Several of the works in the "12th National Drawing Invitational: Outside the Lines" at the Arkansas Arts Center will leave you wondering, how did she/he do that? How did Andrea Way create these painstaking, almost machine-made patterns of dots and grids and cell-like things? How did Victor Epkuk manage to get all those tiny Keith Haring glyphs into his composition? How did Linn Meyers make those perfect sweeping strokes on mylar?
I'm not sure that's the optimal reaction to an exhibition, however. Drawing can be such an evocative medium, able to provoke that squeezed-heart response with lines that suggest three dimensions, marks that embrace the paper. The invitational, in many cases but not all, is more about mechanics than passion. (The exhibition includes work strikingly similar to that in the 11th invitational ["Singular Drawings"], so perhaps the obsessive mark is a la mode.)
An exception is the cut wax paper work of Sharyn O'Mara, who turns her flat medium into something lacy and three-dimensional. Mia Rosenthal's "Life on Earth" spiral of animals drawn neatly in ink is something I would love to own, because in addition to the imagery it makes great reading. The small pencil drawings in Andrea Way's "Venetian Dream Series" are, like her larger works here, a collection of dots and dashes against topo map strokes, but (to me at least) they benefit from the texture of pencil on paper and are ultimately more about drawing than Way's admittedly mind-boggling ink and colored pencil creations. Linn Meyers' fractals are astonishing, but it is her untitled piece that looks like lines intersecting the fabric of space that is moving.
Gary Kachadourian and Ian Jehle go the representational route, with Kachadourian's enormous, to-scale Xeroxed drawings changing the walls of the gallery into windows and cinderblocks and Jehle's wall-sized portraiture, the intimate writ large. Laura Ledbetter goes the symbolic route, using cut paper and thread and impossible, dream-like scenarios to suggest, she says on the Arts Center's wonderful show website (ndi.arkansasartscenter.org) our unfortunate "instinctual desire to succeed and to dominate each other and our natural environment."
So, you may not have a visceral response to the drawing invitational, but there is work here that deserves study. The website, which includes artists statements from all in the show, images of their work, and essays by co-curators Laura Roulet of Washington, D.C., and Ann Prentice Wagner, the Arts Center's curator of drawings, is a terrific resource, a move the Arts Center plans to repeat with future shows. The exhibition runs through Oct. 5.