DRAWING SPACE, the current and very good show at Suyama Space, is devoted to the work of artists who prefer working out an idea with their hands, not their heads. Curated by Beth Sellars, and featuring four Seattle artists and one Oregonian, Drawing Space uses a very broad definition of "drawing," one which includes both Robert Yoder's collaged road signs and Victoria Haven's rubber bands stretched across nails driven into the wall. This inclusiveness argues for a definition of drawing that has more to do with what it does than how it's made. In this definition, drawing's primary function is to suggest or depict physical space, and -- in the work of three of the five artists -- to complicate that suggestion by drawing forms which are more or less impossible in the three-dimensional world.

Lauri Chambers spent three years becoming a specialist in the field of impossible forms. Her lengthy series of "Radix Drawings" uses graphite lines on small rectangles of thick drawing paper to create a radically non-Euclidean set of forms. Judging by the evidence of partially visible erasures, Chambers starts from a fairly simple shape (like a parallelogram), then systematically alters the shape, moving line segments and erasing until she achieves a satisfying composition. These compositions typically involve between five and ten line segments, a minimal array which in Chambers' hand suggests wonderfully complex, impossible forms.

In this exhibition, a couple dozen of Chambers' drawings are arranged by year, though there is no discernible "development" during any particular year. Instead, the three years look like a long-term meditation -- a concerted effort at getting fresh results out of repetitive actions. As this attempt is made on one sheet of paper at a time, with no apparent collective goal, each individual piece looks just like -- and completely unlike -- the others. This suggests that the activity never became rote to Chambers. She never got to the point where the process became easy or familiar, and if she did reach that point, that's when she quit making them, and moved on.

D.E. May, a Salem artist who shows primarily in Portland, makes drawings that are like illustrations of Freud's concept of the Uncanny. Unheimlich, in Freud's German, literally translates as un-homelike; in his take on the subject, Freud writes that the uncanny must start from the recognizable in order to truly shock with its supernatural qualities. The strange must start from the familiar; otherwise, it's just weird.

This may seem a heavy burden to impose on May's slight drawings, which largely depict chests of drawers, but they can take it. May's work derives from the tradition of draftsmanship, not drawing: the visual language of design professions. Using collage and various mark-makers on found cardboard or particle board, he shows the front of a dresser, or another rectilinear domestic object, and changes just enough details to insert an implausibility and a curiosity into the form. The drawings hover, as a result, between pure schematic rendering and pure imagination. That May accomplishes this on such a small scale and with such modest subject matter makes his work even more appealing.

Victoria Haven shows one large-scale piece, also made using modest means. Interior Exterior is nothing more than nails driven into the wall with black elastic bands stretched between them, but it has a lot of presence. Haven's piece sits comfortably in between a rigorous questioning of geometric representation and a loose drawing: it's both a formalist, conceptual work and an act of expressive, find-it-out-as-you-go sketching.

Robert Yoder's now-familiar collaged typography starts to look more representational amid the other artists' suggestions of three-dimensionality -- less like a lost alphabet and more like, say, the plans to an ancient city. Robert Jones rounds out the show with a large group of abstractions based on the female form: add a round lump here, smooth away a complication there. Both fit well into the show's spatial theme while taking it in other directions.

Beth Sellars is to be commended for Drawing Space, which is the best-curated group show of local artists I've seen. Avoiding regional self-promotion or superficial links, she's selected a group of artists with interesting things to say to each other, and given them a nice room for that conversation.

Support The Stranger