The most profound artwork questions what exists, but at the same time what is not there. Sheila Ghidini’s exhibition at Chandra Cerritos Contemporary Art Gallery, “Conversations,” addresses the seen and unseen through a series of drawings and installations involving intricate choreographies of chairs and birds — and negative space. Her careful drawing and skillful choices remind us: See in order to draw, draw in order to see — but most importantly, draw in order to illuminate the unseen.
Sheila composes her chairs with an infinite number of graphite marks with the facility of a deftly focused draftsperson, creating a tension between the object’s stillness and the energy of mark-making. This intense focus brings equal attention to the swaths of energized negative space surrounding the drawn object. For example, in the piece entitled, “One Chair,” the solitude of a single object in white space precipitates a question, a longing. And what exactly is longed for is the inviolate mystery that makes Sheila’s drawings philosophical, bringing an untranslatable insight into the human condition.
“One Chair,” by Sheila Ghidini, 2013. www.sheilaghidiniprojectspace.com
The earliest artists, traditional Chinese brush painters, heralded negative space as much as modern, Western artists delighted in filling the entire picture plane. For them the space untouched by brush was the nothing that is something, a space for contemplating what is beyond that something. That space is deeply connected to the philosophical concept of nothingness running through Taoism and Buddhism. In that vein, the Mustard Seed Garden Manual contains an admonishment from the 13th century painter, Jao Tzu-Jan, to always paint a scene with places made inaccessible to humans by nature. Because, as it is here surrounding Sheila’s lovingly rendered chairs, the dense, white nothingness obscures the contexts of their existence — and incandesces what is most beautiful in the mind. And true to the Buddhist aesthetic concept, yugen, we are most entranced by mystery.
Even in a composition of a group of chairs, as in the piece, “Conversation 10,” where different vanishing points for each object are used within the same composition, the same longing persists. The chairs, whether metaphorical or iconic of ourselves, are alone together. They inhabit the same context, but in different perspective realities. Recalling the ubiquitous dark matter that makes up our universe and is only detectable by instrument and not by light, these drawings are of presences, interactions, and possibilities that are around us always, but unseen. But here, lights and shadows figure centrally in Sheila’s rigorous drawing. The areas of highest value on the chairs are the same as the space engulfing the chairs. One could conclude that the negative space is the same entity as that which reflects light — and perhaps is light itself.
“Conversation 10,” by Sheila Ghidini, 2013. www.sheilaghidiniprojectspace.com
Therefore, when her installation of a sculpted, white chair enters pictorial space by dint of a graphite murmuration of birds drawn around and through the architecture of the chair and wall, the chair and wall similarly dissolve. The firmament, the reality, that you and I rely on itself becomes negative space, becomes light. And true to thousands of years of mystical understanding of the mediatory role of birds, as with the Asian affinity for negative space, Sheila’s work returns us to what is easily forgotten outside of moments of poetic and artistic attention: There is a horizon beyond our knowing. And let it be full of light.
“Murmuration,” Installation by Sheila Ghidini, 2013. www.sheilaghidiniprojectspace.com
“We don’t need to see anything out of the ordinary, we already see so much.” Robert Walser, A Little Ramble.