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Installation view, south wall, “Judith Braun: May I Draw” at Joe Sheftel Gallery. (all images courtesy Joe Sheftel Gallery)

One could say that paying attention to the minutiae of an artwork is often necessary to digesting and understanding it. Where would we be today if viewers overlooked the borders of Piet Mondrian’s paintings? Indeed, it is with a subtle eye that Judith Braun’s most recent exhibition at Joe Sheftel Gallery, May I Draw, should be viewed, for it is in the details that her drawings can be fully appreciated.

Judith Braun, “Symmetrical Procedure BKS-9-1” (2009), graphite on Duralar, 12 x 12 inches.

Comprised of over 30 abstract, hand-drawn pieces, May I Draw is at its core a masterful exploration of line. Strands of gray, black, and white are meticulously arranged into highly complex shapes on Duralar, a material the New-York based artist and season 1 Work of Art reality show contestant uses regularly for its capacity to hold graphite. These particular works are impressive for their symmetry. Braun draws her forms using nothing but a ruler and a mirror, such that they appear stenciled when they are in fact improvised by the artist’s hand.

Braun approaches her craft spontaneously. This process allows her pieces to develop in the moment, often making room for the unplanned. In “Symmetrical Procedure JC-10-1” (2010), for example, a light-gray jagged form is placed inside of a similar, but darker, shape. The two-inch space between both the light and dark forms creates a delicate illusion of having been shaded in — an unforeseen result of a chance process.

While Braun may not previously conceptualize her pieces, she does, however, make a very deliberate choice in using carbon-based mediums, such as graphite and charcoal, as her main tools. “I like the fact that it’s black and white and yet, there’s infinite possibilities,” says Braun. Subtle changes in color from pepper-gray to smoky-vanilla can be captured so expertly with these ingredients. This is seen vividly in her more famous fingering pieces, where the artist’s own fingers, dipped in charcoal, become the drawing instruments (“Finger Panels 1–4”).

Judith Braun, “Symmetrical Procedure JC-10-1” (2010), graphite on paper, 10.5 x 10.5 inches.

It is perhaps in the “jagged contour” works where Braun’s exploration of medium is at its best. Set against a blank backdrop, a circle hovers, a curve floats — these ethereal objects are given life through the fuzzy, carbon lines with which they are drawn. Admittedly, it’s difficult to see the subtle gradations of blurred gray that comprise these shapes from a distance or on a computer screen (and this is possibly true for all of the details present in Braun’s pieces). But in the gallery, where the human eye is urged to explore, space envelops form, form pushes back, and an austere tension develops.

Judith Braun: May I Draw is on view at Joe Scheftel Gallery (24A Orchard Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through April 21. 

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