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Archive for the ‘Master drawings’ Category

13AnatomyYesterday was the ninth of twelve classes in this fall term.  We had been working on all sorts of topics:  drapery, still life, shading, three-dimensionality, hands, faces, contrapposto, composition, upside-down drawing, the works.  All difficult issues.  Why not add more difficulty, I thought, and give them the difficulty of choosing what to work from.  I set up a still life and brought in images of faces & hands to struggle with.  And then one more thing:  pages from Barcsay’s anatomy book.  To my surprise, most of the class went for the challenges of anatomy.  It’s the driest of topics, but there they were, eagerly gathering around the table where the xerox copies of the muscles and bones were spread out.

You get a work out when you try to draw all these muscles in their right place. It’s an accomplishment in itself and a valuable exercise that helps you draw more loosely and with more confidence when you face the live mode.

When the anatomical studies are placed on the same page, crammed together and made to partially overlap, the result is greater than the sum of its parts.  The page (above, by Gaby Edgerton) is clearly about studying anatomy, but the rhythm created by these dense forms nudges the composition out of mere academia and into the category “art.”

13BarcsayMusclesJenö Barcsay’s (1900-1988) anatomy book has been around for about forty years.  I like to use it in class, because the illustrations lack flair and heroism.  It’s actually a little boring (just the facts, ma’m)   and that spurs a more advanced student on to invent a way of drawing and a way of putting the body parts on the page that perks us up because it feels a lot like art.  Killing two birds with one femur.

(There’s some glare on the photo of Gaby’s drawing because I use a little instant camera in a room with rows of ceiling lights.)

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HolbeinLadyHolbein must have been charming, wise and super-diplomatic.  He drew the ladies of the court of Henry VIII and had to paint the big burly beheading  potentate himself. You remember six-wives Henry, the one who said, “Off with your head, Ann Boleyn!”  Hans Holbein(1497-1543) was a skilled draftsman, but was his hand shaking a little, just a little, when he faced the vain, all-powerful king?

When we draw people, we’re HolbeinHenryVIIIoften constrained by the desire to please them.  Your art gets cramped when you’re focused on anything but your art.  So, off with your head, I’m drawing!  When we have a model, I remind the students that they’re not drawing to please the model but only to struggle with their work, the medium, the concept, the surprises that occur in the working process.  When we don’t have a model, we often work from printed images.  In this case, a student/artist chose a photo of the young Queen Elizabeth, when she visited Chicago in the ‘50’s.  Notice that

13MaggieQueenFourthese drawings are not flattering, but instead explore the potential of the medium to create a page of studies with mood QueenEliz1and character.  The markmaking is scratchy, the contours are blurred, and oh, the drips!  To mood and character, let’s add a touch of irony.  Once you know that The Queen was the model, the page becomes a bit comical, which makes you reflect deeper and that’s a good thing.  When that happens, you’re looking at art.

Maggy  Shell, worked on gloss paper with the Stabilo-All-Aquarellable pencil.———–

13MaggieQueenFive

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PicassoSketchesDailyPl

Picasso didn’t like to travel.  When he was in his twenties he would go back to his native Spain every now and then, but always with his painting materials.   Later, when he was absurdly rich and able to go anywhere in the world, he preferred to stay close to his studio.  He worked.  He worked every day.  He died April 8, 1973 shortly after getting up at 11 a.m. after having worked til four in the morning.

PicassoDaleyPlazaJacques Brownson was the architect who designed the heroic, modernist Daley Center with the firm Loebl Schlossman and Bennett.  Richard Bennett, a partner in the firm, asked Picasso to create a sculpture for the plaza, to be its “spirit.”  Good choice: go to the co-inventer (with Georges Braque, let’s not forget) of cubism.  Picasso, knowing that he would not accept any commission because he intended this to be a gift to the city of Chicago (he never visited), set to work.  I don’t know how many sketches he made, but the visitor guide at the Art Institute features six of them on its cover.  I love the fact that we honor the work in progress.

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LeonaradoSfumatoDrawing

Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code reminded us of all the classes we slept through:  Latin, French, the Merovingians,  St. Paul’s Letters to the Ephesians, the Crusades, comparative religion, infinite series, et al.  Oh, and art history.  At one point Prof. Langdon explains that sfumato is the technique invented by Leonardo by which he softens the contour of a form to make the form look more three-dimensinional, rather than like a cut out delineated by a consistent LeoardoSfumatoMonaLisaline. (Fumo in Italian means smoke.) Sfumato eliminates the line as a way of distinguishing one thing from another. It means that everything is related to everything around it and the eye flows through the image and sees interrelatedness on the canvas as it does in real life. This is huge. It makes the image life-like and I would go so far as to call it a consciousness-raising technique.

Leonardo da Vinci (1453-1519) in his treatise on painting techniques repeatedly warns artists not to trace out the form with outlines.  This is an admonition that he himself only sometimes managed to heed.  Sfumato was more a goal than an achievement for him. He almost certainly directed the criticism at his younger contemporary, Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), who was fond of outlining his delicate figures with a BotticelliVenuscontinuous black line. High school students love Botticelli but when we mature a bit, we embrace Leonardo’s idea more and more.  Sfumato.  It’s not that smoke gets in your eyes, it’s that the adult perception of reality grapples with interrelatedness—conceptually much richer and technically much more difficult.

Sfumato is applicable to both painting and drawing.  It’s easier to see how it would work with paint since you can blend and push the paint around to create soft effects.  But in drawing, also, the form can be liberated from the enclosing (strangling!?) line through the use of shadows and negative space.  More on that next time, with examples from students’ work.

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Today is Picasso’s birthday.

Yesterday the New York Times ran a two-page article about the analysis of his 1904 painting “Woman Ironing” which shows that it is painted over another painting, a portrait study, also by Picasso. Strapped for cash, he regarded the older, unfinished painting as mere canvas.

Go to http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/10/25/arts/design/hidden-picasso.html?ref=design to see the unfinished portrait of a man painted two or three years earlier.  (The image could not be copied and saved to file.)

The identity of the man is not nearly as interesting (though that is what fascinates the scholars and technicians who worked on this case) as the fact that Picasso abandoned the project and two years later thought it worthless.

The painting hidden under “Woman Ironing” is a competent study, of course.  Picasso had mastered all skills of drawing and painting by the age of fourteen.  Conventional portrait painting would have brought in a comfortable living. But Picasso, age twenty-two, did not allow himself to be satisfied with his prodigious technical skills. He was penniless and lived in a hovel.  He did not cave in.  The old way of seeing the world had to be abandoned.  How? And can you even do that?  And what will be the new way?  You sure?  Of course not.  But there is no evidence that Picasso ever doubted. His inability to doubt himself is not to be equated with complacency, however.  He worked every day of his life, long hours, way into the night.  He died April 8, 1973, shortly after getting up at 11 a.m., having worked, as usual, until 4 a.m.

Find the full NYtimes article at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/25/arts/design/under-a-picasso-painting-another-picasso-painting.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&hpw

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Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was a prodigy.  He drew incessantly as a child, filling the margins of his school books with sketches.  His father, an art teacher, is said to have handed his son his own brushes and paints, saying, “here, you have surpassed me.”  When Picasso was fourteen, his drawings looked like this.

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), the son of a strict Calvinist minister, was interested in drawing as a child and as a young adult while he worked as an assistant art dealer, teacher and missionary.  It wasn’t until his late twenties that he devoted himself to art full time.  At the age of twenty seven, his drawing looked awkward and tortured.

I cringe when I look at this.  But he persisted.  He worked at it, for ten years, never achieving the grace of Picasso’s draftsmanship.   Van Gogh is not admired for his drawings, but for the evocative power of his paintings.  The passion we sense in his paintings relies on primary colors and, oddly enough,  an unaffected calligraphy in the handling of the brush, course and immediate.

A graceful line can be so admirable as to challenge imitation.  But not everybody can make a line dance.  What to do?  Must the line dance?  What if, like Van Gogh’s ten years after the above drawing, it screams, groans, and pounds its fists in rage?  What if the line you produce speaks a language you have never heard before?

The next few posts here will be devoted to my students’ recent work. Amazing things happen in that drawing class all the time.  That’s because (I think) the students are beginning to respond to their own markmaking, their own line quality, their own dynamics.  None of them are Picassos.

An article on Picasso’s early work: http://www.salon.com/2012/01/09/picassos_fascinating_early_works/

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When the movie came out last year, I thought it would enjoy a long run.  It didn’t and I missed it.  But it does well on Netflix, too.

The Chauvet Cave in southern France was discovered in 1994.  It contains the oldest paintings ever found anywhere, more than twice as old as any other. The paintings were originally (32,000 years ago) put on rock face that was recessed in a cave.  The cave at the time was readily accessible because it was not sealed. (20,000 years ago an enormous rock slide sealed the space.)  The artist and his audience could easily walk into the dark “galleries” but to see the drawings they had to bring torches.  The artist could have painted the rocks closer to daylight but he chose not to.  He painted by torch light, farther towards the back.  This tells us two things.  It tells us a) that these lively drawings of animals were all made from memory and b) that art was removed from everyday life.  These two points are related.

The persistent question for ethnologists and archeologists is, how did these people understand the world and themselves.  We can infer from their artifacts and from indigenous peoples in our own time, like the Australian Aboriginals, that their worldview blurred the line between reality and dream, between thought and action, between wish and deed, between the subjective and the objective, and between the image and the concrete thing.

Who made these drawings?  Could everybody draw like that?  Could anybody pick up a charred stick and draw a running horse from memory?  Was there a competition about who could get the anatomy most accurately?  No.  This was something only a few individuals were able to do.  Or were even inclined to do.  In the case of Chauvet Cave, we have one individual artist who left his fingerprint with a distinctive little finger, recognizable throughout.  He was six feet tall.  This information gives me goose bumps.   An individual.  He picked up his charred stick and his torch and walked to the back of the cave and drew these animals in motion—from memory.  There was no need for this.  Drawing did not fill his belly or build his muscles for combat, the better to survive.  Drawing was a removal from the necessities of everyday life.  It was not about survival, but about a new form of consciousness.

You can be sure that when he took his family back there, the folks were mystified and amazed that anybody could do this.  They thought the horses and bison were real.  What the artist himself saw was different:  he saw the lines he himself had made and at the same time he saw the evocation of the animals in these lines.  He was at the threshold of modern consciousness, which is a self-consciousness.

Herzog asks one of the archeologists why the cave artist made these drawings, was he perhaps like us moderns, and the archeologist answered with the cliché about the desire to communicate with the future.  The answer to Herzog’s question, I think, is yes, the cave artist was like us in his confrontation with his own consciousness.  His worldview, like everybody else’s at the time, blurred the line between reality and dream, between thought and action, between wish and deed, between the subjective and the objective, and between the image and the concrete thing.   We still do this.  The guy with the crooked little finger was probably terrified by his ability to conjure such images of reality with his charcoal stick.  We are not so terrified any more.  We have developed techniques that allow us to squarely look at the workings of our imagination, our ability to create symbols and images that manipulate the behavior of our fellow humans, who still can’t tell the difference between thought and reality, between the subjective and the objective, etc.  We are now looking at how our minds invent “reality.”  The guy with the little finger got us started on that path.

Well, some of us.  It’s hard to think about this.  Mr. Little Finger knew that.  That’s why he walked back to the dark part of the cave to do the work.  He drew from memory (a), an interior activity, that’s not concerned with mere survival (b), which is what consumes the energy of most members of the species.  Confronting consciousness is not for everybody.  It is the job of artists.

You want more goose bumps?  He was right handed.  That’s my opinion, because he preferred to draw the animals facing left and that’s the natural way for a right-handed person to draw.  The hand he showed us in his hand print (above) is the hand that made the drawings.

(The best book I know on this subject is “The Mind in the Cave,”  by David Lewis-Williams. He addresses this question of consciousness and avoids the clichés about spirituality and hunting.)

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