CANNOT BE DESCRIBED IN WORDS: Drawing Expanded At: Concord Art Association, 37 Lexington Road, Concord, through Nov. 20. 978-369-2578, www.concordart.org
22ND DRAWING SHOW: Residue At: Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts, 551 Tremont St., through Nov. 27. 617-426-8835, www.bcaonline.org
It’s now axiomatic that drawing is more than just the scratch of pencil on paper. Artists have used yarn, saws, digital technology, and more for years to push at the boundaries of drawing’s definition. But line and gesture remain fundamental. Two drawing shows up now explore the edges of the form while remaining firmly anchored in its origins.
“Cannot Be Described in Words: Drawing Expanded,’’ at the Concord Art Association, and the Boston Center for the Arts’ “22nd Drawing Show: Residue,’’ at Mills Gallery, offer a wide range of approaches. Deborah Davidson, curator of “Cannot Be Described in Words,’’ an artist who has long explored the relationship between writing and drawing, has put together the more cohesive show: Themes circle throughout, and works converse across the gallery.
Audrey Goldstein and Jill Slosburg-Ackerman wittily meld drawing and sculpture. Goldstein’s “Deformable Bodies D Series’’ start as graphite on paper, then lines stretch into wooden strips that bend off the wall. Modeled shapes swell startlingly from the page into pillowy gray bodies of felt. Similarly, Slosburg-Ackerman’s “Framing Drawing’’ series exploits the sculptural potential of picture frames, so that they sidle, burst, and bleed into the pages they hold.
There are not many figure drawings in these shows. In Concord, Raul Gonzalez III renders cartoon characters that recall the golden age of animation, but he places the poppy figures in desperate circumstances - like the kid whose head is splitting open in “Born Again.’’ He has wings, but they’re the wings of dead roosters, whose heads rest on his shoulders.
Nearby hang Sheila Gallagher’s high-tech, hands-free figure drawings made at Boston College’s Eye Tracking Lab, which reads the artist’s eye movements as she attempts to draw female athletes with her eyes. The results stutter and boomerang with jagged lines. Cynthia Maurice’s charcoal drawings are the most traditional works in the show. Her “Agitated,’’ hanging across from González’s pieces, complements the volume and emotional tension in his work with a monumental clutch of shaking turnips, viewed from below.
Here’s another provocative dialogue: Fred Liang’s cut paper “Sound of Migration,’’ fashioned from exquisitely sliced black paper, cascades down the wall in a flurry of patterns that evoke flowers, birds, and, in its fluidity and verticality, Chinese landscape painting. Across the gallery is the explosive splatter of Debra Weisberg’s “Constructed Drawing’’ made with shards of tape on paper. Each work is at once ethereal and weighty; Liang’s advocates a fertile order, while Weisberg’s bespeaks chaos. Nearby, Chuck Holtzman’s small, mixed-media abstract drawings pull tautly between those two extremes, in shades of gray.
Then there are the installations. Randal Thurston’s “Fear’’ is a web of cut-paper words describing a phobia, swollen and distorted like reflections in a fun-house mirror; their undulant forms make them look slippery and insidious. Ilona Anderson’s “Dwell: A Drawing Installation’’ sprawls in layered shards of paper over several walls, engulfing the viewer in a meandering structure of tree houses and tents drawn in neon colors. Curator Davidson has made shrewd choices with this group; the effect of all the works together is orchestral.
There are more gulfs among the drawings in “Residue,’’ a juried show featuring 16 artists, chosen from more than 400 applicants by curator Steve Holmes. The exhibit stretches the meaning of residue too far, beyond the trace a pencil leaves and into conceptual art and tales of love. Such is the struggle with a juried show: Works are often chosen in part because they’re disparate, and then the organizer has to somehow tie them together.
Still, there are some terrific drawings here. Sky Kim’s automatic drawing “Untitled 4’’ unfurls on an orange scroll that rolls onto the floor. She writes over it in red with great striated, biomorphic loops and coils that caress the eye. Elise Kaufman’s delicate townscape “Ghost Estate, Ennis, Co. Clare,’’ made with puddles of India ink on non-absorbent paper, swims like a mirage; Colleen Kiely’s graphite “School Bus,’’ showing the square rear of the bus trundling into the distance, has a similar mournful quality.
Thomas Duncan’s marvelous untitled drawings, made with infinitesimal marks, are gorgeous blends of static and snow. They converse with Irene Clark’s “Morphic Resonance - Bird Migration,’’ in pastel and charcoal, which captures the swift, agitated momentum of birds swarming against a gray sky.
Two artists hit the residue theme on the mark: Jillian Clark’s “Charming the Multiples,’’ an installation of drawings made with snapped string coated in chalk, shimmies in ghostly verticals and horizontals over three walls, leaving breaths of blue and purple dust on the floor. And Eric Sweet’s spare, heartbreaking “Ideal City (Birkenau)’’ features ghostly impressions in paper of a scale model Sweet made of the Nazi death camp, brought into chilly relief with white-blue LED lights.
The new media works fall flat. Billy Friebele’s drawings juxtaposing GPS mapping lines with video of locomotion has good conceptual underpinnings - our movements are being monetized. But it’s all idea; the resulting gesture is merely random. Jenny Herrick’s “60-Seconds’’ video of a man walking in a circle, videotaped from the center of the circle so he appears to walk in a straight line, is more about space, performance, and landscape than it is, ultimately, about line.
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.