Visual Art

A Minimal Mark

Brock expresses his vision in charcoal alone

Hope Greene, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

COAL PLUS SOUL. Artist David Brock displays some of his charcoal drawings in his office at UW-Eau Claire. His work will be on display at the Volume One Gallery March 6-April 24.
COAL PLUS SOUL. Artist David Brock displays some of his charcoal drawings in his office at UW-Eau Claire.
His work will be on display at the Volume One
Gallery March 6-April 24.

David Brock is finding freedom in limitation. In the small mint-green room at the Haas Fine Arts Center that he calls both office and studio, he has been drawing all winter. In final preparation for the opening of his show at the Volume One Gallery, “Simulacra,” the little room holds stacks of drawings, charcoal-marked white paper echoing the view from the one and only window, the ground folding down toward the river, black scratchings of trees against the white winter. Since coming to Eau Claire over a decade ago, Brock’s work has been easily recognizable by his bold style of painting that simplifies landscape elements into energetic color blocks bordered by black lines. With these new drawings, he has taken a different road and set aside the weight of paint for the lightness of a smudge of coal.

The drawings are by necessity of space small, many of them only 9”x9”, and though the medium has changed, the work strongly continues Brock’s fascination with landscape. “I do this sometimes. When I feel I’m running into redundancy, I go back to drawing,” says Brock, an art lecturer at UW-Eau Claire. He spoke of the frustration of finding himself working on paintings for a year or more and ending up with a mute block with a whole lot of paint on it. “I felt painting becoming more a formula and less about pushing myself,” he says. “There wasn’t that excitement of discovery that was there in drawing. It’s immediate and quick.” Originally the new drawings were simple catharsis against stagnation, but when offered the opportunity to exhibit work at Volume One, Brock decided to give the drawings his full attention and they began to grow into something more. On the slight sheets of paper with the color and thickness of paint removed, those hard black borderlines in his earlier paintings have woken up and come out to play.

Brock paints what he sees, the landscape in his work is here, the Wisconsin we’re all walking around in, though sifted so far down in search of its essence that it seems it could be imaginary. “They’re filtered through sketches and photography and then by chucking things over my shoulder as I’m going,” he says. “I don’t need this thing, I don’t need that thing. Maybe it (the drawing) becomes the landscape horizon line or becomes this pattern, maybe the bushes themselves, maybe the patterning of a road.” The form in the drawings is very minimal, the action is in the pressures and rhythms of Brock making marks on the paper, creating drawings that are immediate, intimate, and with all the energy of an improvisation.

In the cold window light of an Eau Claire February afternoon, as he sifts through the spare, monochrome drawings on his small work tables, happily pointing out certain beloved lines and gestures, Brock gives off a core-deep joy in the simple action of moving a burned stick across a piece of paper, an activity where the delighted child-scribbler and the mature artist can merge in the excitement of discovery together. As he says, “With charcoal there’s no middle man, when you look at these you are looking at the artist.” No specialist equipment here, no pixels or toxic pigments, these drawings of our home landscape are basic carbon and artist, two most ancient elements.

Simulacra: New Drawings by David Brock • March 6-April 24 • opening reception Friday, March 6, 6:30-8:30pm • Volume One Gallery, 205 N. Dewey St., Eau Claire • FREE • (715) 552-0457 •