Subtly rendered graphite musings surrounded by vast areas of white paper, the drawings of David Poolman contain both an aching sweetness and a sense of foreboding. What I want to say – but shouldn’t – is that the work is pathetic, in the most impressive of ways. It inspires a quiet sense of empathy, the source of which is not entirely nameable.
It seems unlikely that words would fail a body of work that appears so narrative. There are stories here, undoubtedly, rife with metaphor. But despite their visual clarity, their tragicomic meaning remains opaque. We can recognize the main characters. In “The Ballad of Bento Martins” a man is held aloft –or is perhaps balancing – on the head of another. Meanwhile, a donkey – or is that a mule?– drifts off of the edge of the paper. The image creates a riddle of sorts, we can connect the saddle in the man’s hand to the errant pack animal, but to what end?
David Poolman’s latest drawings seem to revel in absurd uncertainty; their open-ended narratives designed to intrigue. They are at times clever and caustic – nonchalant figures burdened under the weight of an oversized sausage – but never joking. They beg to be read, but allow for multiple interpretations. In “My Better Years,” the artist creates an amalgamated figure, comprised of the different ages and actions that make up a life. The result is a hovering, faceless chimera that is at once hopeful and melancholic. The compounded figure appears to be airborne, but the viewer is made fully aware of the weight of the subject.
Gravity, conceptually and physically, is at play in the vertical drawing “All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers.” Parsed along an implied line, the figures are caught mid-rotation in a free-fall descent. Despite the downward trajectory, their poses move towards a sense of calm acceptance. On the bottom register, the final figure is grounded by a slight shadow, almost peaceably reposed. Both “All My Friends…” and “Rank Strangers” read like rebuses, verbal puzzles in which we are given only visual clues. Whether speaking in metaphors or suggesting larger fictions, language is an important component in this work. Actions play out with the calm deliberation of a Samuel Beckett scene.
David Poolman creates work that is specifically vague. Its nuanced constructions hint at a fraught and fragile human condition. In each, we are left to question gravity and gravitas. Throughout it all, there is a current of understated foreboding. The exact warning is left unclear, even when spelled out explicitly: ‘This Will Not End Well.’