Contributed by Jonathan Goodman / Devra Fox’s thirteen graphite drawings on view at Hesse Flatow in Chelsea, two blue and the rest gray, depict structures organic in presentation but with an eerie resemblance to manmade objects such as furniture. They reflect both technical virtuosity and a vivid imagination. Somewhat like Clayton Schiff though Fox’s drawings are not as exaggerated and less colorful Fox conveys a troubling and mysterious natural world that does not quite match reality. Given the massive changes occurring in our habitat from climate change and overcrowding, her odd growths may be warnings of environmental disaster. Against that eventuality, a submerged human connection she says images of stones, in line with Jewish teachings, stand for the soul and persistent depictions of envelopment may together suggest a longing for love and nurturing.
Foxs drawings can be whimsical to the point of willful absurdity, and a pronounced real-surreal duality is a hallmark of her art. Cling (2021) is composed of beautifully rendered and resolutely realistic leaves rising from a single stem that is wrapped around a stone resting on the ground. Though well short of Dali, the stem is not quite plausible in the real world, circling the stone irregularly and moving to the bottom of the picture and beyond it. A Persistent Cycle (2021) involves two intertwined stems extending to leaves in the compositions upper half. At the lower end, the stems rest on two halves of a broken rock (or maybe fruit), whose light interiors contrast with their darker surfaces. This configuration too is unnatural, reminding viewers that they are looking at a poetic interpretation of nature.
Table (2021), exquisitely drawn and the largest work in the show, reveals diagonally aligned roots supported by four thicker roots, each covering a veiny, breast-like mound of earth. Rising from the table is a small tree with thin, exquisitely articulated branches drawn an equal distance from one another. In Pillar 2 (2021), two organic and irregular stems wind around a distinctly phallic pillar. Again, these respective tableaux are some distance from reality, although for some Table might conjure trees of estates manicured by gardeners. The allure of these works turns on their very eccentricity, in the way they wryly and knowingly surpass reasonable expectation.
There are four drawings of drooping clusters of gourd-like shapes, attached to mazes of relatively thick stems. The blue drawing Keep In (2021) features a blossom with rounded, oblong leaves, beneath which a stem curves in on itself, seeming supported by two leaves attached to the straight rise of the stem ascending from the ground. Its not a likely formation in nature, but it coheres as self-contained art. Foxs drawings remain objects defiantly of her own devising, referential to be sure but purposefully declining to mimic the outside world, apparently with a critical eye to the future.
“Devra Fox, Stem, Hesse Flatow Gallery, 508 W. 26th Street, New York, NY. Through November 13, 2021.
About the author: Jonathan Goodman is an art writer and poet. He currently teaches at Pratt Institute.