Leonardo Drew: Making Chaos Legible

Leonardo Drew is a builder and maker on an epic scale. He creates dynamic, abstract sculptures and installations that explode and expand into their surroundings. His work defies gravity, disrupting normal conventions of time and space. They convey a feeling of barely contained or restrained energy and chaos. “I think of it as making chaos legible,” Drew says. I quoted his wonderful phrase in the title of our exhibition of Drew’s work, open now through January 3, 2021.
The artist, on explosions: “You would have thought a person who was in to comic books and superheroes would have already been in to this, but it’s just now coming in [to my work]; Leonardo Drew, Number 215B, 2019, wood, paint, and sand, dimensions variable, Collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer

Hybrids of painting and sculpture, tactile and textured, his artworks are palpably and potently physical. These complex creations are the result of an obsessively additive process of assemblage and collage, a rhythmic stacking, layering, and building, where more always has precedence over less.

Leonardo Drew, Number 217, 2019, wood, plaster, and paint, H. 144 x W. 144 x D. 36 in., Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Lelong & Co.; © 2020 Leonardo Drew; Photograph: Christopher Burke Studio
Leonardo Drew, Number 181, 2016, wood, paint, screws, and nails, H. 111 x W. 220 x D. 39 inches, Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Lelong & Co.; © 2020 Leonardo Drew; Photograph: Christopher Burke Studio
Leonardo Drew, Number 67S, 2018, wood, H. 28 x W. 42 x D. 19 in., Courtesy of the artist and Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco; © 2020 Leonardo Drew; Photograph: Christopher Burke Studio

Comprising a wide range of media—wood, cotton, canvas, paper, steel, aluminum, paint, sand—Drew’s mixed-media wall works, free-standing sculptures, installations, and works on paper are carefully orchestrated illusions of age and decay. A highly skilled craftsman, Drew meticulously and deliberately ages and distresses new materials by painting, burning, staining, corroding, scuffing, scratching, chopping, and splintering to create the appearance of found and weathered objects in works of art that explore timeless cycles of deterioration, regeneration, and transformation.

“The viewer’s interpretation is never wrong … I’m just a vessel in this—your read is absolutely essential.”

—Leonardo Drew

Picture of Linda Johnson Dougherty
Linda Johnson Dougherty is chief curator and curator of contemporary art at the NCMA.

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