When Jonathan Borofsky arrived in New York in 1966, with his freshly minted postgraduate degree from Yale University, his interest was less in the practice of art, than in what leads us to think about the definition of art it suggests and its “raison d’être”. Couching philosophical concepts and aphorisms on paper, he thematizes the routine of “making” art, devoting himself daily to numerical notation in works that were later grouped under the title “Counting from 1 to 3227146.” Over the years Borofsky developed a particular sensitivity for anodine materials that are a familiar presence in everyday life. His work takes shape naturally on paper, for example, a support that is both inexpensive and accessible to all. Meeting the artist Sol LeWitt and the theoretician Lucy Lippard at the start of his career encouraged him to deploy his drawings directly onto the walls of the exhibition venue. His first show at Paula Cooper Gallery in 1975 and a second one at MoMA in 1978 made clear his special affinity for designing the display and arrangement of his works as a single spatial installation.
The large Borofsky drawing 2,260,384 in the Baloise collection is a fine example of his monumental approach to both drawing and the legacy of minimal art. Here the artist limits his interventions as much as possible to allow the human figure to surge out of the white reserve of the sheet of paper. In this body, reduced as it is to a few lines, we can already make out the silhouette and artificial forms of the artist’s large-scale sculptures that would later be installed in city spaces, such as the “Hammering Man” (1989) in Basel’s Aeschenplatz.
But the great inspiration for Borofsky’s drawings lies especially in the artist’s dreams. That can be seen in the page from a small ring notebook 2445660A, where he has drawn a figure armed with a sword and shining a spotlight on a young man seated with his back to the wall in felt-tip pen. In a style that blends the legacy of Philip Guston, a certain influence from Robert Crumb, and a distant reminder of Renaissance classicism, Borofsky asserts his own idiom here. Combining the simplicity of forms with an access to the hermetic world of the unconscious, this idiom surfaces, for example, in the portrait of a character with a hairy hypertrophic head (drawing 2686889). A triangle on its forehead with a point at its center seems to form something like a third eye on this flabbergasted-looking figure. Its head, lacking a neck, rests on what appears to be a leaf with four stems that are akin to the legs of an insect. In this hybrid world where the kingdoms mix and melt into one another, Borofsky also finds animals, like the bird whose flight closely follows a spiral, while a giant fish with an expressive face takes on a barely outlined human form.
A subtle blend of the simplicity of its forms and a visual language that everyone can understand, drawing in Jonathan Borofsky’s work reflects his universalist vision of art, which has taken shape on the fringes of the great urban centers, independent of contemporary trends.
Julie Enckell Julliard