Robert Therrien Reveals Big Truths in Small Sketches

Hand-drawn and deceptively simple, Robert Therrien’s works on paper are a subtle counterpoint to the installations of giant, industrially fabricated tables and chairs he has become known for. A group of these drawings and prints (and one small sculpture) are on view at Lora Reynolds Gallery, running concurrently with an exhibition of the artist’s larger-scale works at the Contemporary Austin.

The framed works on paper display a beauty in their plainness; dressed with carefully chosen mattes matched against the color of the drawing ground, the presentation effectively transforms quick sketches into sophisticated conceptual objects. Each piece is rendered on plain paper in pencil, pigment, or print, and depicts the silhouette of one of the many generic symbols inspired by personal memories that Therrien has incorporated into his drawing practice, which predates the large sculptural work by decades.

The grouping on view at Lora Reynolds includes pieces dating from 1985 to 2011, with subjects rendered in varying levels of specificity, from squiggles we are led to believe stand for people, in No title (Ted, Carol, and Alice) (1985), to the disembodied, yet clearly defined No title (Running feet) (2011). “I try to stay with themes or objects or sources I can trace back to my personal history,” the artist explains. “The further back I can trace something as being meaningful to me in some way or another…the more I am attracted to it.”

Therrien’s visual language has characteristics of Marcel Proust’s iconic madeleine-induced nostalgia, while also displaying a tongue-in-cheek awareness of greater symbolic ramifications. From the shared shapes of religion in No Title (Red Chapel) (1993) and industry in No Title (Oil can) (2003), to the blimpy No Title (Cloud) (1993) descending into a black hole, to No Title (Sore Nose) (1999), a slapstick depiction of neutralized violence, Therrien is able to present an insinuated narrative that touches on large truths via uncomplicated methods. While personal, Therrien’s subjects are also universally evocative—encouraging their viewer to “experience” them in a similar manner to his large-scale installations, this time on a more intimate level.


—K. Sundberg


Robert Therrien” is on view at Lora Reynolds Gallery, Austin, May 28–Jul. 18, 2015.


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