Figurative drawing has often been much interested in the artist’s hand, the gestures made by the body as it attempts to capture another body 0n paper. Mechanical drawing, on the other hand, has long made the precise geometries of architectural plans or exploded views of machine parts with the aid of rulers, compasses, and measuring devices to serve as maps and building instructions, instead of pursuing more emotional attachments. Today, programs like AutoCAD take the place of T-squares for precision drawing, while figurative pursuits also seek new tools for painting and drawing.
James Cobb’s new collection of digital images on view at Alternative Ink brings his many years as a realist painter into contact with his interest in abstract work. It’s an interest, he says, that has not often resulted in successful art works. His claim seems hard to believe, as the new works live in a rich, though indeterminate, space between painting the world and painting paintings of paintings.
Many of the images trace organic, biomorphic forms that seem to hover in three dimensions in what could be a fantastic, but very real, world. Others are more graphic, existing predominately in two dimensions, resembling abstracted botanical illustrations or schematics. Many shapes repeat in permutations. Squared off oblique curves resembling the tracks of a car passing through an intersection and mollusk-like forms abound.
In this collection, Cobb works exclusively in the image-editing and layout programs Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Though he first began explorations in digital a decade ago using scanners with human bodies, his work with the programs is more closely aligned with a two-year stint he did as an architectural draftsman when shortly out of college. Later, he worked for a manufacturer doing schematics and exploded views. “In the last year or two I felt myself compelled to go back to precision drawing. Though I could draw these precise lines by hand, the program makes it so much easier. As a painter, it is even harder,” he says. “It’s all manipulated, because I am drawing with a mouse. But I don’t draw in the sense that I draw, like I draw on paper,” Cobb said. “That’s not what I am working digitally to do. If I wanted to draw, I would draw. I am freer to be more abstract working digitally than painting. It is a totally different way to work.”
As abstract as the work is, it has a very “thingy” quality. At a certain point Cobb’s abstract, floating shapes turn a corner and become figures populating a strange land. The eye drifts from seeing flat, graphic design to perceiving depth and dimension, sometimes accentuated by a horizon line, even realistically portrayed mountains. There are hints of Picasso and de Chirico. “These are not just lines and squiggles,” Cobb says. “I really love to play with that sense of it being a figurative image, dealing with a lot of abstract elements. These are all objects to me, but I don’t know what you are looking at.”
Perhaps our eyes are so in love with seeing the world, that when we confront the picture plain, we hope to see a world there too.•
107 Lone Star Blvd
Exhibition on view through September