Is David Scher a painter or a draftsman? A cartoonist or an old master? A baroque fantasist or a documentarian? Shivering sheep shake off the ink they’re made of, and vanish from the page; a Roman warrior’s bottom half, out for a walk, trades imperial conquest for quixotic adventures. Landscapes of lush foliage explode with cultural shrapnel under serene skies. His new exhibition at Pierogi, The first bird wore a bird costume, gives us the ordinary as strange and the strange as ordinary. An “artistic polymath” (Roberta Smith, NYT), Scher makes drawings, paintings, and watercolors (often all at once) riddled with Boschian creatures, furtive con-men, old chairs that have put a foot wrong, and other scraps, orts, and fragments of American iconography—what Walter Benjamin would call the ruins of our allegory.
Included in this exhibition will be recent works on paper, ranging in size from medium to large scale. Scher has described his polyvalent practice—extending from detailed line work describing humorous and improbable scenes, calligraphic, and musical notations, to vigorous, painterly brushstrokes—as akin to seeking a unified field theory of sorts, where his various tendencies coexist on equal terms.These tendencies inform one another across time, continuously developing in multiple relationships to one another, in web-like evolutions as opposed to serial ones. A line drawn with a fine instrument is amplified when made with a house painting brush but is still of the same hand and eye.
Scher’s larger works (and groupings of multiple works) provide fields where some of these elements convene, where countless drawings—which often get loose into otherwise abstract paintings—are funny conundrums that outlast their own laugh lines. Or else they are tender gestures, as fleeting and forlorn as the best parts of our days. Or again, they are simply lines doing as lines do, steering by their own native wit and logic.
Also on view are watercolor and ink split compositions that evoke the two halves of an open book. They ask to be read in all directions, including—given the dense layering of the marks and brushstrokes—down and through. If to remember is to scatter, to turn over, and to excavate (Benjamin again), some of these recent works, large and ambitious, are memoryscapes, interrupted by absences in the form of torn and glued scraps of paper that flag what they forget.
A gifted musician and member of the improvisational ensemble O.N.E.M. since 1969, Scher has translated his feeling for rhythm and tone into densely ciphered visual maps, which are titled “Scores” and which, like some of his drawings, are meant to be played. The camera offers Scher further possibilities for combinatory antics, in his black-box sketch-books and also in his short films and animations. The films start light, quirky, but they are apt to give their unusual prompts a disquieting turn. Included in this exhibition will be a new film, commissioned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, including animations of Scher’s drawings, short films he has made over the years, and other fragments.
The Drawing Center, The Lab (NYC) recently presented “David Scher, Does It Fold?” a multi-media performance alongside a presentation of Scher’s “Score” drawings, a selection from among his 1,200 sketchbooks, and his camera drawing boxes. He will present an evening of commissioned film and animated drawings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in October 2017. His work has been included in exhibitions at the Wattis Institute (San Francisco, CA), the Orange County Museum of Art (Newport Beach, CA), the New Museum of Contemporary Art (NYC), The Brooklyn Museum (NYC), and the Swiss Institute (NYC). His work is included in the permanent collections of MoMA (NYC), the Whitney Museum (NYC), and others. He is the recipient of a Pollock Krasner Foundation Grant and an Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation Grant. He currently lives and works in New York City.