On a cold and rainy Sunday last autumn, I visited Dawn Clements’s studio in Greenpoint. Before it was converted into art studios, the building was a fabric factory; the windows are big, the wood floors have deep brown pockmarks spread across them. Her studio tables were cluttered with a chandelier, paper ephemera, and other trinkets, like a deconstructed carousel of baubles.
“I make my drawings by sort of crawling across the page,” said Clements, as we looked at a series of recent oversized watercolors she’d pinned up to the studio wall. “What I draw depends on what I find or what I have.”
Clements has round eyes and pale gray hair cropped close to her head a result of chemotherapy. She holds herself still and seems serious but not somber. She chooses her words carefully. In college in New England, she studied film theory and semiotics. Many of Clements’s drawings are drawn frame by frame from classic film melodramas. She reconstructs the rooms in which the characters live, leaving blank spaces where the actors obscured the set on the screen. These drawings have quotes from the films and time signatures noted in the corner (“3:06” or “2:53” or “wish I was there”).
“These aren’t real rooms,” said Clements about her reconstructions. “I can only draw what they give me.” In one drawing, a train dining compartment is rendered around ghostly blank spaces where actors briefly stood. In another, the cushions of a plush sofa, rendered faintly in ballpoint pen, fade into the white of the page. The room appears to be without boundaries. The blank moments in the drawing don’t signify disinterest with humanity, they make it feel too bright to capture. Clements said, “I think it’s interesting how in real life, everyone has these strong feelings but we rarely express them.” It’s as if, overwhelmed with emotion, we’ve had to study the drapes and the floorboards. Read More