Kenyon College

The Recognizable Image Drawings: The Counties of Kansas


Artist: Allan McCollum (American, b.1944)
Title of Work: The Recognizable Image Drawings: The Counties of Kansas
Year: 2003
Material: Graphite on paper
Dimensions: 9′ 3/18″ x 9′ 3/16″ x 1′ 1/4″ 
Photo Line: Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College
Collection Credit: Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio. Ruth Roush Fund for Contemporary Art, 2004.8.1-105.

What makes an image recognizable? Allan McCollum plays with this idea in his series of Recognizable Image Drawings. McCollum worked alongside Kansas residents turned artist assistants to create this sequence of graphite drawings of the each county in the state. These black and white, high contrast, simplistic images of the counties serve to abstract and also clarify the way that we look at our surroundings.
The removals of details, such as roads, buildings and bodies of water, result in a manipulated version of the county. At the same time, the drawings depict a deeper understanding of the land. In reference to this series, McCollum stated: “There’s a significance to the term ‘recognizable.’ Number one, most people don’t recognize their own counties, and I like that paradox, because you probably should, but we don’t. I don’t know what the county I grew up in looks like” (Review, Kansas City, Missouri, 2003).
Made up of 105 drawings, McCollum’s series embodies the large variety of information a single state can contain. The quantity, and repeated multiples style of this series reoccur throughout McCollum’s body of work. The artist uses large numbers of objects to emphasize repetition in the world around him. Although his process employs methods of mass production, each individual work retains unique qualities. Here, the images are similar in color and size, but the contours of each shape describe the boundaries of each individual county. The Recognizable Image Drawings entertain the desire for legibility and identity, while also questioning themes of difference and individualism. Even if we are familiar with our land, do we know it when we see it?

–Alea Abrams ‘12 Gund Gallery Associates