Linda Bond: Pause—Gunpowder and Graphite Drawings 2004- 2008
So long as the artist speaks the truth, [s]he will, whenever the government is lying or has betrayed the people, become a political force...
The exhibition and its accompanying catalog, Linda Bond: Pause—Gunpowder and Graphite Drawings 2004- 2008, commemorates the Thompson Gallery’s second season opening, and its first publication. Assembled here are provocative and haunting images of Linda Bond’s medium to monumental-sized drawings of dead and injured civilians from the middle east, weapons, the president and cabinet members of this country, along with the first American casualties of the War on Terrorism, it’s protestors, and so much more.
I distinctly remember my first studio visit with Linda Bond in August 2007, while curating the Sublime Climate exhibitions for the gallery’s inaugural year. I had come to see her “Smoke” drawings and “Water Series” paintings, which were ultimately exhibited in the second of three shows about global warming. As soon as I entered the sunlit studio I stopped in my tracks. I was immediately confronted by Bond’s gunpowder and graphite drawings, spread out on the walls salon style—large, bold, unabashed and unwavering in their command of attention. I felt compelled to interrupt my initial intension for the visit in order to explore Bond’s extensive black and white series—renderings of various objects of mass destruction and the people who use them, the perpetrators and victims of war, and, the peacekeepers. The first words that came to my mind concerning these thought-provoking works were “dignity,” “humanity,” “compassion.” Problematic. How could such words come to mind when the imagery of these works was obviously disturbing and “dark”? I knew then and there that these drawings had to be shown together so that others could view them and contend with the complexities they examine.
Over the past seven years, Bond’s source material has been today’s printed news, namely black and white reproductions from the New York Times, among others. In addition to Bond’s extreme facility, skill and approach to drawing, her keen eye to select newspaper imagery—and extrapolate where no detail exists—the series obtains its richness and its power because of her ongoing attention to inclusivity. Conflict is clearly at the heart of these works. There are always compelling reasons for human action—whether acts of kindness, protection, violence or hatred. Sorting out such distinctions, similarities and differences is never easy. It would seem that the dichotomy between the feelings conjured as we gaze upon these renderings and the subjects examined are at odds with each other. The sheer compassion of the portraits’ apparent serene emotional states seem quite distant from the torment, anguish, longing and extreme loss that comes to bear on those pictured, those who found themselves at various grounds zero during these past seven years. Strangely enough, despite the horrors and realities of war these images are not at all gruesome to behold; neither masked nor glorified, these sobering realities are rendered with a refusal to take sides. Bond even uses materials that in some ways seem unprejudiced. Along with the traditional material of graphite, which is often a substance used as a buffer, Bond has deftly added gunpowder to her pallet of mark-making materials. Gunpowder is a conceptually and symbolically charged material due to its volatile and explosive potential. Without a catalyst however, gunpowder remains inert. Viewing these images there is the constant reminder that the stuff that is in the works themselves parallels the nature of political power—it can, but does not necessarily have to be destructive. Viewers must grapple with the impartial depiction of emotive states, and the inert threat of potentially explosive material in the work—all things considered together, a total picture is not possible unless multiple views are possible. And it is with this kind of intricacy that Bond’s drawing series prompted the exhibition’s title.
Quite discriminately, Bond has explored the complex story of the War on Terrorism with a dedicated effort to consider all sides of the problem. In other words, no matter who or what is depicted, Bond maintains an even disposition in the making process for her ongoing series. This neutral stance, in light of unpredictable potential, lands the viewer in unsettled territory. The drawings exude impartiality and that artistic strategy tends to call out the viewer’s political attitudes. In the face of blatantly objectionable subjects, it seems that Bond’s strategy, despite her own politics, was not to set out to make pictures of “bad” or “good,” “right” or “wrong.” Instead, Bond simply renders people as agents of potential. No easy matter to consider. We must take a moment to reflect, remember and regroup.
Pause prompts many questions and that is the point of this exhibition. What empowers us to choose to use materials and tools of force? How, when and why should force be used? What is social justice? At what cost do we pursue, establish, maintain and fight for our ideologies regarding liberty? These are but a few questions that may arise while considering Bond’s strategies for her subjects. To truly consider such questions however, requires a temporary cessation of judgment.
Gallery Director, Curator
Billowing black clouds; a B-1 bomber in flight; a young boy in a blindfold; a bandaged head cradled in a hand; a female soldier in profile; a veil-covered woman with downcast eyes; a uniformed man gripping a handgun behind his back.
It has become a cliché to speak of the stream of images from a multiplicity of sources that bombard us every minute of every day. We can take comfort in the cliché. It offers relief, permission to avert our eyes from the stories and photographs on the front page and turn to page two, laden with images of luxury goods, of watches and handbags and shoes.
The tentative hand of a child reaching for, touching, the hand of a grownup.
Linda Bond has fixed her eyes on just the troubling images on page one that many of us try to avoid. Since the summer of 2001, she has lived with these photographs, photographs mostly from the covers of the New York Times and the Boston Globe, and transformed them into drawings. That summer the front pages were filled with images of smoke from wildfires raging across southern California. These photographs compelled Bond with their duality, both records of destruction and of the beautiful formations of clouds of smoke. In the fall, the reason for the smoke changed; from the burning west coast forests to burning and collapsing east coast buildings and later, further east, to explosive clouds from bombs falling in Afghanistan and Iraq. Following the smoke, Bond’s attention turned from the forces of nature to the forces of man.
Fluttering stripes of Old Glory.
International Paper once asked the television news anchor Walter Cronkite for suggestions on how to read a newspaper. Cronkite’s response was to scan the front-page headlines, look at all the photographs and read the captions. In this way the words and the images support each other, the photographs reinforce the headlines, the captions provide context for the photographs. When photographs capture Bond, they are still within the setting of headline, caption and story. In the process of making the drawings, the images are severed from the text. The drawings exist as images alone without words to guide their interpretation. The roles of the subjects are ambiguous; soldier or peacekeeper, bystander or insurgent, victim or perpetrator. We look at the images for clues, staring at the drawings, studying them and maybe, identifying with the subjects as one human recognizing another. The human-to-human response reflects Bond’s use of the drawing medium. The drawings record her struggle to internalize an external event. They are her attempt, on a very personal level, to make sense of events that affect individual lives 6,000 to 7,000 miles distant from her own. In a quiet way, the drawings register Bond’s incredulity; her desire to disbelieve that the events recorded are real while simultaneously knowing that they are and all the while imploring the viewer to please, pay attention, please.
Man with bent head cradled in his hands, a woman in burqa.
Bond’s drawings are in part about making sense of our actions. They are also about the methods and materials with which she chose to create them. It is a complicated task to take a newspaper photograph and transform it into a compelling drawing. Look at the drawing of a woman in burqa for example. Published in the April 4, 2004 issue of the Boston Sunday Globe, the photograph contains a field of 30 burqa-clad women on the streets of Baghdad. Bond selected one figure from the group as her subject and then drew the 1 inch square image 20 times larger. The Globe photograph at first appears clear and full of detail. Stare at it closely and the image breaks down into areas of tone that bleed one into the next. Enlarge the image and what seemed to be clear becomes a blurry smudge. In Untitled (Veil), Bond made a solid believable form beneath undulating folds of cloth. In other drawings, she had more to invent than draped fabric. The drawings are rich with details of buttoned shirt cuffs and collars, of wrinkled and torn flesh, of open mouths and clasping hands and dirty fingernails. To make these details believable, Bond looked for information outside of the source material often turning to her own body to understand the twist of an arm or the meeting between earlobe and face. She creates these details through her use of subtle tonalities of grays and velvety, saturated blacks. Her tonal range is the result of hours spent rubbing, wiping and erasing a combination of powdered graphite and gunpowder. With few materials and tools, Bond creates drawings that appear solid yet are embedded with the temporal, if not combustible, nature of her subject matter.
Bush, Rumsfeld, Rove, Cheney, The Dalai Lama.
For seven years now, Linda Bond has made strong drawings from difficult subjects. The act of drawing allowed her to connect with and better understand distant events and people. She made her empathy visible through the traces of her touch on the paper and attention to detail. The time spent drawing and revising and drawing again, adds gravity to images that despite her empathy and attention maintain a respectful distance; a remove that recognizes the difference between the lives of her subjects and her own. That distance is less present in a new group of drawings that Bond has begun this year, drawings of peacemakers. The peacemaker drawings are unashamed portraits in a way the other drawings are not, most obviously in her change to a vertical “portrait” format. The drawings have an immediacy and life that reflects Bond’s personal contact with the subjects – her meditation teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama. The portraits are quietly optimistic and hopeful and offer and antidote to the drawings of torment. Together, Linda Bond’s drawings invite us to stop, to stay with these images, and look closely. The drawings give us pause. They offer a chance to see things better and an opportunity to see ourselves.
Director, Carroll and Sons & The Boston Drawing Project