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The Power of a Few Lines


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With their poetic air and mix of abstraction and representation, Jered Sprecher's gentle, tentative paintings and drawings suggest the work of Gerhard Richter. In fact Richter was an influence, but an encounter with an elderly woman while Sprecher was in grad school was even more important. While still an undergraduate at Concordia University in Nebraska, Sprecher went on a class trip to a nursing home to do clay portraits of the residents, then later returned to sketch them on his own. "My lines were a bit scratchy and shaky," he says, "and I began to think of their frailness as depicting the state the patients were in. Interacting with these people and hearing their stories seemed more important than the art I was making." The physical and mental deterioration of some of these formerly fit, productive farmers and nurses made him aware of his own mortality.

After graduating in 1999, Sprecher enrolled in an MFA program at the University of Iowa and found another nursing home to visit. But he was becoming frustrated with his work: "The drawings didn't go any further than their illustrative aspect--they were just reiterating what I was seeing." Then on one visit he noticed that a wheelchair patient, Esther, was watching his every move as he sketched, and he asked if she wanted to draw. "First she drew this rectangle and put four circles in it. I was confused as to what it was supposed to be. She said, pointing to her glasses, 'That's me.' She drew another box with parallel lines and said, 'That's the book that I'm reading.' Then she took the pencil and started making zigzag lines and said, 'That's me exercising.' She made these compelling drawings through much simpler means than my own. They functioned like signs or symbols, hitting upon something that my drawings were lacking." He stopped making portraits and began experimenting, collaging thick gobs of paint with fragments of paper and pieces of his own drawings. He tried to suggest the aging process by attacking these surfaces with a rotary sander. He applied paint to old rags and hung them on the wall, and smeared daubs of white paint on raw canvas with a palette knife.

In 2003, a year after receiving his MFA, Sprecher and his wife moved to New York (they now live in Knoxville, where he got a teaching job). Inspired in part by the city's visual cacophony, he began to collect scraps with obscure origins. One piece of cardboard, for example, had holes punched in it that seemed to have been made for a specific, if mysterious, purpose. Sprecher began making drawings that he thought of "as something you could find on the street and would wonder about." He exhibits collections of them under the title Never Finished: though the drawings themselves don't change, the collections vary in size and in what's included. The Never Finished amalgam of 21 pieces at Wendy Cooper includes one drawing with three black triangles at the left of a green field while another has only a tiny tree at the bottom of a blank sheet.

Sprecher's interest in history dates from a childhood visit to the Alamo: after that, he and a friend began making drawings of battles, altering them as the battle progressed by adding explosions and the movements of troops. In college, where he double majored in art and history, he learned that "the more you dug, the more complicated and interconnected the world seemed." He learned from his mathematician wife that applications of pure math to the real world don't always fit, and in art, that Mondrian's grids and the utopian ideal behind them, he says, "aren't always appropriate to the situation." Last Days, copied from a found photo of a disco ball, presents a slightly warped grid with many blank areas. Fault (17), based on a photo of a parking lot, shows what appears to be a white highway line against gray--and another line higher up against a darker gray. Esther's lesson of the power of a few lines can be seen in this work, whose white strip hovering near the top makes the drawing disorienting and even a bit ominous.

Jered Sprecher

When: Through Sat 11/26

Where: Wendy Cooper, 119 N. Peoria

Info: 312-455-1195

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