Critical Essay 2: James Siena’s “Upside Down Devil Variation”

Whenever I look at pieces of art work, I try to go into the mind of the artist and figure out what was going on in their head when they were first thinking about the work and also while they were creating the piece. Sometimes however, I just have absolutely no idea what they were thinking.

One day between my classes, I decided to take a trip down to the Fine Arts Center Gallery. They had just put up a new show and as I was examining the wall of works, not many of them were catching my attention. They were not making me go “Wow,” as only a few can. Not until I saw this drawing.


This an engraving on some type of special foreign extra white paper entitled “Upside Down Devil Variation” by James Siena. He made this piece in 2004 and it is roughly 19 inches by 15 inches.

Although the concept of this piece is in itself very simple, it is so complex that the simplicity is drowned out by the complexity. I would go crazy trying to draw all of those lines that perfectly for such a long amount of time. He may have been using a ruler but even if he did it still is a very impressive piece of work. I suppose that it is what he may have been thinking when he was making this, “WHEN WILL I BE DONE?!” On his website it said that this was one version of 42 others. Does that mean that he made 41 other types of this exact same drawing? Again, very impressive.

This work is basically the exact opposite of the economy of line project that we did in class. Unlike where we had to make the most out of the least amount of lines possible, Siena used an over abundance of lines to create his work. By bunching many lines together he created areas of value that helped to create focal points and areas of interest. He also created implied lines by having the extending lines come up to a point and stop, thus creating the illusion of even more lines.

Going back to the time when I first saw this work of art, I had to stop and just look and examine the work. Even now when I am looking at it again, it just about gives me goose bumps. I know that looking at something in person is far more impactful then just looking at a small image on a computer screen. But if an artist has made such a work of art that it is still very influential and makes people stop and look then they have achieved something great.