I draw because I love it. I make art because if I didn’t, I would kill myself. I usually color with markers.
Written casually on a sheet of white letter paper alongside a computer text drawing of Casper the Friendly Ghost, this is the entirety of the artist statement that Lauren Barfield offers for her solo exhibition at Mammal Gallery through March 29.
The show doesn’t have a title wall, only a drawing of a woman in a skirt dribbling a basketball rendered in black vinyl above the artist’s name and the run dates.
In an art world full of long-winded dilettantes, it is refreshing to see an artist with enough confidence to allow her work to speak for itself, and it speaks very well for itself: no fancy words or contemporary fine art cliches, only drawing, honest and consistent.
The pieces in this show only occupy about half of the gallery. While this is as just as much space as her installation at Mammal Gallery’s huge inaugural group exhibition, All Drawings Everything, this presentation shows more aesthetic precision. The drawings, in uniform white frames, are a more sharply focused production than the draw-on-everything-and-tape-it-to-the-wall method the artist previously employed.
The pieces, which appear be culled from a series of different notebooks, range from pocket-sized pen drawings to acrylic paintings on canvas. Each notebook has a corresponding pen or marker set. Paintings on ceiling tiles manage to maintain the flatness and line quality of the drawings on paper, reminding us that Barfield can draw on anything.
Every mark is very sure and very flat. The flatness works most successfully in Girl’s College Dorm Room, an acrylic painting that looks like a silk screen featuring obvious homage to the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But to my mind, the piece is less a reference to the iconic image of Audrey Hepburn than to the mass reproduction of canvas prints sold at discount department stores to college freshman.
The palatable cultural sensibilities associated with Holly Golightly in the 1940s, Audrey Hepburn in the 1960s and baby boomers passing down their nostalgia are subverted by one of the artist’s signature chubby, androgynous figures. Noseless with flat, pink skin, she looks more like a startled surprise-photo victim than a starlet.
My Lil Prostitute, a comic strip she illustrated for author and stand-up comedian Jake Cook, depicts an awkward encounter between the narrator and a prostitute. Chicken biscuits and the band the Replacements are involved. There are F-bombs, sweaty policemen, some anthropomorphized genitals, and all of it is laugh-out-loud funny. It is also strangely relatable. The perverse mashup of the darkly mundane and the hilariously fantastical is a recurring theme throughout the show.
Barfield’s refusal to title the show, label the pieces or provide any information whatsoever suggests that she is not interested in anything other having people look at the drawings. This endearing sincerity resonates in all of the pieces. There are also many awkward silences.