While a trip to an art gallery may not seem like your idea of a great time, the Memorial Art Gallery’s ‘Leaded: the Materiality and Metamorphosis of Graphite” offers an experience somewhat different from your typical hall full of ordinary oil paintings.
The title plays on the show’s theme of addressing the oftenoverlooked graphite in pencils.

You might expect, then, a bunch of grayscale drawings, but instead, 16 artists push the limits of graphite as a medium, using it from the conventional way to the most outlandish.
The show itself is split into three sections, the first being ‘Graphite as Content.” These pieces are mostly drawings, but rather than focusing on mere subject matter, they incorporate the medium into their pieces so extensively that graphite itself becomes integral to their execution.

For example, Hsin-Hsi Chen of Taiwan works with the extreme value of graphite to create two-dimensional drawings that resemble folded structures so much you’ll find it difficult to believe they’re only pencil on paper.

Conversely, Meghan Gerety works with thick, dark graphite to create silhouettes of nature in stark black and white, abandoning graphite’s spectrum of shades and morphing it into an almost ink-like medium.

Mark Sheinkman works with an electric eraser on graphite-coated paper to form compositions of smok

e that evoke a depth of movement, which is surprising for such a simple method.
The second section, which is less traditional in style, displays pieces where graphite has transformed other materials.

These works stray furthest from what one might expect from graphite, using the medium to create seemingly impossible surfaces and textures with a pencil.

James Busby, for example, coats canvases with gesso and graphite, creating surfaces that reflect and mimic the appearance of dark metal.

Sarah Lovitt molds more recognizable items like chains from wax and then adheres graphite to their surface, adding contrast and bridging the gap between soft wax and cold, hard metal.

The last section is perhaps the most eye-catching, but should be noted for its simpler elements as well. It contains sculptural works formed from graphite, including a human-sized skyscraper made entirely of sharpened pencils, pieced together by The Art Guys.

Marco Maggi, less flashy but nonetheless powerful, piles powdered graphite in glass boxes and illuminates it, enshrining the simple medium in a tomb. He also works with layered slabs of graphite, carving shapes from its surface whose subtlety is striking from both close and afar.

Creighton Michael analyzes the creation of mark through his graphite-coated rope sculptures that mimic the three-dimensional movement and action of drawing. Their scale and complexity emphasize the intention in mark-making and the creation of composition.
While the exhibit is full of large sculptures and perplexing mediums, there is also a strong underlying artistic purpose to the show that should be taken into consideration.

Graphite is the simplest and most common medium used by an artist or draftsman. But here, it is celebrated in its banality, paying subtle homage to its many virtues.
Furthermore, it pushes the boundaries of how graphite can be used, proving that no matter how tired a material, ingenuity can still add some kick to it.
So while you may go to Leaded for the skyscrapers and metal chains, you’ll leave with an appreciation for a medium much too often overlooked in the world of art.

Sheu is a member of
the class of 2010.

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