David Row at Betsy Senior
April, 1999
by Alfred Mac Adam

David Row, Time Line, 170.2, 1988, monotype on handmade paper, 30″ x 44″. Betsy Senior

David Row’s stunning monotypes define a problem that has concerned artists and thinkers throughout this century: the unresolvable conflict between continuity and discontinuity. Is human existence continuous because of memory and repetition or is it discontinuous because each passing second is unique?

The cinema, the philosophy of Henri Bergson, and Freud’s invention of the subconscious all facilitated our 20th-century faith in coherence, which we see metaphorically in Muybridge’s photographs of people in motion or in Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. Row makes the case for the other side.

These nine monotypes are snapshots of discontinuity. Whirling over the surface, Row’s signature looping line breaks down into discrete arcs of blue, gray, and black. The differences, like those between his rich but restrained colors, mark the discrepancy between individual and species, showing as well that the person I am today is not necessarily the one I was yesterday.

Row also divides the picture’s horizontal axis-generally into three planes—once again confronting the viewer with discontinuity. We assume the divi- sions are parts of a totality, but they are actually inde- pendent of one another. This questioning of unity reappears in the illusory depth our eyes create on these planes: the foreground is not always linked to the background.

The process by which Row, together with David Lasry of Two Palms Press, produced this series of monotypes is bafflingly complex. Yet even here, where a single drawing is printed using several plates, continuity collapses into multiplicity. This breakdown of coherence marks Row’s foray into a new esthetics.