James Drake: Salon of a Thousand Souls

Editor | SantaFe.com - September 20, 2011

“Drake’s work has a sense of gravitas..."

James Drake: Salon of a Thousand Souls

One-person exhibition at the New Mexico Museum of Art

Throughout his career, James Drake has examined the theme of humanity in all of its triumphs, failures, and follies—including war; love and desire; greed, gluttony, and vanity; and the realities of life along the U.S.-Mexico border. The New Mexico Museum of Art exhibition James Drake: Salon of a Thousand Souls includes 19 sculptures and works on paper by the Santa Fe-based artist spanning nearly 25 years.

The contrast of baroque embellishment and hard-edge geometry characterizes Drake’s work as a whole in the exhibition, whose title suggests a meeting place where ideas and images are gathered for discussion. Salon of a Thousand Souls highlights the recurrent use of guns, mirrors, and vehicles of industry to explore modernity’s impact on human civilization. It also includes examples of Drake’s use of appropriation and allegory as strategies to underscore the cyclical nature of history. Among the works to be shown are a never-before-exhibited 21-foot red pastel drawing and a wall drawing executed by the artist in the museum specifically for this exhibition.

James Drake has dedicated much of his creative life to a critique of social, political and economic issues faced by American society. In doing so, he has positioned art as a catalyst for social change.

“Drake’s work has a sense of gravitas in terms of subject matter; it could be described as epic in its scope,” says exhibition curator Laura Addison. “Salon of a Thousand Souls analyzes how art can be a vehicle to address inequities that remain, unfortunately, timeless. Through his masterful handling of steel, charcoal, pastel, and collage, he brings beauty to rawness and gives voice to the marginalized.”

Drake’s earliest works in the exhibition are of steel and charcoal, and were a response to the tensions along the U.S.-Mexico border, which have only intensified in recent years. Living in El Paso at the time, Drake interpreted the border issues as just one chapter of the larger human story. He continues to view the world through this same lens, universalizing war, industry, and progress as narratives of the human condition that repeat endlessly.

Since moving to Santa Fe, Drake’s work has been primarily large-scale charcoal drawings, as well as cut-paper works and red-pastel drawings. The source material for his imagery is not only particular news reports, but also mythology and the personal struggles and stories of family, friends and strangers. Salon of a Thousand Souls brings together all of these narratives and draws a picture of James Drake as a humanist telling cautionary tales.

During his 35-year career, James Drake has worked with equal fluency in video, photography, sculpture, drawing, and printmaking. He has had over 60 one-person shows and has been included in numerous group exhibitions, including the 2000 Whitney Biennial and the 2007 Venice Biennale.

The exhibition opens with a free reception on Friday, October 28, 2011. It remains on view through April 22, 2012.