Lee Bowers’ nature drawings are best when they’re fast and loose

Scribbled on the page, a few dark scrabbles indicate bushes and a tree. Another couple of lines suggest the ground. Done. Such immediacy highlights an artist’s hand and infuses the scene with authentic feeling.

Lee Bowers‘ exhibition at the Greenlease Gallery consists of just eight charcoal and 14 China marker drawings on paper and vellum. Many of the images are clearly recognizable scenes from Loose Park. Others, the artist’s short statement informs us, may be inspired by the Flint Hills or northern New Mexico or England’s Cotswalds region.

Most satisfying here are the marker sketches, which seem responsive to the artist’s surroundings — a couple of these pieces are beautifully spare.

The larger charcoal drawings are characterized by extreme balance. Each of these pieces has a carefully, almost painfully thought-out symmetry to it. “Loose Audience” is an extreme close-up of a tree trunk, placed dead-center in the drawing. A tiny bird clings to the bark, and the landscape of Loose Park falls away to either side of the trunk.

Though executed with precision, these large charcoal drawings leave little room for spontaneity, making them feel almost stuffy compared with the small sketches.

In a few of the works, Bowers extends her love of order and precision to dividing the paper’s drawing space into neat sections. She executes “Coy Conversations” as a diptych on a single sheet of paper, making two drawings separated by a thin white space running down the middle; jumping that space, however, is a scene of reflections on water. “Blue Swallow Skyview” is a triptych, each section illustrating dizzying views of the sky through treetops.

The exhibition’s installation is sparse and appropriate, leaving plenty of room for the works to breathe.

Not so appropriate are the red “sold” dots next to some of the works. Red dots are for commercial galleries — here, in a gallery on the Rockhurst campus, they’re distracting. This exhibition is an easy academic study for drawing-from-nature purists, but turning the gallery into a commercial space calls into question its mission and purpose (one that could be clarified by a wall statement linking the artist to a larger context in art trends or scholarship). Here, the red dots don’t seem part of some larger academic point — that art and commerce are or aren’t intrinsically linked.

It’s a good thing when visitors want to buy work from an exhibition — they should, though unfortunately this happens less frequently than artists might like. Sell the works — more power to the artist — but ditch the dots.

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