by Mira Dayal
After speaking with New York artist Yvette Drury Dubinsky about her latest A.I.R. exhibition, the process and development of Tondos, Tornadoes, Torpedoes gained clear historical significance and context within the artist’s body of work. The gallery walls showcase two parallel attempts to document not only Dubinsky’s travels and visual vocabulary, but also a global anxiety over the preservation and security of people, places, and ruins.
In her work, Dubinsky plays with a careful balance between mathematical precision (of roads, linear marks, and perfect circles) and inaccuracy (of paint drips, bleeding, and smears); this balance seems to reflect the way in which the artist views the world. “I do think things are partly chance, partly planned. There is a balance of the left and right brains.” This connects to the artist’s own past. Discouraged and uncomfortable with the idea of being an artist, and told by her father, “You have to support yourself,” she transferred out of art school to become a student of sociology. Her academic work was not far from the issues she thinks through with her art; a study on housing projects led her into research on social issues. Still, this work was “more heady than arty.” After taking time off from work to have a family, she decided it was time to return to the workforce– but this time doing what she really enjoyed. “It was, and still is, a process of letting go… continually letting yourself do it. I like printmaking because there is always an element of chance. I love process.”
An interest in process has clearly been a part of her work leading up to Tondos, Tornadoes, and Torpedoes— from digitally scanning vegetables when scanning machines first became available to learning about the chemicals involved in photography to make small and precise works, the artist has engaged herself with materiality, form, and content enough to be able to showcase her mastery of multiple processes in tandem.
Returning to the show, Dubinsky ponders tondos, referring to the roundness of the work. Aleppo Drowning and other works in the series are composed of several literal and figurative layers; the first is hot press watercolor paper with a print of the old city maps Dubinsky collected in her travels to Syria. Above this, pressed pistachios, chance mark-making, and painted fish swim beneath Japanese paper. The pistachios were collected while the artist was in the Middle East; in fact, she worried they would be sniffed out by the airport dogs but was thankfully able to bring them back to her studios. The fish connect to populations and to the artist’s work on Cape Cod; Dubinksy sees fish as “victims of the other peoples’ business.” On the Cape, the lives of fish are threatened by polluted oceans and trash. In the Middle East, “the fish are the public”, whose lives are threatened by the politics of external conflicts and violence.
In this way, place, subject, and vulnerabilities are compressed into one world much like our own, where rebels, governments, and ISIS have now destroyed many of the ancient ruins depicted in Dubinsky’s maps of Syria. A place rich with Jewish, Christian, and Islamic history, the ruins were for the artist “so beautiful, so old… magical.” Her relationship with the country extends to the people, many of whom she still supports. The rounds of paper in her work then reference the world that the artist attempts to connect with and make sense of through art. The difficulty and adventure of life and art are sources of anxiety for her, but also of pleasure: “I like the challenge of making work… I like not knowing, being surprised by it. I like the play.” Her next trip will be from Prague to Budapest by bike.
Recommended read: The Road to Damascus by Elaine Rippey Imady