'Look Really Deeply': Artist Drew Liverman's 'Premember'
“Generally when you see art in a show, the show’s done, and it’s really what happened five months ago or a year ago,” says Phillip Niemeyer, the curator of Northern-Southern Gallery. “But with this, it’s so instant. And yet, it’s coherent as well. The fact that it’s changing as he paints it. When people comment upon [the work], it’s changing the show.”
He’s talking about ‘Premember,’ the current showing of new works by artist Drew Liverman. As a pandemic-era exhibition, it’s not gathered together in a physical space but instead shared online, where the collection is growing weekly as Liverman creates new work. “I’ve basically just been doing some drawings of local buildings, businesses,” Liverman says. “It started more as just kind of drawing the business landscape, if you will, on my way from my house to my studio. I’ve been doing just drawings of the inside of my house for years, and a lot more during the pandemic – just being kind of trapped at home and stuff. So this was sort of a way to kind of break out of that a little bit.”
Living on the eastside, Liverman found himself painting a lot of longstanding local businesses in the 7th Street area – places he started to realize he’d maybe taken for granted in the past. “It seemed like once the pandemic and quarantine had kind of gone into full affect and you hear about all the places around town closing and stuff like that, these places that you just kind of take for granted and don’t really think about become these sort of more vulnerable, human-feeling places,” he says. “They kind of take on a new life because of just the state of the economic reality.”
That feeling of vulnerability inspired Niemeyer to suggest the title ‘Premember’ for the collection, as a way of describing the feeling of paying closer attention now to things that might not always be here. “When I look at Drew’s drawings of these places that we’ve taken for granted, but have become so much a part of the Austin that we know,” he says, “it reminds me of the feeling, when I was younger, of looking at my grandmother’s face when she was older. And every time I’d look at her, I’d think ‘Look really deeply. Look really closely. Remember, remember, remember.’ It’s an act of trying to freeze the present for the future, or to laminate a memory. And that’s what I see in his work.”
Liverman says when he began this collection, he wasn’t thinking much about the future of these businesses or whether they’d survive the current economic downturn. “It’s more like the ‘interesting stranger’s face in the crowd’ approach to picking out a subject,” he says. “But now, the more I’ve been working on it and people have seen it, there’s been more comments… about places that are maybe going to get demolished or moved or the building’s going to be gone or something like that. So that’s becoming something that’s influencing the project as it continues.”
“You could take pictures of these places, very easily,” Niemeyer says. “But there’s something about his act of drawing, of physically being in them. There’s something emotional that’s preserved. There’s something warm. You’re seeing them through eyes that are working hard to see every part. He’s seeing for us a city that we love, and a city we’re afraid of losing.”