Philip Koplin’s drawings are deceptively simplistic. The minimal compositions, soft-spoken shapes, and restrained lines are so subtle that his works on paper have an unfinished quality, as if the artist had started to speak and lost his train of thought mid-sentence. Much of this aesthetic is due to Koplin’s trademark technique of drawing on the ink-resistant surface of wax paper, a process that results in unexpected broken lines and softened edges. The works have a haunting effect, and only a close look at the entire show reveals meaning in these ghostly lines.
The title of the show, Art From Scratch: Notes from Nowhere, aptly describes the creative process of this artist at the beginning of his art-making cycle. Of the 30 or so pieces in the show, a majority are small works on paper no bigger than 97 inches. Like shopping lists and flashes of brilliance doodled on scraps of paper, the collection of imagery, lines, and gestures in Koplin’s Notes reads like the scattered musings of a human mind at work. Oftentimes, the images suggest a kind of dream-state-an absentminded artist drawing without an end design in mind. Anthropomorphic animals stand erect in trousers next to a rendering of a dog head. A childlike clown takes watch over a pair of surgeons operating on a mummy. Rows of loops repeat themselves again and again on a scribbled note. Full of non-sequiturs and fractional compositions, Koplin’s drawings are a collection of ideas that expertly contribute to the overarching theme of the show: art as a subconscious pursuit.
To continue this theme, Koplin has scattered small dioramic vignettes featuring doll’s heads, rusted ink-pen tips, and dusty books among the drawings in the exhibition. These surrealist landscape settings provide the perfect three-dimensional backdrop for the expressions he sets forth on paper. Although some of the works in the show are less effective as individual pieces, cumulatively the exhibition successfully conveys Koplin’s innate talent for storytelling. But these are no traditional plots. Koplin’s stories are nonlinear, full of mysteries, and utterly captivating.