Peter Drake
Motion Pictures
Elizabeth Leach Gallery, 224-0521
Through Sept 1

This month, the Elizabeth Leach Gallery is filled to the brim with work provided by an ensemble of artists. Within the sizable display, there are a few artists that demand most attention. Sculptor Cris Bruch unveils spectacular new works, Mark Smith dazzles viewers with his work in Public Structures, and, tucked in the back room of the gallery, is a selection of new paintings by New York artist Peter Drake, entitled Motion Pictures.

Drake's current work is inspired by dated, 8mm-film footage of his family; each painting is a translation of a particular motion or event captured by the camera. Drake illuminates the significance of this source, stating that "Unlike snapshots where people pose for the camera, there are moments in moving pictures when people reveal themselves. These moments are found in the frames that exist between poses."

The moments that Drake reveals in Motion Pictures are largely from boyhood. It is interesting to note that Drake's memory does not appear to include women. Sisters, cousins, aunts, and mothers are noticeably absent from the frames he chose to highlight. Baseball games, go-cart races, and discoveries at the beach all combine to form a sweet remembrance of male youth. Drake is certainly not the first artist to delve into such childhood fodder--in fact, the practice is in danger of overuse in the art world. Yet, Drake sets himself away from the pack with his masterful and unique technique, and the ability to draw viewers in to consider a generalized past, a generalized boyhood. He does not show us an entire family album, but merely highlights strong, poetic circumstances.

Drake's intent is energized by his painting process. Instead of brushing paint onto canvas, he uses a lengthy, subtractive approach--his main tool being sandpaper. He begins each painting by building a textural foundation of acrylic medium and molding paste, then eventually layering a trio of pigments. On top of this, he outlines the composition in white pencil. Next, he begins sanding back into the layers. Various grades of paper achieve specific tones and textures--essentially becoming painting with sandpaper. The results are formally exquisite. And it's intriguing that the work appears more similar to digital prints than to painting. Drake accentuates this departure by darkening the edge of the canvas to achieve the look of a film cell. A warm palette and smart composition bring the subjects of the past to life.

First Hit is a large canvas that depicts a young baseball player, who is en route to first base after connecting with the ball for the first time. The blurred figure runs down a dirt lane, observed by other blurred figures in the outfield. It is a wistful view of the electric moment, caught by Drake in mid-motion. In a smaller work, Huddle, a young boy lies on his stomach in the grass. He clutches a football and gazes upward, directing his attention to a figure crouched down at his side. Although Drake has cropped out this figure's specific identity, he suggests a father or coach figure that the boy is listening to attentively. While First Hit and Huddle are images gleaned from a specific source, they draw viewers in for a more general consideration. One of the main reasons that Drake surpasses schmaltz, is that as he travels down memory lane and makes room for the viewer to come along. The subjects and the era are not defined, so the work opens up and achieves a universal sense of nostalgia, honing in on the relationships formed during childhood activities.