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With their bright, bold backgrounds and graphic, looping linework, the colored pencil drawings in Brian Randoph’s current show at Odd Ark LA, The Septum, at first appear ideal for online consumption—the standard viewing method for many of us over the past six months. However, when seen in person, the meticulous process behind the colorful veneer quickly becomes apparent. Truly engaging this work involves moving to and fro as the drawings shift from color field to serpentine system, and then tracing each line with the eye as it winds up and down the page. There are miles within the minutiae.
Randolph begins each drawing with a gridded pattern over which he uses a wax-based colored pencil to map a precise, sinuous lattice of elegantly curved lines that loop from the top to the bottom of neat vertical columns. Each composition contains two side-by-side vertical blocks of intricate linework, which together resemble the pages of an open book, written in some unknown language. Next comes the exacting step of filling in the background with colored pencil marks dense enough to produce a saturated, monochrome ground through which ribbons of the white or colored marks peek through. His labor-intensive process results in smooth, even planes of pigment—though an energetic hum from hours of laying pigment to paper emanates from these fields. Viewed up close, the artist’s hand is perceptible in slight variations of pressure, density, and saturation. In some works, like Red Pages (all works 2020), the loops retain the white color of the paper, flipping the figure-ground relationship, while in more complex works, like Green Binding, overlapping columns are colored yellow and pink, creating a transfixing optical buzz within a shallow, illusionistic space. The most ambitious piece in the show is the asymmetrical Twin Flame, in which the layered skeins pulse from pink to lavender to orange to red, resembling psychedelic circuit boards. Like a roller coaster, these marks pick up speed as they flow from elongated filaments to tight jumbles—a baroque tour de force, as much as one work can be in a show otherwise defined by subtlety and intimacy.
Although Randolph’s methodical process predates the pandemic—a time when many of us have been forced to resort to solitary activities (e.g. gardening, baking) to soothe our minds—the meditative undertaking of these drawings suits this moment. Like graceful tally marks, his compositions record the passing of time, charting his consistent, contemplative practice as it unfolds alongside the dismantling of democracy and the mounting death tolls taking place outside the bounds of the page—Randolph’s process moving at a glacial pace by comparison. Given that so much is out of our control these days, these works offer the artist an opportunity to reclaim control over his time, thoughts, and actions in a concerted, disciplined way, and in turn, extend the same offer to the viewer.
Brian Randolph: The Septum runs from September 12–October 17 at Odd Ark LA (7101 N. Figueroa St, Unit E, Los Angeles, CA 90042).