May 30, 2018

La Belle et la Bête Ambera Wellmann’s Drawings

By Meeka Walsh
Border Crossings Magazine
Volume 37 Number 1 Issue No. 145

John Berger has paused before a particular painting by the artist William Drost, a student of Rembrandt’s . He doesn’t name it, or even locate it with precision. Instead, in Bento’s Sketchbook (Pantheon Books, New York, 2011), he describes the subject, a woman looking out from the canvas with intense desire, and he reasons shse is looking at a man and that the man must be the painter William Drost. Here, Berger makes a credible assumption in saying, “The only think we know for certain about Drost is that he was desired precisely by this woman.” He goes on, “To be so desired – if the desire is also reciprocal – renders the one who is desired fearless…To be desired is perhaps the closest anybody can reach in this life to feeling immortal.”

In Ambera Wellmann’s charcoal works on paper in the Portfolio presented here, there is a fearlessness that may well spring from desire. In the drawings of the couples we see the solipsistsic self-sufficiency of lovers, unmindful of any scopophilic gaze. In the single figure with which the Porfolio opens, Wellmann challenges the rendering with boldness, joining Marlene Dumas’s investigatiion of the role of the femaie model. There is a ready stylistic parallel with Dumas in this image – a difficult model in every aspect. And undersized, underdeveloped, perhaps malnourished doughy body with eyes like “rossoles in the sand,” to quote Dylan Thomas – vacant and maybe a little haunted. Still, in her abjection, somehow stalwart and displaying a sort of fraught good nature. This similarity persists in the shadowed seems, part against part, in other works. You see it as well in Wellmann’s assertive placement of the figure on the page – an insistence on your attention. These aren’t casual or speculative drawings. Decorum isn’t an issue, either. However lyric are Wellmann’s subjects, as with Dumas, they are get-out-of-the-way drawings.

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Image Credit:
Minotaur II, 2018
Charcoal on paper
26.5″ x 23″
Private Collection