Taney Roniger: Never The Same River
On ViewCorners Gallery
Never The Same River
August 8 – September 25, 2020
Ithaca, New York
The title of Taney Roniger’s most recent solo show refers to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus’s dictum, “one can never step in the same river twice.” Often cited to invoke a world constantly in flux, the adage harbors an additional reminder, implicit in its poetic imagery, that with its perpetual flow the river is never the same and the person who steps in it is never the same either. External and internal, objectively evident and imperceptible—different meanings are at work here in this powerful show, giving us multiple examples of the immediacy of drawing as an access to ontological thought.
Roniger uses Heraclitus’s dictum aptly, capturing fleeting moments of time and the singular rhythms of the body in gesture drawing. For years, the artist has used these “first thoughts”—small warm-up exercises completed in seconds with a stick of graphite—as a routine part of her drawing process, but at some point she began to see the potential for these notations to become “second” thoughts. As an artist with a longstanding interest in science, Roniger came to see these drawings as specimens of her cognitive unconscious. First scanning and enlarging them in Photoshop, she began to examine each carefully, finally recreating the entire set as large scale black-and-white charcoal drawings on watercolor paper. Format and scale vary throughout 13 of these larger works on view. Interestingly, only two drawings are the same size. The show also includes two multi-panel pieces, Other Rivers (Microscape #1) and Other Rivers (Microscape #2) (all works 2020), in addition to one of the original 5 by 7 inch gestures: evidence of the germinative power of drawing.
Consistent with Roniger’s interest in the philosophy of Heraclitus, Never the Same River offers a contemplation of oppositions. There is a reversal in value, the white paper ground of the source is now the velvety black of layered charcoal, a deep space from which volumetric, tonal forms emerge. With the force of their contrast and scale, the drawings appear literally to cut into the infrastructure of the gallery space, creating dynamic rhythms and implying windows into other spaces or voids. Roniger invites these references—Other Rivers (Glyph #1) and Other Rivers (Glyph #16), evoke ancient stone formations, informed by Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa’s description of architecture as “petrified silence.” Other Rivers #3 and Other Rivers #5 lean towards the tradition of theoretical architecture. Like the loose, playful drawings and paper maquettes Frank Gehry is known to have used, Roniger could be imagining future structures beyond current technological capacities—a world that will have to wait.
The nuance of surface—a grainy and resonant touch—is a priority for Roniger. Achieved with an invented process—a back-and-forth between application and removal—the effect is to slow the eye and mind, inviting the viewer to trace the experience of focus and detail inherent in the work. Again, there is a tension between opposites—material and immaterial, natural and fabricated—that allows multiple associations. Roniger fully explores her vocabulary throughout the series with a tangible commitment and then takes it apart. The multi-panel works rearrange the singular, frontal forms into complex, reassembled compositions. These become fully abstract, with an acceleration of pace and design, a nod to Lee Krasner.
In Other Rivers #1, Other Rivers #2, and Other Rivers #6, what was fast, free, and physical in the notational gesture drawing has metamorphosed into elegiac, elongated, and gradated form. The release one might grasp in an instant of movement has expanded into a slow contemplation, like feeling with one’s hand through and over a new and unknown terrain, guided only by the sense of touch. References to the photography of deep space, microcosms, flames, and botanical growth come to mind, not only in form, but also as an example of drawing utilized for study. This quality is heightened in Other Rivers #7 and Other Rivers #9. Like the paintings of 17th century Spanish still-life painter Juan Sánchez Cotán, humble forms are transformed through hyper-attention and detail, becoming visual portals into a liminal space for meditation, vehicles for thought and solitude.
It's compelling that the series retains a symbiotic relationship to the initial gesture drawing. A quick graphite stroke becomes dimensional, given the focus and physicality of Roniger’s process. The fluidity and transparency of movement becomes embedded as a memory or map. It becomes a compositional guide, a site for building form through a series of transformations, testing the limits of the artist’s skill, invention, and concentration. Deleuze’s concept of “the fold” in architecture is especially apt—Roniger is clearly composing philosophical, interior fabrications. The physiological processes of our brains, our experience through time and space, and the acquisition of knowledge are sequential, unfolding and intimate events. The visualization of perception seems central to Roniger’s project, and the act of drawing with a sustained and disciplined methodology, like Cotán, becomes a representation of meditation, compressed images in the act of becoming.