Joan Tanner: “donottellmewhereibelong”

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Emily Moser
  Staff Writer


        Joan Tanner’s work, featured in UNCG’s
Weatherspoon Art Museum, is unlike any artwork I have ever seen before. Titled “donottellmewhereibelong,” the intriguing show contains drawings by the well-known Joan Tanner. Her drawings seem alive; confusing yet compelling forms offer interesting contrasts and questions. The show is from Jan. 14 to April 9.

        Receiving her B.A. in painting and sculpture from University of Wisconsin Madison, Tanner has been exhibiting her work since the 1968. A well-known sculptor, painter, photographer and installation artist, drawing has always been an important aspect to the artist’s process. Tanner has lived and worked in Santa Barbara since the mid-60s; she is often influenced by the weather and landscape surrounding her. For example, Tanner pulls inspiration of Earthquakes, a natural disaster signature to California.

        Tanner is inspired by a “curiosity to engage contradiction” and an impulse “to disrupt assumptions about spatial relations.”

She is inspired to create work that is totally unique and almost indescribable. Often experimenting with form and materials, Tanner’s art defies logic and definition. Like the title of the exhibition states, she will not be told where she belongs.

        Other famous installations include “The False Spectator” in Seattle. This work she, “Responds directly to the dramatic room of the gallery with vertical structures: troughs, columns and step constructs made of wood, sheet metal, plastic webbing, and a variety of other materials,” as the Suyama Gallery space explains.

        Although the drawings in “donottellmewhereibelong” cannot totally be defined, they are intricately beautiful and captivating. When I first looked at these drawings, I was automatically confused; however, with further inspection, I noticed a close attention to contrast and juxtaposition.

The “donottellmewhereibelong” drawings incorporate big areas of smeared color and material, overlaid with delicate, detailed line drawings. This work is characterized by “tensions between the ephemerality and groundness, nuance and boldness, nature and human systems.”

The drawings contain or are derived from abstract depictions of scientific textbook drawings, dictionary illustration and map making. In contrast, the drawings also show abstracted landscapes, human sexual organs, or natural events. Something very intricate and exact combined with a looser, indescribable concept or form. Some of Tanner’s drawings in “donottellmewhereibelong” have a bright color wash
covering the entire page, “donottellmewhereibelong #11” and  “donottellmewhereibelong #33.”
On top of these shades, a form takes shape in the middle of the page. Composed with smudged material,
intricate linear patterns layer over top of one another.

Other drawings like “donottellmewhereibelong #1” and “donottellmewhereibelong #3,” seem to combine the same technique: blobby forms with intricate patterns and line work over top. However, these drawings have the blank white background of the paper. Instead, the abstracted, ameba like forms seem like islands on the page, connected with delicate, graphic line work.

Drawings like “donottellmewhereibelong #14,” “donottellmewhereibelong #18,” and “donottellmewhereibelong #19” have a large smudged from in the middle of the page. The form itself seems unresolved; however, Tanner wraps it with sharp lines and geometric shapes- the lines complete the form. Mixed within the smeared material, delicate, scribbly lines combine to make interesting
compositions. These drawings were my favorite in the show. Tanner’s depiction of contrast was the most evident in these works- the loose forms worked perfectly alongside sharp geometric line.

Four pieces, however, were extremely different than the “donottellmewhereibelong” works. These drawings, from the 1999 collection “Drawing Focus,” prelude “donottellmewhereibelong.” These works all had a thick black ring drawn with oil stick. Within each ring were loosely applied forms of color- pigment appeared blown or lightly brushed on. Again, the same line work was layered over top. These drawings seemed to be more graphic and simpler. I could see the clear connection and inspiration from these drawings to create “donottellmewhereibelong.”

All of the drawings in the show are confusing and alien at first.
The drawings felt like an undefined abstract representation of Tanner’s dreams or thoughts. However, after close examination, I saw the beautiful sense of individuality in each work. I found myself getting lost in staring at each individual mark: each touch of the pen or smudged mark from the artist’s hand.
It is also refreshing, in a world full of repeated images and texts, to see something completely new and unheard of.

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