Cynthia Lin: The Center of Drawing

Brookhaven College Center For the Arts

Studio Gallery

Cynthia Lin

March 6 - 30, 2000

At the Center of Drawing

Curator's Essay

David Newman

Gallery Director

That subtle wreath of hair, which crowns my arm;
The mystery, the sign you must not touch, . . .

John Donne 1

Cynthia Lin's drawings transmute the dross of waste materials into skeins of silver. The delicacy of Cynthia Lin's silverpoint 2 drawings on prepared paper, her gouache and ink drawings, and her recent paintings, as exemplified in this exhibition by Wind: White 5, is in tension with the motifs referenced by the work: bits of lint, wreathes of hair, scabs.

Lint is swept up, hair is trimmed, scabs fall away from healed wounds; the detritus of a life is discarded as waste materials. Severed from the body and the body's covering garments, hair, scabs, and lint are repugnant, no longer to be associated with one's self. Having become other, these materials are available as the subjects of a heterology. 3 That is to attend to what is represented by what is drawn. 4 It is appropriate to attend to the iconography of what is represented by what is drawn, but instead I shall attempt to attend to what is drawn, or more precisely, to how what is drawn is a representation.

Scabs, Green, and So Many, Lin's earlier gouache and ink drawings in the exhibition, are distinguished from the later silverpoint drawings by the heavier line weight and greater contrast, by variation in line, and by the introduction of gouache elements. The effect is heavier than the silverpoint drawings because of the greater maximum density of the ink. This, and the gouache elements, emphasizes and gives precedence to the drawing as signifier.

Silverpoint drawings are limited in the value range attainable, as the silver, though tarnishing rapidly, never attains a density sufficient to produce a deep black. This limited value range and the difficulty of producing broad marks conduces to a great delicacy of handling and a reliance on linear effects, including the slow, patient massing of lines, and the realization of the works at a small, intimate scale. Because Lin's drawings are intimate in scale, viewing them is private, done in proximity to the surface. From a distance, one reads the silverpoint drawings as atmospheric gray figures on the white ground of the field. One cannot remain distant: the drawings elicits one to move near for a close viewing. Close to, one discerns elegant, ethereal arabesques of line coalescing into denser accumulations. That is to regard line as line. One may also regard line as hair caught between covering glass and paper, or as the shadow of hair, or as line drawn to represent hair. This shift from regarding mark as mark to mark as referent emphasizes that Lin's drawings are markings on a field that can be seen either as signifier or as signified.

The arche of drawing is to mark, cutting the space of a field, at once instantiating the mark and the field receiving the mark as such. The telos of drawing-and indeed the distinctive phenomenological feature of all representations-is to mark so that the mark is at once a representation of that which is represented and that by which a representation is a representation. This is the 'seeing-in' of representation: the grasp of the twofoldness that is the precondition of representation as consisting in figure-ground phenomena and surface as such, neither simultaneous nor sequential, but two inseparable aspects of the same phenomena. 5

Both the earlier ink and gouache drawings and the later silverpoint drawings have the drawn passages concentrated as relatively small and discrete within the field. Along with the relatively small scale of the works, the placing of the drawn elements as a discrete passage within a larger field conduces to the sense of intimacy of these works. Not directly engaging the edge asserts the palpable physicality of the paper as an empty field, still potentially receptive. Wind: White 5, the painting in the exhibition, extends the skein of lines to the edge of the field, and indeed the extension of the linear elements is implied beyond the field. The outer edges of the canvas function as the inner edges of a window beyond which the linear elements extend by implication, even as the thickness of the canvas on its stretcher assert it as an object on the wall, and deny its being a window penetrating the wall. In Wind: White 5, the layered accumulation of filaments of red, yellow and blue (nearly black) paint dissolves into a colored atmosphere when viewed from a distance; as one approaches the surface the delicate linear elements resolve sequentially, predicated on the contrast of the respective normal values of the hues: first the nearly black blue, then red, then yellow. The three primary colors dissolving and resolving in the viewer's regard engage a central move in twentieth century painting: the reiterative reduction of painting to its fundamental forms. 6

Lin's drawings engage the relation between control and abandonment of control. Wind: White 5 seems to abandon control, while the Breath series of silver point drawings, and the preceding ink and gouache drawings, seem to epitomize control. Perhaps the matter is not so simple. Since Pollock's 'drip' paintings, the trailing of paint onto a surface has been popularly regarded as exemplary of the abandonment of control and intentionality. This is a misinterpretation, predicated on the preconception of touch as correlative with control and the apparent withdrawal of touch from surface: the absence of physical contact between brush and surface does not equate to an absence of control of the deposition of paint. Trailing paint onto a surface admits of greater manipulation, more control, than one might suppose. Nor does the contact of silver point and drawing surface necessarily entail the presence of control, if by 'control' one understands something like the exercise of deliberative, calculative, judgment during the facture of the work. One can readily abandon overt control in the act of drawing while maintaining contact of the drawing instrument with the surface; automatic drawing, from the Surrealists onward, entails doing so. One always has the ultimate control of the work: to either accept it as it has come to be and adding it to studio inventory, or to destroy it, relegating it to the dumpster. A misinterpretation also obtains with regard to representation, which does not necessarily entail the replication, or rendering, or reproduction, or translation of a pregiven concrete existent entity. When a pregiven referent entity is entailed, it can serve as much for the departure of the imagination in the facture of the work as for exacting, precise, observational delineation. Drawing is not inherently indexical; there is no necessary causal relationship between a drawing as a representation and that which is represented in a drawing. Indeed, as possibly an invention independent of observation, that which is represented may have no existence apart from its representation: drawings of unicorns are not evidence of the physical being of unicorns presumably copresent with the artist. But the viewer brings experience and knowledge to viewing the work: if unicorns are not regularly encounter, hair is a commonplace. That knowledge, brought to the encounter witht he works, shifts the issue from something that is represented but which is inherently unreal to the issue of the nature of the reality of what is represented.

What obtains in Lin's drawings is the undecideability, to casual observation, of the reality of the referent: one cannot immediately discern without scrutiny whether one sees silverpoint lines or hairs pressed against the paper surface. More importantly, the copresence with the artist during the facture of the work of a referent as an existing actual entity is ultimately undecidable, however great the scrutiny given the work.

This undecidability of presence or absence of a referent underwrites the collapse of convenient categorization of the work: one cannot definitely categorize the works as objective observational representations, or abstractions from a pregiven referent, or nonobjective markings of a surface for which the ascription of a referent is ultimately the unmotivated invocation of a signified. This abrogation of the possibility of adverting to the expected categories by which one might too easily name and place the works-thereby foregoing sustained and serious engagement with the work-throws one onto the only resource that remains (though it is the first that one brings to encounter with the work): the attentive perceptual engagement of the work, without preconceptions of what a drawing ought be. Artworks have no greater gift to give than to thus make the working of perception and representation available.

Works in the Exhibition
Clockwise, from the gallery entrance.
1Scabs1998ink and gouache on paper14 x 11 inches
2Green1998ink and gouache on paper7 x 5 inches
3Wind: White 51999oil on canvas58 x 43 inches
4Breath 41999silverpoint on gesso on paper14 x 11 inches
5Breath 71999silverpoint on gesso on paper14 x 11 inches
6Breath 61999silverpoint on gesso on paper14 x 11 inches
7Breath 21999silverpoint on gesso on paper11 x 14 inches
8Breath 51999silverpoint on gesso on paper14 x 11 inches
9Breath 31999silverpoint on gesso on paper14 x 11 inches
10Breath 81999silverpoint on gesso on paper14 x 11 inches
11Breath 11999silverpoint on gesso on paper14 x 11
12So Many1998ink and gouache on paper14 x 11 inches

Biographical Note

Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Cynthia Lin received the Bachelor of Arts and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa at the University of California Berkeley. She received the Master of Arts and Master of Fine Arts in painting from The University of Iowa. Recent one person exhibitions include: Cynthia Lin: Paintings and Drawings, Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, 2000; Paintings and Drawings, Sally Sprout Gallery, Houston, 1998; Sweater Lint and Other Things, Conduit Gallery, Dallas, 19998; Cynthia Lin, Women and Their Work, Austin, 1997. Lin's group exhibitions include: Critic's Pix, University of Texas at Dallas, 1999; A Hot Show, Arlington Museum of Art, Arlington, Texas 1999; Organic Produce, Galveston Art center, 1998; Bisetto, Lin, Owens, University of Dallas, 1998; Link, Gerald Peters Gallery, Dallas, 1997; New Paintings: Lin, Lymon, Walker, Conduit Gallery, Dallas, 1997; Women in Art: 12 Texas Women, Contemporary Art Center, Fort Worth, 1997. Lin received a Visual Arts Fellowship at the McDowell Colony, Peterborough, New Hampshire in 1994, and at Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1991.


  1. 1 John Donne, "The Funeral," Songs and Sonnets. Return
  2. 2 Silverpoint drawings are drawings made by a silver point, commonly a bit of silver wire with a rounded point held in a mechanical pencil holder or pin vise. Typically silverpoint drawings are produced on paper coated with acrylic primer (what is commonly but incorrectly termed 'gesso') or with gesso sottile to provide sufficient tooth to slightly abrade the silver surface to form a line. See Jean Watrous, The Craft of Old Master Drawings (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967). Return
  3. 3 See Yve-Alain Bois, "Base Materialism," in Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind E. Krauss, Formless: A User's Guide (New York: Zone Books, 1997), pp. 51-62. The ur-text of 'heterology' is Georges Bataille, "La Valeur de D. A. F. de Sade," Oeuvres complètes, vol. 2, (Paris: Gallimard, 1970), pp. 61-62. Return
  4. 4 Francis Colpitt's catalogue essay for the exhibition Cynthia Lin: Paintings and Drawings, Meadows Museum of Art, Southern Methodist University, January 21 - March 5, 2000 develops the implications inherent in the materiality of the referent of Lin's drawings. Return
  5. 5 See Richard Wollheim, Painting as an Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), p. 46. Return
  6. 6 One cannot let pass without remark, if only in a note, the centrality red, yellow, and blue occupy in twentieth century abstraction. Rodchenko's three monochromes, Chistyi krasnyi tsvet (Pure Red Color), Chistyi zheltyi tsvet (Pure Yellow Color), and Chistyi sinii tsvet (Pure Blue Color), were exhibited in the September 1921 exhibition 5 x 5 = 25, held at the Klub userossis kogo soiuza poetov, Club of the All-Russia Union of Poets, Moscow. Rodchenko wrote in the catalogue for the exhibition: "At the present exhibition for the first time in art the three primary colors are declared." Quoted in John Milner, "Material Values: Alexander Rodchenko and the end of abstract art," in ed. David Elliott, Rodchenko and the Arts of Revolutionary Russia (New York: Pantheon, 1979), pp. 50-54, [reprint of exhibition catalogue Alexander Rodchenko, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford]. Later, Rodchenko remarked "I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue and yellow. I affirmed: it's all over. Basic colors. Every plane is a plane and there is to be no representation." Quoted in online resources for the exhibition Aleksandr Rodchenko, Museum of Modern Art, New York, June 25 - October 6, 1998 at Rodchenko's move is susequently reiterated in later painting throughout the twentieth century, e.g., Barnett Newman, Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue I, 1966, oil on canvas, 75 x 48 inches, coll. S. I. Newhouse, Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue II, 1966, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 102, coll. Annalee Newman, Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue III, 1966-67, oil on canvas, 96 x 214, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue IV, acrylic on canvas, 1969-70, 108 x 238, coll. Annalee Newman; Jasper Johns, Diver, oil on canvas with objects, 90 x 170, Albert A. List Family coll., According to What, oil on canvas with objects, 88 x 192, coll. Edwin James; Gerhard Richter, Red Yellow Blue, No. 333/5, 1972, oil on canvas, 251 x 200 cm., Crex Coll., Hallen für neue Kunst, Stuttgart, inter alia. Return