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Spare lines and bits of color add up to figuration at Artists' Gallery

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Cathy Z. Sawdey makes spare use of thin lines to outline the full-figured models in her exhibit "Life Lines: Figurative Drawings" at the Artists' Gallery. Her very selective use of color also ensures that you're mostly looking at the expanses of white space representing her fleshy subjects.

There is a bluntly presentational quality to how most of the models are posed. In "Woman Leaning Back on Elbow," the model assumes a casually direct pose. The physicality of that pose is underscored by the fact that the woman's downcast head and closed eyes seemingly ensure that her body is on public view and yet her thoughts remain private.

Sawdey consistently emphasizes the physical presence of these models. Drawing is a suitable medium in this respect, because the lines call your attention to all of the curves that collectively make up a person.

Another reason you make note of those definitional lines is because they're not always black. Indeed, the lines are often red, yellow, green, blue and other attention-grabbing colors achieved with a pastel stick. Usually the coloration is primarily used for the figure-defining lines, but sometimes it spreads a bit wider in order to color in everything from the models' hair to the room furnishings among which they lounge.

In "Large Reclining Woman (on colorful throw)," the model does her reclining on a yellow-and-red piece of cloth. Such drawings suggest a domestic setting or at least a studio set up to look like she's at home.

The artist's matter-of-fact representation of these nude models has an emotionally cool quality that certainly has art-historical precedent. Whether one thinks back to the sparely outlined nudes done by the French artist Henri Matisse in the early 20th century or the nudes calmly lounging in the work of contemporary American artist Philip Pearlstein, there is a perpetual artistic fascination with the human form and the seemingly endless variations in how to present it.

If a cool mood prevails in Sawdey's drawings, surely it's in part because so many of her models are outlined in blue. In "Blue Sprawled Woman," the woman's blue-outlined body extends across a bed and has her legs dangling over the side. Tightly bunched black lines are used for the hair on the woman's head, which rests on a pillow.

It's significant that this sprawled model is facing away from us, because the artist wants to prompt consideration of the human form rather than of an individual personality. Similarly, "Back of Blue Woman" gives you that back and nothing more.

The studio props deployed in several of the drawings presumably serve to, er, flesh out the domestic scenario, but ultimately the props and the person register in much the same way for the viewer.

In "Blue Woman in Chair," the ample model's fleshy folds are complemented by the well-upholstered chair on which she rests. And in "Seated Woman with Open Parasol," the viewer's tendency is to note the color accents used for both the woman and the parasol.

Although the drawings generally don't seem to encourage psychological readings of these female subjects, there are at least a few drawings in which one gets a sense of an individual personality.

Ironically, "Woman in Boots and Hat" is one of the few drawings in which the model is dressed. This woman's black cowboy boots and confident pose make her seem like somebody who would make a memorable impression at a country-western dance.

Most of these drawings feature female models, but men make an occasional appearance. In "Man Seated on Draped Chair," however, the male model has his back turned to us, as if he does not want to call attention to himself.

Cathy Z. Sawdey exhibits through April 26 at the Artists' Gallery, in the American City Building, 10227 Wincopin Circle in Columbia. Call 410-740-8249 or go to http://www.artistsgallerycolumbia.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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