Since seeing Mia Rosenthal's first show of drawings at Gallery Joe two years ago, I've occasionally wondered what she would do for her next solo exhibition there. Would she again develop an idea into one disciplined, project-like body of work, as she had done so nicely in her conceptual revisions of views depicted in well-known Hudson River School paintings? Or would she explore several directions at once, something she seemed eminently capable of doing? It's turned out to be the latter, exhilaratingly so.
Rosenthal's familiar crisp, tiny renderings of flora and fauna in black ink on white paper - crowded together, yet each taking up the perfect amount of space; doodlelike, yet orderly - have been deployed in only two drawings in this large show (she has the entire gallery), and to eye-catchingly eccentric, whimsical effect.
Both titled Life on Earth, they show the evolution of man and the plant and animal kingdoms interwined. In the larger drawing, on a somewhat circular piece of paper, this overlapping of creatures occurs in a spiral, mandalalike composition following the paper's contours. The smaller drawing's cast of creatures unfolds on horizontal lines on rectangular paper, as though etched onto an ancient tablet by a visionary with a sense of humor.
Rosenthal's laptop - a MacBook Pro she has relied on for Googling information for her drawings - and her iPhone have become new subjects, as have the laptops, smartphones, and two iPads of her friends and family, all standing in as portraits of their owners. In these, Rosenthal's drawing has a lighter touch, softened by her use of graphite and gouache (these particular drawings demanded color). A series of informal iPhone portraits stretching along a wall in the Vault gallery offers further testament to Rosenthal's unpretentious wit and openness to change.
In a third group of works, she portrays her own hand-drawn facsimiles of images she sourced from Google Images on a particular subject, making multi-image grid drawings on the themes of John James Audubon, Eadweard Muybridge, and the Hubble telescope. Her "portraits" of Audubon and Muybridge, using more graphite than ink, mark the most obvious departure from Rosenthal's taut ink line drawings; they look like nuanced, soft-focus drawings of the famous bird illustrations and photographic motion studies they're based on.
Google the phrase "pull out all the stops." It might look like this.
Writing has been incorporated into art since, well, forever, but the confluence can seem especially salient in our times.
Gerard Brown, artist and Tyler School of Art professor, has noticed a proliferation of wordy art in the age of texting and tweeting and has acted on his intuitions. The group show "R/W: Reading and Writing Visual Experience" that Brown organized for Bucks County Community College's Hicks Art Center Gallery features works by nine artists actively engaged in art involving written and spoken text.
Some achieve this union subtly, others loudly. Some regard it as less a union than a disjunction. But it's hard not to notice, as Brown did, the profound effect of technological innovations on the art world. There are artists who have retreated from the intimacy afforded by new technologies, and others who have embraced it.
The pieces that spoke to me most clearly: Sharka Hyland's impeccably drawn copies of pages from Marcel Proust and Henry James that isolate their words to a richly concentrated poeticism largely lost in our hyperventilating world; Rebecca Targ's video (with Rebecca Beegle and Angela Dittmar), "This is Ventriloquism," in which Ditmar is shown reading a passage of writing and then attempting to recite it from memory, demonstrating the power of the written word to shape speech; and Martha Rich's installation of painted wood signs cut in the shapes of voice bubbles whose words immediately summon communication - and more strikingly, the lack of it - in the digital age.
"R/W: Reading and Writing Visual Experience" also includes works by Aubrie Costello, Marianne Dages, Martha McDonald, Sheryl Ridenour, Matthew Sepielli, and Susan White.