Barbara Drucker: Calendar Notations

Barbara Drucker’s “Calendar Notations” may initially strike viewers as enigmatic. Their minimalist collections of painted green, white, red and purple Avery dots arranged in rigorously gridded arrays force a kind of mathematical mood. The first question they seem to pose is what kind of formula might have generated their abacus-like patterns. Then, gradually, they come into focus for what they are: highly abstracted calendar pages with colored dots that stand for days. Each of the twelve paintings has seven columns, twenty-eight to thirty-one dots, and top rows that begin where the dots at the bottom of the previous one leave off.

Yet even when this recognition dawns on us, the meaning of the colors remains a puzzle. Red, green, white and purple dots are unevenly distributed throughout the calendar pages, forming a small diagonal line of red here, a vertical rectangle of white there, an L-shaped patch of green, or a swath of purple. Red dots often appear isolated within fields of green or white. One can only guess that they connote something like “red-letter days.” The main concentration of purple falls in an area of the year (somewhere near the end of winter) that suggests a holiday season like Easter. In fact, the color choices are based on a Roman Catholic religious calendar, where red stands for Saints’ Days and purple for Lent, and colors are associated with emotional states such as purity, sadness, passion and mourning. Green stands for “ordinary” days as opposed to “sacred” ones. Yet Drucker has deliberately omitted any identifying text in order to give the calendar a more “generic” significance unassociated with any particular religion and more easily associated with the seasonal cycles of nature that religious holidays often follow.

What the calendar paintings ask us to think about, it seems, is something more like the relationship of the individual to a larger social structure of communal events. A calendar, after all, is a tool for organizing social life, with particular days or periods set aside for social interaction (going to church, celebrating a holiday with family, remembering the social significance of a particular historical event like national independence, or in an agrarian community simply communally harvesting particular crops). The calendar paintings thus become symbols of the reliance of individuals on the social world around them (and that world’s reliance upon the natural world), while remaining open-ended about the specific kinds of things that best hold a community together. 

Of course, just as individuals cannot exist in the absence of a social support network, social structures rarely succeed if they do not accommodate individual differences. And this may in a strange way account for another element of the calendar paintings. While the artist could easily have chosen to use pre-colored Avery dots for the work, she chose white Avery dots and meticulously painted each and every one (even the white ones). Viewed up close, the dots retain the stroke of the brush with which they were painted - the kind of gestural evidence that tends to connote individual expression. And while the act of painting each dot is an attempt to “individualize” it, the painting of each and every dot is like the act of “attending to” each and every individual who will make up the social structure of the whole.

Barbara Drucker’s “Calendar Notations” are highly abstract works, based, as they are, on the format of the calendar. Yet we miss the point if we remain at the beginning point of abstraction, since the artist has invested the forms with aesthetic elements that call attention to the human social and individual lives that are implied by the idea of calendars. While she starts out counting days, for example, she ends up counting people. And what begins by looking like a mysterious mathematical grid grows as we contemplate it into an organically patterned symbol of some utopian social order in which all persons (or dots) have a place that does not unduly distort their individual differences. While forcing us to stare at forms we might consider to be mere abstract divisions of mathematical time, Barbara Drucker makes us contemplate “time” otherwise --- as the interweaving of social and individual life within the cycles of nature.

Peter Kosenko, Los Angeles, CA