nurturing capability. Nevertheless, she also stresses the exploratory nature of her quest, her need (particularly as a non-Native-American) to find the meaning of this gift on her own terms.
Also reoccurring in many of these pieces is the image of a crow feather that accompanied her father during the final week of his life. The feather is meant to suggest "the beautiful frailty of life."
With two exceptions, each of the pieces here is print-based. Gum transfer (a means of printing Xeroxed images) and monoprint are both in wide use, as are hand-drawn additions in graphite, charcoal and/or pastel. Many of the pieces incorporate multiple sheets of paper under a single frame.
Typically the printed silhouette of the animal — sometimes whole; sometimes divided, fragmented or multiplied — is placed against an empty expanse of white paper. Black and brown are the most characteristic colors. The former is laid on in thick, brushy oft-fur-like marks while the latter, reddish or yellowish, is applied in dusty clouds.
Four Directions makes an interesting dissociation between the solid materiality of the black and the ghostliness of the brown. Over an upward oriented smudgy black pelt, four disconnected red-brown paws have been overlaid. They radiate out from the center like the four cardinal directions on a compass. Drix cites the piece as "a reminder to...extend our protective vigilance in all four directions." Indeed. And the way she suggests an inner psychic life for what elsewhere threatens to become a lifeless trophy is distinctive.
Four Brothers incorporates a grid of four tall sheets under one frame. The sheets are not neatly lined up and attached; the piece has a not-unwelcome roughness. Warhol-like (though not Pop), we see four iterations of an upward-turned wolf's head. The variety of media — etching, monoprint, gum transfer, charcoal and graphite — is noteworthy, as is the unusual range of color and textures.
In Dissection with Arrowheads I and Dissection with Arrowheads II Drix departs from her centralized, almost heraldic treatment of the wolf pelt. Limbs dangle mysteriously from the top edge, or from the left and right edges. Both images incorporate a row of small, delicately rendered arrowheads across the bottom. These call to mind the animal's associations with killing — both as hunter and hunted.
Drix combines fragmentation with the central creature-image in Dissection. This is a large piece comprised of four printed pages that are hung side-by-side directly on the wall, unframed. Surrounded by white, the printed areas are of different sizes and proportions, mismatched. We see the entire span of the animal — more or less life size — but broken up. It is unfortunate that this impressive would-be-centerpiece is hung above the staircase leading to the CSMA's basement. Although it holds the space well, one does want to get up close.
The sole pure drawing of the animal, a pastel on vellum Wolf Pelt, stands out for its physical intensity. At first glance, it appears to pop out of from its thin, translucent sheet. It follows the central silhouette format; the critter's head points straight up and her tail straight down. One gets a strong sense of the physical markmaking — strokes of black have been vigorously smudged and, in places, partially erased. There are occasional highlights of white pastel too.
The CSMA show also includes a pair of pieces combining landscape, imagery and text. In contrast to the focus on object and character offered by the wolf pictures, these works convey a disjunction between seemingly pastoral rural landscape and the varieties of man-made violence. These works are dense and multilayered, both visually and conceptually — also in contrast to the slow-moving theme and variation of that typifies the show. They are also closer to most of the work that Drix has shown in recent group exhibits.
Both Valois/Con-Daw-Haw and the Great Law of Peace and Sacred Conversations: What's Happening? include extracts from the Great Law, the founding document of the Iroquois' Five Nations (The Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, and the Seneca). Affinity with and thanksgiving for nature and the Creator are prominent themes.
The former image, drawn in graphite, resembles a book page turned on its side (actually it looks better this way). Across the top, we see numerous paragraphs. Below is a wide strip of aerial view landscape, sketchily rendered, showing Valois, NY — Drix's hometown — alongside the nearby site of Con-Daw-Haw, a native settlement razed to the ground by General Sullivan during the Revolutionary War. (Or so we're told by the introductory text, the distinction is visually absent.) The land is divided by several vertical bands, some of which also mark off breaks in what might seem at first to be a continuous landscape. Below is an expanse of white with a crow feather to the right.
The latter is even more eclectic in style and content — to the point of feeling more like scrapbook contents than an image. Sacred Conversations is divided into two square sections. On the left, in an overall smudgy purple tone, is a transfer photo showing a construction site, full of trucks, with a tall crane near the center. We see a label, "HALLIBURTON"; looking again at the intro, we see that this refers to companies "drill[ing]...for natural gas in the Marcellus shale." Attached to the square is a piece of vellum bearing more lines from the Law of Peace and a feather, both providing contradictory voices.
Further amplifying the piece's conversational contradictoriness — perhaps nearly to the point of absurdity — the square on the right shows a serene valley landscape, rather lyrically rendered in expressive black monoprinted strokes. Melding with the cursive-like lines are rows of handwriting, this time indecipherable. There is another attached vellum scrap. This one shows, in sketchy graphite, a rustic house fronted by a blackened sign. The same image appears elsewhere in the show, in a 2007 gum printed photo. There we learn the sign's function: an official historical marker commemorating Con-Daw-Haw.
Drix mentions the notion of the wolf as a protector of the environment as a link between her pelt series and these explorations of place. One would to like to see this narrative connection made a bit stronger. (Although the large-scale Dissection does begin to suggest a sort of landscape in itself.)
According to the artist, "The Haudenosaunee Project" is her first solo show since co-founding the Ink Shop about a decade ago. Thankfully, we won't have to wait another decade to see her work en masse. Announced during Drix's opening last Friday, Roger and Adrienne Bea Smith of Groton's Main Street Gallery have granted her another solo showcase in the near future.
More immediately, she has work included in the Main Street's "Spring Group Exhibition" and in the show "Artists Made Books" at the Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center in Auburn, NY. (The latter show is recommended and also includes local print and bookmaking luminaries Kumi Korf, Maddy Rosenberg, Buzz Spector, and Christa Wolf.) Both open later this month.
"The Haudenosaunee Project" remains on display in the CSMA's lobby gallery though March 27.