Review: Diverse notions of drawing at the Whatcom Museum

The 29 artists selected by Seattle Art Museum curator Catharina Manchanda for the Bellingham National present media as diverse as photography, video, audio and sculpture as well as more traditional works on paper.

What is contemporary drawing? The conventional notion that drawing is “a picture or diagram made with a pencil, pen or crayon rather than paint” is stretched to the limit by the just-opened Bellingham National, a juried art exhibition on the theme of drawing at the Whatcom Museum.

The 29 artists selected by Seattle Art Museum curator Catharina Manchanda present media as diverse as photography (a mountain barely visible against a night sky), video (marks on pavement seen from a moving car), audio (a recording of someone very noisily scratching something against something) and sculpture (anthropomorphic furniture), as well as more traditional works on paper.

The artists themselves don’t make assigning categories easy. When Kirk Yamahira takes a dark gray stretched canvas and removes all of the vertical threads from the middle section, leaving the remaining threads spilling outward like loosened entrails, I’m put in mind of installation, or fabric art. The stripped-down, striking work suggests that the very ground that artists stand on is shifting, the canvas dissolving before it can even be painted.


Bellingham National Juried Art Exhibitions and Awards

Noon-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays through Sept. 10, Whatcom Museum (Lightcatcher), 250 Flora St., Bellingham; $5-$10 (360-778-8930 or

Similarly defying pigeonholes is Christopher Patton, who has optically transformed close-ups of his handwriting into a series of abstract images, made into a video loop. Is the resulting projection a movie, or a scanned drawing?

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What’s of interest here is the way his chance process has transformed ordinary cursive writing into highly evocative blobs and squiggles, suggestive of faces and pictographs, with the occasional legible fragment here and there. Most communication is, at heart, nonverbal; Patton is working at excavating the emotional subtext behind his writing — a daily account of his caring for his aging father.

I found it easier to appreciate than enjoy a number of works in the show, heavy on concept but light on visual appeal. Shaw Osha has a great story, starting with the diary of her great-great…

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