Ellen Berkenblit

By Schwabsky, Barry | Artforum International, November 2000 | Go to article overview

Ellen Berkenblit


Schwabsky, Barry, Artforum International


ANTON KERN GALLERY

Drawings seem to pour out of Ellen Berkenbilt like daydreams. That sense of flow comes not just from her prolific, almost diaristic production of small works on paper (as well as paintings, which are of course more elaborate) but also from the quality of her line, which is all fluidity. Berkenblit's draftsmanship can be a shade too winsome, but its charm is redeemed by her curious lack of design on the viewer: She seems interested in beguiling mainly herself.

A lithe, otherworldly young woman features in almost all the drawings and paintings here, "woman" being the only designation she receives in the descriptive deadpan of Berkenblit's titles (a typical one is Woman Under Tree, Bear with Whiskers, but my favorite is Woman with Eye Infection). While this recurring figure doesn't exactly look like the artist--who lacks that Pinocchio nose, for one thing--she's obviously a sort of alter ego. Oddly, the woman is almost always shown looking off to the right, even when walking to the left, and only one eye is ever visible. Her feet and hands are too big for the rest of her. She would appear to be some sort of benign and indolent witch, perhaps dreamed up by Charles Addams and Walt Disney in a nonce collaboration with some additional input from Elzie Segar, creator of the immoral Olive Oyl. Her familiars are cats, horses, bears, birds--never humans--and all seem to be emanations of herself rather than independent beings.

There is minimal scene setting in the drawings. A bit of brown wash equals the earth, a few jagged lines conjure a tree, three steps leading to a field of splotches are the entrance to a kind of castle. …

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