In the series "Stations of the Cross 13 plus 1," by Paul Rotterdam, the drawing "Station: 6" looks like a picture within a picture, the whole covered with a cross. The arms of the cross and the picture frame are so realistic that they appear to cast shadows. But the drawing within the frame is the opposite -- composed of Abstract Expressionist loops of graphite, it is tantalizingly vague and elusive. Like much of abstract art, its imagery acts as a set of hinges without making it exactly clear what the hinges hang on to. It is that lack of specificity that makes abstract pictures appear simple while providing unlimited food for reflection.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In a way, the graphite loops in "Station: 6" are like cloud formations. But in these formations, the magical images appear with special force after the viewer discovers how the picture is constructed. This picture provokes analysis , because each element of the picture builds on the other with increasing momentum, like a story reaching its climax.
It is at this point that you suddenly realize that analyzing something does not always mean to pull it apart, deprive it of color and emotion, or place it in a clinical setting. Rather, it can bring to full bloom the beauty and excitement that lie just beneath the surface of even the most ordinary things. The insights gained in looking at a picture such as this can be carried out of the gallery with you and used to give richness and enchantment to the world outside.
Without the frame portrayed in the drawing, the loops of graphite would look as if they were no more than childish squiggles. But compressed within the frame, they appear to be a shimmering condensation of atmosphere, or a landscape reduced to a few blurred luminous shapes when seen through the textured translucency of a glazed window.
This image of a window becomes so strong that the cross is transformed from a symbol to an object in the natural world. It becomes the framework of the window, specifically the wooden divisions between the panes.The scene beyond it is one you can look at, but you are not invited even to imagine what it would be like to touch or climb around in it. This drawing leaves the distinct impression that to gain access to this new world, you would have to shatter an invisible boundary that, like the glass in a window, is costly to break through.
The scene beyond the window bears some resemblance to a grassy landscape, except that there are things that happen or don't happen to that landscape which make it mysterious. The landscape looks somewhat bleak and primal, as if it had existed before trees and flowers and stars were made.
At the transverse arm of the cross, a glowing streak of light cuts the picture in half. It could be caused by the sun disappearing behind the horizon which would be very apt for this depiction of Jesus' walk to Calvary. But instead of gathering clouds, the grassy texture continues up the second half of the picture and almost appears to be growing in reverse. This second half ends in a mound that could be the rounded contour of the earth, with perhaps a night sky above it. Indeed, darkness appears to be moving toward the center from both ends of the picture while the bar of light in the middle is actively thrusting it back. But no matter how oppressive the darkness is in this picture, there is the comforting feeling that the light and joy could never be completely put out. The lightness of the paper shows in slivers through all but the heaviest layers of graphite, as though everything else in the picture is a mere temporary covering. And seen from a certain angle, some of the black graphite turns silver, showing that things are not always what they seem. Here the capacity for change is not a source of discomfort, but a physical token of the miraculous in the world.