Politics, Smoke, and Mirrors–And Drawings

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Deb Sokolow: Debate Stage Water Bottles at G Fine Art

By Terence Hannum

Considering that the stress of this political season hasn’t come close to a final curtain, an exhibition like Deb Sokolow’s Debate Stage Water Bottles at G Fine Art proves that truth is stranger than fiction.

For years, Sokolow has mined the territory of obscure minor histories, cinematic idiosyncracies, and total fiction in her visual output. Whether diagramming the hidden treasures beneath the city of Chicago placed there by the dynastic Daley family, or the illuminati-like apocrypha of the Denver Airport, her drawings of architectural spaces, snippets of historical dialogue, and snide asides form compelling, and often hilarious, narratives.

In Debate Stage Water Bottles these small drawings and relief collages walk the line between insider campaign diagrams and bizarre internal commentary from political figures. In addition to their content, Sokolow’s practice of highlighting changes or ‘mistakes’ gives them depth and makes them even more intriguing; each is full of erasures, white outs, and redrawing. This worn quality animates each piece, as if you’re catching a work just coming into form or seeing an excavation emerge. Many of these pieces also contain odd three-dimensional elements that come off of the page as flaps and berms to indicate stage directions, walls, and other formations.

Copperfield_Optics_Medium“Copperfield’s Sequence of Optics”

For example in “Copperfield’s Sequence of Optics” we read about a stage plot to increase an unnamed candidate’s stature on stage. This is told mostly through crayon and colored pencil collaged on paper with relief walls of paper coming off of the page. There is a comment on the top right that reads: “1. Mostly Smoke and Mirrors 2. Both Mental and Physical.”

While we’re all in the throes of what is shaping up to be a horrible election season (and in reality, aren’t they all?) I cannot think of a more apt two lines, whether they’re about “millionaires and billionaires” or a “great big beautiful wall,” both imaginary and actual.

WhiterTrapsforGaffes_small copy“Traps for Gaffes”

Many of these pieces, like “Carpet Patterns” appear from afar as sketches for hard-edge abstraction or architectural mapping. Carefully delineated rectangles from crayon, acrylic, and colored pencil belie the annotations. Many of these pieces read like a schematic, marked with arrows and conspiracy theories. There’s a level of compositional satisfaction that can be derived from just viewing them as pure drawing, but reading them as narrative fiction elevates them to a higher level.

Sokolow’s fictions reflect specific and actual people whose egos have propelled them to the spotlight. None of these egos are explicitly stated, but it isn’t hard to extrapolate certain characteristics, for example the reckless bombast of Donald Trump (“The media will want me to apologize for this, and I won’t”) or the pathetic aura of Jeb Bush. Although there are no asides that spell out, “Please clap,” there’s a certain patina of the ill-equipped politician out of his depths represented throughout the exhibition.

WhiterMoreEyebrowsthanNecessary_small“Whiter More Eyebrows Than Necessary”

These pieces resonate upon a narrow lens of reality they present through fictive construction; they’re funny but they also wound us. You don’t know who each politician is, but each description rings true.

In politics, and especially in America, we believe certain delusions about those we vote for, but we believe them of ourselves in equal measure. These are the foggy perceptions of truth, hope, ideology and in the end, personality – or the perception of what a personality is.

Deb Sokolow is adept in crafting and combining these tropes and expectations, revealing the artifice upon which our culture of political narratives is built. Through these revelations we can see the weak, shallow, and shaky foundations our modern representative democracy is founded upon. Although presented with humor, Sokolow’s  drawings illustrate a pressing danger; how easily our system of governance can falter, because of inherently flawed voters and even more flawed political figures.

Author Terence Hannum is a Baltimore based visual artist and musician who performs solo, with the avant-metal band Locrian (Relapse Records) and the dark synthpop duo The Holy Circle. Hannum is an Assitant Professor of Art at Stevenson University. He has had solo exhibitions at Guest Spot (Baltimore), Western Exhibitions (Chicago, IL), Stevenson University, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Gallery 400 at UIC (Chicago, IL).  And in group shows at TSA (Brooklyn, NY), sophiajacob (Baltimore, MD), Allegra La Viola (NYC), City Ice Arts (Kansas City, MO) & Jonathan Ferrara Gallery (New Orleans, LA).

Deb Sokolow’s Debate Stage Water Bottles was at G Fine Art through May 21, 2016.

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