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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

495 lines, but who's counting?

City Gallery
994 State St., New Haven, (203) 782-2489
Jefri Ruchti: 495 Lines
Ends Jan. 28, 2007.

According to the press release for Jefri Ruchti's 495 Lines show at City Gallery in New Haven, the charcoal drawings on washi (Japanese paper) are "based metaphorically on weather patterns." I didn't see that particularly but they were so pleasing that I didn't care. These are beautiful abstractions, monochromatic but luminous with suggestions of light and contour.

With the exception of three works, they are presented in series. For example, "150 Lines"—they all have anonymous titles like that—consists of the vertical display of five panels. There is a design that snakes its way through the composition from panel to panel.

Ruchti is fascinated by an undulating line, employing the edge of the charcoal to denote borders. In "6 Lines" (#8 on the wall; two works have that same title), the areas of light emerge as leaves on a meandering branch. Add one line—"7 Lines"—and the white space offers the illusions of folds in the paper.

While these works are overwhelmingly defined by their gradations of charcoal, Ruchti effectively and subtly mixes in fine pen lines to demarcate many edges. In addition, thin incised lines cut against the thrust of the shading, propelling the eye through the compositions and generating visual tension.

These incised lines are particularly important in "146 Lines." They generate a propulsive movement of light over the five horizontally arranged panels (for me, moving from right to left). Over the course of this composition light appears to be straining to burst through the folds of shadow, finally breaking out in the far left panel.

Where the energy of the light is linear in "146 Lines," it is circular in "33 Lines." This series brought to mind electronic musical loops that are slightly altered with each repetition. "34 Lines" is almost Escher-esque in its jigsaw puzzle-like patterns. There is a profusion of ribbon shapes, a sense of depth, of matter turning in upon itself. Light is a physical presence.

While the gradations of light and shadow are subtle and fluid, the material combination of the charcoal and the washi paper produces a textural effect on close inspection. In the vertical "150 Lines" series, this effect, combined with the pen lines, makes the drawing look like an intaglio print.

Ruchti's touch with the charcoal is generally soft. I wish he had worked in some areas of deep blacks. Rich blacks in some of the shadows might have charged these lovely meditative drawings with an even more powerful punch.


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