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Bold pencil

Julia GfrÃ'¶rer’s pencil drawings are worth a look at Black Front Gallery

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If you happen to be in downtown Olympia when The Black Front Gallery is open, stop in to see Julia Gfrörer’s exquisite pencil drawings. They’re simple and easy on the eye, and it won’t take you long to give them the kind of thorough study they deserve. But I bet you won’t easily forget them.

In a way, Gfrörer’s drawings are like contour drawings done by almost every college art student who has ever taken a figure drawing class in, say, the last 40 years. Yet, there is something unique about these drawings. They are sparse and bold with a sensuous line quality. And they are brutally honest. By that I mean that they are unadorned, not showy, devoid of gimmicks — unless you consider a fine spray of dots a gimmick (more about this later).

The drawings in this show are all either self portraits or drawings of the artist’s boyfriend. Most are nudes. Gfrörer and her boyfriend are both skinny, almost emaciated. As depicted in these drawings, neither one of them is particularly beautiful; they’re simply people living comfortably and without shame in their skin.

There is not a complete figure in the show. Most of the works show torsos only with heads and extremities either cut off or fading into the white of the paper. There are no backgrounds — just naked bodies in white space. Some show faces, and some are of legs only. Most are small works on paper. There are 24 pencil drawings on paper, six framed and 18 unframed, and one brush drawing done directly on the wall in gray paint.

I asked gallery owner Jason Sieling what kind of paint Gfrörer used for this wall painting. He said she used some gray latex house paint that just happened to be in the gallery. The drawing was an image from one of her smaller pencil drawings that she projected onto the wall and painted.

Prominent in all of the drawings is a deliberate contour line drawn slowly and with sufficient pressure to dig into the soft paper. Not quite so prominent are light lines of the kind Italians (and art professors) call pentimenti, meaning evidence of preliminary drawing or painting that is left as a personal mark of the artist. These lines were drawn more quickly and are sketchier. In some instances, they are partially erased. One drawing in particular has pentimenti of a different sort. Parts of the figure, including the head, were drawn with careful contour lines that were completely erased but left behind ghost lines where the pencil dug into the paper.

The other thing that makes these drawings unique is the use of what I referred to earlier as a fine spray of dots. That’s actually not an accurate description although I do think it accurately describes the effect if not the actual appearance. She superimposes very small brush strokes in light colors over her line drawings. They look like clouds or mist or a swarm of gnats hovering over the figure. In most of her figures, these sprays are a washed-out blue or white, but in one instance it is bright red. In the more washed-out colors, these clouds or mists are very effective in a number of ways. They work as shadows even though they make no sense as shadows, and they create a layered spatial look, pushing the figures back in space. The one drawing in which she used red does not work. The red is too dark. Instead of complementing the figure, it fights against it.

In his book “Ways of Seeing,” John Berger talks about the difference between nude and naked. He says nudes are paintings of women by men that are intended as objects of sexual desire and that to be naked is to be unadorned, natural, real. Gfrörer’s figures are naked, not nude.

[Black Front Gallery, through Aug. 28, Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., 106 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia, 253.284.4750, http://theblackfront gallery.com]

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