'Day Job' at the Drawing Center; Steve DiBenedetto's 'Who Wants to Know?' at David Nolan

Plus George Widener's 'Dates' at Ricco Maresca Gallery

The hoary advice handed to first-time novelists­—"Write about what you know"­—may not have an equivalent in the visual arts, but the ever-inventive Drawing Center makes a pretty good case for the daily grind as inspiration's primary source. For this engaging, refreshingly candid exhibit, curator Nina Katchadourian asked members of the museum's Viewing Program, a registry of under-recognized artists, to submit pieces influenced by their means of support, otherwise known as "day jobs." Culled from 300 responses, the selections range from delightful fantasies to fascinating takes on the mundane.

Chris Akin, a guard at Houston's Menil Collection, stares at a lot of famous paintings, but finds himself enthralled by the floor, sketching different views of its angular outlines—Minimalist geometric studies, which almost appear like charts of Akin's introspection. Likewise, Harvey Tulcensky (art handler) and Shawn Kuruneru (artist's assistant) transform the monotony of their daily tasks into obsessive mark-making, inking paper with super-dense clouds of dots or slashes that suggest an intense kind of therapy.

The jobs' influences are often more direct. The paintings of Tom Hooper, who creates effects and props for One Life to Live, emerge over the course of a day on an illustration board, which accumulates accidents and experiments. The marvelous Misinterpret floats a sketched character from the soap opera in a turbulent sea of color tests, paint spills, and penciled notes. Across the gallery, medical illustrator Roberto Osti assumes a Dr. Frankenstein alter ego, drawing the color-coded musculature of a horned shaman, while Mary Lydecker, a landscape architect, seamlessly splices together (with scissors and tape) scenes from different picture postcards, creating discordant and unsettling new vistas.

Must be some place to work: Roberto Osti's Shaman in Spring, 2008
Courtesy the artist
Must be some place to work: Roberto Osti's Shaman in Spring, 2008

Elsewhere, in a short documentary, Julia Oldham, who makes science videos, amusingly describes a failed collaboration with two physicists, sketching symbols of logic to diagram the trio's personal struggles. It's a charming work that, like many others here, stretches the notion of drawing and carries a comforting message: The urge to make art can thrive just about anywhere.

Steve DiBenedetto: 'Who Wants to Know?'
Ever watch an amusement park at night with your eyes dilated by good dope? That's how it feels to stand in front of Steve DiBenedetto's recent paintings and drawings. Much less representational than earlier efforts, the new works present complex, vaguely mechanical systems of spirals, blobs, angular constructions, and tangled tubing—all connected and glowing like neon.

When DiBenedetto's favorite subjects (octopus, helicopter, building) do occasionally make an appearance, as in Spiral, they're pretty much overwhelmed by the dream-state kaleidoscope. Yet for all the chaos of line, form, and loose brushwork, he keeps things under control with the careful placement of pinks, oranges, yellows, and greens, expertly balancing their vibrancy like a latter-day Fauvist. David Nolan Gallery, 527 W 29th, 212-925-6190. Through January 8

George Widener: 'Dates'
Examine the exquisitely shaded background of George Widener's Blue Monday Reversal and you'll find that what appears to be stippling is actually a series of minutely written dates—all the Mondays, between the years 2000 and 3000. A savant diagnosed with Asperger's, Widener derives much of his art from the stunning calculations he performs with days and years, arranging numbers into complex matrices, variously playful, poignant, or inscrutable. His large engraving-like work 4421—dominated by rows of mysterious horizontal blocks—displays the results of a personal numerology applied to that far-in-the-future year. Similarly, in Huge Disasters, the dates of major catastrophes appear in clever mathematical grids known as magic squares. The Titanic, a recurring motif for the artist (a George Widener died in the sinking), gets its own work, which surrounds the ship with years it might have known.

Drawn on glued-together scraps of found paper with blocky, old-fashioned type, the pieces often suggest puzzles from century-old books. But Widener is always imagining the future, most obviously in the tidy, symmetrical cities from his Megalopolis series. Less apparent is his interest in the so-called "technological singularity," a speculated time when computers are more intelligent than humans: Those numerals he circles are codes for robots. Quirky and original, Widener's work will surely have long-term appeal—whether for man or machine. Ricco Maresca Gallery, 529 W 20th, 212-627-4819. Through December 29

 
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