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Frank Gerritz at Bartha Contemporary, London

13 May – 2 July 2016

Review by Hannah Hughes

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

Known as a sculptor primarily working in two dimensions, Frank Gerritz’s current exhibition at Bartha Contemporary comprises resolutely sculptural drawings that both assimilate and project into the surrounding space of the gallery. Appearing at first glance as a series of intensely dark monochromes, the works on display reveal subtly modulated reflective surfaces, generating a vigorous impression of light and movement.

Definition Of Space | Four Center Connection, 2015-2016, Pencil on MDF panel, 60 x 240 cm. Copyright Frank

Gerritz. Courtesy Bartha Contemporary Ltd

‘Definition of Space / Four Center Connection (Spread My Wings)’, which forms the centrepiece of the exhibition, is a monumental, shimmering work, calibrating the scale and rhythm of the ensuing arrangements.  In this drawing, dense layers of graphite, applied by hand with a Faber Castell 9B pencil, create a mirrored surface on the frontal plane of a wall-mounted MDF panel. Four columns divide the composition into opposing horizontal and vertical grounds, while a narrow vertical line slices through the centre, staking out two parallel territories.

Its effects can only be experienced fully through the movement of the viewer, the reflection fluctuating in tone and intensity in accordance with the angle and proximity at which it is seen. With a muted radiance, the graphite captures and reflects both the light within the gallery and shadowy glimpses of the viewer, sensed through hovering, shape-shifting areas of colour. Watching distant glimmers trace the arrival and disappearance of figures on its surface, the temporary nature of the engagement between the gallery visitor and the object on display becomes apparent, forming a constant process of spatial adjustment.

Closer inspection reveals a restless surface of hundreds or thousands of strokes, each absorbing and refracting light simultaneously, evoking a pulsating rhythm that reverberates throughout the space. As the eye is drawn into the detail, an awareness of the physical process emerges. The pristine, seemingly machine-engineered finish is the product of what is without doubt an intensely laborious task, creating a blizzard of hatching through the repetitive application of the pencil. Each mark embodies this physical gesture, bringing an awareness of the artist’s body in relation to the object.  

Two Center Connection III, 2013 Pencil on paper 2 Part, 42 x 58.8 cm Copyright Frank

Gerritz. Courtesy Bartha Contemporary Ltd

Gerritz has often used the body as the basis for the proportions within his drawings, creating a spatial unity with the viewer.  In ‘Definition of Space…’ the explicit reference in the title (Spread My Wings) encourages a reading of the subdivided horizontal image in units of human measurement – comparing the colossal wingspan to the extent of outstretched arms.  On the facing wall,  ‘Two Center Connection / Perfect Lovers’ explores its intimate internal relationships on a more condensed scale.  Here, a narrow band creates a visual pause between two channels running along the vertical plane. Positioned off-centre, this upright flow counter-balances the weight of the opposing horizontal fields, forging an ideal union of tension and support.

Two Center Connection | Perfect Lovers, 2015  Pencil on MDF panel 60 × 60 cm.

Copyright Frank Gerritz. Courtesy Bartha Contemporary Ltd

Viewed from their outer edges, the MDF drawings can be seen to elevate at a distance from the wall, throwing shadows in the recesses behind. This further defines their presence as sculptural objects, both occupying the physical environment of the gallery and embodying an internal sculptural space. The sense that they are floating - soaring, even - brings a paradoxical sense of levity to drawings which otherwise imply the suspension of a solid weighted object. 


Installation shot, © Frank Gerritz, Courtesy Bartha Contemporary Ltd

The square provides a unitary system of measurement for the series of drawings (each rectangle can be divided into two or three squares) establishing proportional relationships, both internal and external. This system relates to early cast-iron sculptures of the 1980s such as the solid cubes of Block I-IV, which were divided into horizontal and vertical planes.

Gerritz first started making drawings in 1989 to be displayed alongside his sculptures, comprising two-dimensional representations of the cube, seen simultaneously from the front, back and sides – which we might now relate to the ubiquitous flat-pack designs of consumer products. Drawing in this way can be seen as a way of conflating the spatial and time-based experience of his sculptures, allowing the viewer to witness an all-over form in ways that are inconceivable in three dimensions.  The square, with its direct relationship to the grid, also implies the presence of an invisible inverse structure within the negative space, highlighting Gerritz’s carefully orchestrated balance of sculptural space within all of his drawings, where volume and emptiness, light and dark, and the object and the body are in constant negotiation.


The exhibition continues at Bartha Contemporary, London until July 2, 2016. 


Installation shot, © Frank Gerritz, Courtesy Bartha Contemporary Ltd

Six framed works on paper are mounted on the back walls of the gallery. The same light-refracting modulation of graphite, as seen in the MDF panels, contributes to an overall sense of an ongoing negotiation with ‘real’ space and solid material, illustrating Gerritz’s desire to compress volume and weight from sculpture into drawing.

Each is divided into two sheets, on which a minimal square or rectangular shape is assembled to connect at one edge with an identical form. Energy bristles within the slivers between these points of connection, suggesting potential folds or shifts in aspect, and asserting the presence of volume within the flat image.  

Definition Of Space | Four Center Connection, 2015-2016, Pencil on MDF panel, 60 x 240 cm. Copyright Frank

Gerritz. Courtesy Bartha Contemporary Ltd