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Tucson Weekly Drawing Inspiration

A New Collection By Bailey Doogan Is One Of The Strongest In Years.

By Margaret Regan

OCTOBER 19, 1998:  SEARING. LUMINOUS. Powerful: These aren't the kind of words usually applied to drawings, but Bailey Doogan's 12 charcoal works at the University of Arizona Museum of Art deserve every one of them, and more. There's no getting around it. Bailey Doogan: A Survey of Drawings: 1988- 1998, a drawing installation in the UA faculty show, is one of the strongest exhibitions to open in Tucson in ages.

A professor of painting and drawing, Doogan has commandeered one whole room at the museum, covering its walls with giant, confrontational charcoals of the naked human body, particularly the defiant flesh of older women.

There are two images of the dead.

The remains of a 3-year-old boy, a real-life child savagely beaten by his mother's boyfriend in Tucson in 1987, float across the paper in "C.A.N. Death (Child Abuse and Neglect)," 1990, a charcoal and pastel on gessoed paper. His eyes are open, still registering the look of puzzlement he must have cast on his murderer at the moment of death. The glowing black and white of Doogan's drawing re-sanctifies his tortured flesh and restores him to the sacred. The only color is the red of the blood on his chest, and the pastels of the ponies and pigs printed on the baby sheet that is his shroud.

"The Hard Place (for Mairead Farrell)," 1990, a charcoal and dry point on gessoed paper, is a wall-sized elegy for an Irish woman slaughtered in Gibraltar by a British counter-insurgency unit. An Irish Republican Army member, Farrell and two companions were unarmed when the soldiers shot them at close range, according to an informational sheet written by Doogan. The artist records the red blood draining out of the dead woman's ear, but her rendering of Farrell transcends the violent political oppression that led to her death.

The black-and-white drawing, built in layers of charcoal and gesso, is beautiful...and still. Farrell's body is draped in cloth and its complicated cascade of folds flicker between shadow and light. The monumental corpse cuts diagonally across the big sheet of paper, endowing the composition with a classical dignity on the order of "The Death of Marat," David's ode to a leader of the French Revolution. Farrell's own words are inscribed at the edges of the piece: She speaks of finding the hard place within herself that her tormentors will never reach.

Doogan's merging of words with images has a link to her long-ago work as an advertising artist. "Pour It On," a 1998 pastel on curved, gessoed linen, a re-do of her original design for the Morton Salt Box, is a humorous nod to that advertising past. This funny piece reunites her commercial art with her fine-art concerns. Replacing the perky little girl under the umbrella is an aging woman, the curves of her soft flesh lovingly detailed. Woman's body re-imagined and re-imaged is one of Doogan's great themes. She has long painted the changes in female bodies over time, their soft flesh, as she puts it in an artist's statement, "carry(ing) the evidence of weight, gravity, time and experience."

One whole wall of drawings challenges our cultural discomfort with these body changes, and probes limiting anti-woman stereotypes of all stripes. "Angry Aging Bitch (RIB)" is a drawing of three, near life-size female figures, facing forward confronting the viewer, their older bodies realistic chronicles of their long life histories. "Virgin/Whore (GO)" again pictures two women, their identities rigidly conferred on them by the two labels that once mapped out the whole of allowable female sexuality.

Doogan has assayed her own face in a series of scratchboard drawings from 1993. She doesn't stoop to self-flattery--she records the wrinkles and droops in a wonderfully fine line--but she does make of her own visage an encyclopedia of possibility. She draws the face of a woman who doesn't accept false limits. Powerful in black and white, this is a woman who shouts, who ponders, who purses her lips; the face of a woman who takes all of life to be her province.


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