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013 : books : art : Drawn Worlds by Lee Bontecou

cover of Lee Bontecou's book, Drawn Worlds

Have you even been in a museum, standing in front of a sculpture or drawing, and though to yourself, "This artist is designing spaceships, is drawing alien landscapes, is so cool that she is making sci-fi fine art." (Sci-Fine-Art?) I have, while I've stood in front of the works of Lee Bontecou, an American artist born in 1931 whose work is industrial, precise, gritty, naturalistic, dark... futuristic, in many ways.

Yale University Press (yalebooks.com) and The Menil Collection (menil.org) have produced a gorgeous book, Drawn Worlds, a collection of amazing drawings by artist Lee Bontecou. Her drawings are elaborate, precise, technical things, and they are beautifully reproduced in this large, irresistible book.

This book is irresistible to me for several reasons. It's not just my architecture background, which (because of my great age) actually did involve using pencils and truly DRAWING (not just making digital lines on computers). It isn't just my enjoyment of science AND science fiction, and the habit of hanging out with friends during my youth who were drawing spacecraft, mechanized robots in the Japanese anime style, or my love of the precision of technical detail drawings of both artificial and natural things. It isn't just my general love of the visual arts, which very much include drawing. It's that somehow, Ms. Bontecou manages to capture my imagination and allow me to connect her drawings to ALL of these interests.

If you are in my peer groups, you've heard of Giger, because of the Aliens films, but some of Bontecou's drawings are equally creepy. And I mean that in the best possible way! You've seen the animation of Hayao Miyazaki, but perhaps haven't seen work by a fine artist who also has considered other paths evolution could have taken, other creatures that could exist if nature had formed an exoskeleton or shell a bit differently. The joys of Miyazaki and Giger are waiting in the hallowed halls of museums like MoMA in Bontecou's work, but you'd have to know to look for them.

The essays in the book parallel my lines of thinking about diverse subjects being combined. Here's a quote from Michelle White's essay:

"Richard S. Field, the curator of the first exhibition devoted to Bontecou's works on paper, has noted that her studies are revealing because they document the way she connects seemingly disparate lines of inquiry. In her drawings, he wrote, 'One can actually see the artist shuttle back and forth between a lobster and a jet engine or find a common denominator between a fish and a spaceship.'"

I am thrilled to see that process playing out on paper.

This book includes both monochrome and colored pencil drawings, as well as clear, illustrated essays on Bontecou's sculptural work and context. It's my favorite book of drawings, and it could be your favorite, too!

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original text Copyright © 2014 A. E. Graves, images are the copyright of their respective owners

(posted November 29, 2014, refreshed January 2019)

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