Here We Are Now
Gretchen Bennett Colors In Kurt Cobain
Everything that Gretchen Bennett makes is a sort of humbled afterlife of something else, usually something geographic: cut street stickers arranged to represent images of her old neighborhood in Brooklyn; labels from used-up water bottles reassembled and mounted pristinely on paper in the shape of Mount Rainier; and now, colored-pencil portraits of YouTube videos that revolve around a dead man, Kurt Cobain. It isn't that Bennett is stuck in the past; it's as if, like a musician covering a song, she waits for just the right time to pull certain pasts through to now.
Drawing may be old-fashioned, but drawing that looks like a cross between Dürer etchings, luminist landscapes, and degraded photographs and that's made from lowly colored pencils is not. Also, this is an official announcement: Unlike, say, five years ago, it is now possible to make art about Kurt Cobain without it being wrong. This moment may soon pass, and he may take on newly unpleasant glosses, but for now, he is the perfect balance of lost and found.
Bennett made 10 drawings by transferring YouTube stills to slides and projecting them onto the paper. The slightly trapezoidal, rather than rectangular, outlines of the drawings are a subtle reminder that this source material is the epitome of distortion, of noise and change. In one sense, the images—stills from the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video, from Gus Van Sant's film Last Days, and from concert videos—are so overdetermined as to be meaningless. This stuff has congealed into all the generalities and clichés that are implied by Cobain's scoliotic slump and the hair obscuring his face.
But the drawings manage to carve out a personal counterpoint, too. Bennett is a Northwest native, she was in Seattle while Cobain was alive, and she still gets a certain shock when she sees Krist Novoselic walking down the street. Her soft, streaky drawings, with their largely vertical, rainlike lines, exude quiet compassion for people who've transformed into icons. But it isn't just the people, it's the rainy city itself. This was the end of Seattle's privacy, for good and bad.