Tony Orrico takes the basic ingredients of drawing-a mark-making implement, an agent to move it, a surface and the time elapsed during the process-and intensifies them to a thrilling degree. With sticks of graphite clenched in his fists, he performs series of repeated, varied movements engaging his entire body over predetermined periods of time, or until certain numbers of strokes, cycles or rotations are completed. The drawings that result are strikingly beautiful traces of his actions, resonant with the ritualized, meditative, physically demanding processes that produced them.
Orrico has performed his drawings publicly in a variety of locales in the U.S. and Europe since 2009. This is his first gallery exhibition. In addition to 10 works on paper (all 2011), Orrico created a wall drawing on site. For each of its three parts, he stood in a single position for four hours, markers in both hands, moving his arms in unison to the length of his reach. The dense, scraggly masses of blue-black line that accreted over the allotted time resemble the twinned lobes of the brain, tangled with internal circuitry. “Penwald,” the collective title of all the drawings, refers to a learned ambidexterity; Orrico’s physical acts pay tribute to the cerebral engine that drives them.
Most of the drawings assume the form of whole or partial circles, taking measure of the span of Orrico’s outstretched arms or the arc circumscribed by the motion of his wrist. A DVD playing in the gallery shows the artist, a trained dancer, in action, and the subtitles of the works indicate the posture or duration involved. For Penwald: 3: circle on knees (studio impression 2), Orrico swung his graphite-wielding arms brusquely forward and backward, rhythmically lifting and lowering his knees to rotate his body. The drawing represents the sum of eight laps and contains all the dynamism of its making, the lines strong and swift, punctuated by a spray of small, dark dabs, like seeds in a centrifuge.
Orrico created the largest work in the show before an invited audience a few days prior to the opening. With balletic athleticism, he drew a wreath of eight interlocking rings on a roughly 20-foot-square expanse of paper comprising 25 sheets. Each ring is the culmination of a distinct, bilateral gesture made while lying on his stomach and using his bare feet to turn his body like the hand of a clock. He completed the self-prescribed eight laps around the platform in just under two hours, his skin slick with sweat and the silvery sheen of graphite. Orrico’s feats of endurance owe much to Marina Abramovi´c (he was one of the “re-performers” in her recent MoMA retrospective), and bring to mind as well Richard Long’s poetic transcriptions of presence and Jackson Pollock’s physically immersive webs. With elegance and concision, the drawings exalt the symmetry and proportions of the human form. They dynamically reprise Leonardo’s Vitruvian man, the vacant middle of each of Orrico’s circles a smudged ode to what the Renaissance polymath suggestively called man’s “center of magnitude.”
Photo: Tony Orrico: Penwald 4: unison symmetry standing, 2011, marker on wall, approx. 6½ by 8 feet; at Shoshana Wayne.