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Art Review: Natalie Rae Good's KEEPING RECORD at The Sparrows

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Installation view of Natalie Rae Good's KEEPING RECORD

Installation view of Natalie Rae Good's KEEPING RECORD /Kevin Buist

Natalie Rae Good's KEEPING RECORD

Natalie Rae Good's KEEPING RECORD /Jennifer Steensma Hoag

The Sparrows Coffee Tea & News Stand (1035 Wealthy SE Grand Rapids) is showing a collection of new drawings by Natalie Rae Good, now through July 30. The series, titled Keeping Record, represents a new direction for Good, a 2009 graduate of Calvin College's BFA program. At first, Good's drawings appear simple, plain, and minimal. However, these works explore rich questions about the act of producing artwork. They're steeped in the intellectual legacy of minimalism, but they add a human element that is both social and meditative.

Good presents seven large drawings, all unframed but one. They are on a variety of delicate papers, ranging from off-white tones to a mottled tan. Some have been dipped in varnish, giving them an imperfect shine. Many are made of several smaller pieces of paper sewn together, some form a grid, others are horizontally divided by several tread lines. They are imperfect, off-square, and wrinkled. The drawings on each seem to be the same: a large graphite rectangle nearly filling the paper. Small, repetitive, straight scribbles fill the rectangles. The hash marks vary slightly in tone, but their orientation remains consistent across the surface. If we look closely, we notice other marks, scratches and dents from the hard surface that was beneath the drawing when it was made.

These subtle marks are incidental, but they're also completely intentional. Good produced each Keeping Record drawing on the dining room table of a friend or family member. When I asked her about producing the series, Good told me the process began at her parent's house. She was thinking about surface, and remembering the scratches, dents, and even ghostly engraved writings on her parent's well-worn dining room table. On her next visit, she brought pencils, a large sheet of thin paper, and spend hours meticulously drawing across the entire surface. The end result was a record not only of the dents and scratches, but also a verbatim impression of the size and dimensions of that particular surface.

Over the next several months, Good sheepishly invited herself over to the homes of various friends and acquaintances. At times, the act of tracing tables became an intimate social event, not unlike the meals traditionally shared on these ubiquitous pieces of furniture. Her hosts would usually ask what she was doing and why, and she'd do her best to explain. Then they'd talk about whatever else was going on, people they both knew, gossip, the type of conversation people share after a meal when no one is in a hurry to clear the dishes. Sometimes, her hosts would go to bed, leaving Good to quietly scribble in someone else's dining room for hours into the night.

There are a number of historical precedents for the type of work Good is doing. One of the first artists to come to mind when I first saw the drawings was Agnes Martin. Martin (1912 - 2004), produced large drawings consisting of extremely subtle grids. At first they seem to be perfectly rigid echoes of the picture plane, but the subtle imperfections of Martin's hand are always present. Martin wasn't interested in intellectualizing her work, instead focusing on her meditative craft's spiritual dimension. Martin humanized minimalism. Good's work extends this project, but I would suggest that she socializes minimalism as well. The table tracings' role as a catalyst for conversation and shared experience are as important as the final product.

The echoes of Martin's grids is no accident. When I mentioned the comparison to Good, she pointed out that one of the drawings is titled "Anges", an homage to both Martin and the young daughter of a mentor (a mentor whose table was traced for a drawing, no less). It's also worth pointing out, given the context of this review, that both Martin and Good's works are nearly impossible to translate to a computer monitor.

The fact that Good's drawings are so difficult to photograph is more than a mere technical annoyance, it emphasizes the fact that her work, like the work of her predecessors, relies heavily on a direct, personal experience. Last year, Good took a trip to the Southwest to visit a number of sites significant to both the minimal and land art movements. The trip included a visit to the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. Chinati is an extremely remote art museum, founded by minimal sculptor Donald Judd, to house permanent installations of his own work and the work of artists exploring similar ideas. Visiting the museum is something of a pilgrimage.

Good told me about entering a building with long rows of Judd's box-like works, each polished to a mirror shine. Long-term preservation is top priority at Chinati, and such installations include stern warnings about not touching the work, and the difficulty of removing fingerprints. For a moment, Good considered touching one of the sterile, machined boxes, leaving her own, very human fingerprint.

This is what Good's drawings do. They take the austerity of minimalism seriously, but they inject an imperfect, social and human element. They're open to decay. They're not dependent on industrial fabrication, instead, they're dependent on relationships.

Good also shared her goal for her next visit to Chinati: place a large sheet of thin paper over top of one of Judd's boxes and trace it with graphite, making a record of its surface, scribble by scribble.

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