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Drawings by Karl Haendel at Sorcha Dallas, 2006

Karl Haendel’s precise, photographic drawings crowd the gallery spaces impressively at Sorcha Dallas. There is a tendency towards asymmetric arrangements and some of the works are stacked, leaning against the wall as though discarded or awaiting selection to be hung. This is the most inventive part of Haendel’s process, allowing surprising relationships to emerge between his apparently random images. Cartoons from The New Yorker (often depicting psychoanalytic sessions) share wall space with enlarged drawings of disembodied eyes. Allusions to the colour black occur not merely in the drawings’ murkiest tonal depths, but also in their verbal content; the work ‘Untitled (black wave)’ 2006 depicts a newspaper headline that reads ‘experts warn of black wave that could sweep universe and end life’.

A cartoon of a dog in therapy, captioned (in mirror-writing) ‘I can smell my own fear’, is echoed in a close-up photographic rendering of a cute dog’s head entitled ‘My Shrink’s Dog “prone”’, 2006.

There is something quite Hitchcockian about the persistency of some of these motifs; however the viewer doesn’t get terribly far by trying to make Jungian links between them. To quote the theorist Slavoj Zizek (writing about Hitchcock) these images are ‘not signifiers’, rather they serve to ‘give body, in their repetitive pattern, to some elementary matrix of excessive enjoyment’.

In Haendel’s case, a visceral pleasure in the thick layering of graphite on watercolour paper is combined with black and white photography and news media, a corporate chiaroscuro reminiscent of Barbara Kruger’s commercially-inspired conceptualism. This is of course a somewhat outmoded aesthetic, given that today’s corporate culture—both on the web and in print—blazes with colour; while the drawing style seems likewise charmingly ‘vintage’ (more 1980s albumcover than Gerhard Richter). Furthermore, in contrast to Kruger’s adaptation of billboards and posters, Haendel’s work exploits the current art-world fascination for drawings as fetishised objects displayed under glass (in slick black frames) or pinned directly to the wall, their textures given luxurious emphasis under the hot gallery lights.

Perhaps the greatest frustration for the viewer comes in trying to interpret the works both as interrelated images and as products of their titles and captions, a task which seems ultimately futile. However, what is ultimately most compelling about these drawings is that, whilst they remain thoroughly enigmatic as a collection of signs, many of them build an aspect of narrative density within their own borders—often through the inclusion of surprisingly lengthy hand-drawn passages of text. Many of these reproductions of newspaper excerpts and anonymous quotes are accomplished in such a way that the text can be read clearly by the viewer. Consequently—amid all the stylised fragmentation—parts of the stories remain intact, allowing the viewer, at odd, unnerving moments, to engage with subjects of moral and psychological weight.

Lawrence Figgis is an artist living in Glasgow