Magazine article Artforum International

James Drake: Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Magazine article Artforum International

James Drake: Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Article excerpt

Like a latter-day Bernini lost in the deserts of the American Southwest, James Drake, in his recent work, explores the stark and savage milieu of West Texas while assembling a romanticized allegorical overview of his life and oeuvre, treating both with an effusive period sensibility. Selected from his series "City of Tells," 2001-(shown earlier in 2005 at SITE Santa Fe, in the city where Drake now lives and works), this video and sequence of large charcoal drawings are reminiscent of the Italian high Baroque in their extraordinary lushness. Drake uses charcoal in a broad and almost painterly manner, luxuriating in bravura sweeps of the medium in drawings that reach up to fifteen feet across. Somewhere between chiaroscuro and grisaille, his technique is both highly skillful and intensely dramatic.

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One group of these drawings is from a project Drake has been working on since 2001. In an isolated rural area of West Texas (the artist was born in Lubbock and has lived near El Paso), he arranges extraordinarily ornate outdoor feasts on a long banquet table groaning under the weight of an orgy of food, flowers, candelabra, and wine glasses. Then, after setting up video cameras a safe distance away, he leaves the dinners to their just desserts. Sometimes, feral hogs appear and climb atop and, in a display of concentrated gluttony, make short work of the veneer of civilization represented by the careful setting. High-end culture meets wild nature, the hogs suggesting an allegory of greed and excess.

For the large drawing City of Tells, with Signs Following, 2002-2004, and in one of the three scenarios shown simultaneously on the video City of Tells, 2001-2004, Drake introduces an eighteen-foot Burmese python into this set-up and shifts it indoors. The serpent slithers through the banquet, disrupting the glassware but ignoring the prepared food. …

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