Morgan O’Hara’s masterly drawing exhibition Recent Work from Venice, Italy, currently at the Mitchell Algus Gallery, is, among much else, a celebration of homo faber (man, the maker), handcraft, and the human hand. In times when the media focuses mainly on the advancement of AI, robotics, and virtual reality, it is sobering to reflect on the enduring astonishing achievements of the artisans of Venice.
The body of work presented in the show goes under the name of LIVE TRANSMISSIONS, which are conceptually based performative drawings. O’Hara, born in California and raised in an international community in post-war Japan, began the Live Transmission series in 1981, compiling a sort of encyclopedia of drawing human activities exhibited internationally in museums, galleries, and alternative spaces. As the artist currently resides in Venice, in this case, she has focused on Venetian artisans.
LIVE TRANSMISSIONS drawings are executed by tracing the movement of the hands of humans at work, her distinctive take on drawing from life. In O’Hara’s words, “The method I have developed requires close observation and actual drawing in real time with multiple razor-sharp pencils and both hands. Simultaneous with an action taking place, I condense movement into accumulations of graphite lines, combining the controlled refinement of classical drawing with the sensuality of spontaneous gesture. My LIVE TRANSMISSIONS render visible normally invisible or fleeting movement patterns, active trajectories, through seismograph-like drawing. The time-space coordinates for each drawing are written across the bottom of each page, thus contextualizing each activity in a specific continuum and geographic place.”
O’Hara’s mesmerizing drawings, actual maps of the trajectory of the hands of her subjects, occasion elegant abstract tangles of lines of great aesthetic beauty. Though the majority of the drawings appear to be “abstract,” they blur the boundaries between abstract and figurative work. For example, following the movement of the hands of a person cutting hair, the drawing alludes to a human head. Instead, when the movement of the artisan’s hand does not follow the shape of a finished product, the work appears non-figurative.
Though the artist’s attention is steadily on the hand, the work implies the complex physiological and philosophical relationship between brain and hand: “I translate ideas into form and then study what I see. Often, study generates new research. I am more interested in questions than answers. I tend to work much in the way a farmer does when planting, tending and harvesting crops. I consider the germination process, the daily work and the harvest as my work. As I progress, I represent all of us and our deep engagement in the process of living.”
Among her subjects were Maurizio De Min, a woodcarver; Franco Vianello Crea, a master boat builder; Giovanna Zanella, a shoemaker, and Gianni Pitacco, a bookbinder. Together, these drawings explore, honor, and salute the enduring achievements of centuries-old artisanal practices.
Mitchell Algus stands out among New York gallery owners for his artistic “eye,” taste, and connoisseurship. Since the 1990s, he has been known to spot new talent and bring new attention to the careers of overlooked or partially forgotten artists, including Judith Berstein, Agustin Fernandez, Lee Lozano, and Betty Tompkins.
Morgan O’Hara’s work is part of major collections around the world, including those of the Macau Museum of Art, China; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; The British Museum; National Gallery, Washington, DC, and more.
Recent Work from Venice, Italy, at the Mitchell Algus Gallery,132 Delancey Street NYC. By appointment only: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel. 516-639-4918.
Images of the artisans and drawings: