Graphite pencil on paper
11 x 11 inches
Overview: Vertical and horizontal lines of varied intensity criss-cross the surface in a series of images.
Artist's Statement: I’ve had a hard time connecting with my studio practice since the pandemic started,
working in short sporadic drawing sessions with the materials I have at hand.
As in previous bodies of work, I have found continued inspiration by playing with the rigid order of the grid. In a recent series, I draw lines with a graphite pencil and straight edge while varying the pressure on the paper. Unlike the repetitive nature of a pattern, however, my mark-making remains unmeasured and intuitive, with the straight edge as the only guiding constraint. This unconscious rhythm of pressure creates a network of lines that weave in and out of each other resulting in a flat surface that seems to vibrate, similar to a moiré effect.
Judy Fox: If one knows August Ventimiglia’s architecturally-scaled, athletic drawings on walls and floors—he has executed them on the broad entry wall of the DeCordova Sculpture Park & Museum, on seemingly endless wall of Fidelity Investment World Headquarter’s lobby space in Boston, Massachusetts, near South Station, and in the gallery of Montserrat College of Art, and on the floor at Tufts University Art Gallery—in this suite of Screen Drawings, measuring a modest 11 x 11 inches, one will sense pent-up, intense nervous energy, a result of the artist being confined to his studio. The sweep of his extended arm, the expanse of pulled chalked lines, the path of running shoes, their treads loaded with chalk, have been translated to the staccato of the graphite line, repeated and repeated, lines that both challenge the grid and are confined by it. We feel this tension.
The artist’s repetitive motion could be read as an analog to our current experience, confined to our homes where routines rule and adventures are out of reach. Like caged animals we do the same things again and again. The unintended images resulting from Ventimiglia’s repeated actions, fields of short lines at 90 degrees to each other, conjure their eponymous title with it defining conundrum: the screen both hems us in and is our portal to the world beyond. The screens of doors and windows confine us; apps and the web hold us captive to their ubiquitous screens as they transport us to far away places and spaces. Tedium and engagement, confinement and expansion—these are dueling pairs. August Ventimiglia’s images oscillate between flatness and depicted three-dimensional space as the dimensions of virtual and the real worlds wobble.
During the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns, our world often seems to be increasingly mediated by screens, including the endless routine of Zoom meetings and binged reruns of old TV series. It is far from clear that our online meetings, our obligatory encounters with others across constrained screens, necessarily lead to greater understanding or deeper reflection about our world and our ultimate purposes and goals within that world. As communications theorists might put it, the signal to noise ratio across our linked screens may be particularly high, a state of being intensified by the current US administration, given to staggering degrees of deception, disavowal, and distraction as Rome burns around us.
August Ventimiglia reflects back to us the screen views, and perhaps the screen memories, of our current crisis. As Judy Fox notes, confined within these squares, again and again and again, the artist plunges into obsessive repetition compulsion of our historical juncture, in which we gaze into the screen, waiting to connect to a profound way, but anxiously uncertain just what might await us on the other side of the looking glass.
Just what do we glimpse in Ventimiglia's criss-crossed pencil markings? At a time when so many of our fellow humans beings have been confined to the ICU, linked electronically and digitally to medical monitors at terrifying moments during this prolonged pandemic, I find myself sensing traces of anxious signals. Might we discern the rhythmic shape of the EKG and related life signs, rising and falling in the fragile markers of life, and death, in our technologically-mediated age? These screen drawings call to my mind the print outs of electrocardiograms, perhaps not of our physical hearts but of our anguished souls. The artist tells us these forms are products of his own anxiety and disequilibrium at this time of strange confinement. Yet in these dimly hinted forms moving across the pages, rising and falling, again and again, I sense something, beyond words, of great words, perhaps even a shadow moving across the waters.
In other words, I sense that there is more here than just the static glimpsed on screen as we switch channels or the freeze frame as we momentarily lose internet connectivity. Paradoxically the screens that in Heidegger's sense stand between our gaze and the fully embodied experience of being human in the deepest sense, may be evocative of a kind of return to immediacy of bodily presence. We see the immediate traces of the artist's hand, grasping the pencil and pressing it in against the straight edge, again and again. And at least in my eyes, we apprehend across the screens undeniable signs of life, that a heart still beats, in a corporeal body and in the body politic--endangered to be sure, yet still irreducibly present.
ReferencesHeidegger, Martin. 1938. “The Age of the World Picture” in The Question of Technology and. Other Essays, New York, Harper & Row 1977,