The Slow Joy of James Siena’s Intricate Compositions

I was surprised how soon James Siena had his second exhibition at Miles McEnery Gallery, following his first in late 2022. When I learned that the exhibition was devoted to Siena’s drawings, I surmised that it was either a survey or a look at a little-documented period in the artist’s career. I was wrong.

All of the show’s 31 drawings (made between 2022 and 2023) are procedural compositions in which the artist responds to the first line or band he makes in pencil, usually echoing it. However, Siena doesn’t stop there, as he once did. He goes back into the work and with another material does something to the negative spaces or the interior of the bands and shapes, resulting in dry lines and a liquid interior. None of the works are variations. He uses two or more materials in each, including graphite, charcoal, crayon, gouache, ink, and watercolor. The color of the paper becomes part of the composition in these visually dense works that I kept disassembling, as I tried to discern how the drawing was made.

Featured image: James Siena, “Ruckle” (2023), watercolor and gouache on paper, paper dimensions: 25 x 19 3/4 inches

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