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Representation in painting became superfluous and problematic shortly after the invention of photography in the 1830s.  By the end of that century artists, though trained in the discipline of representation, turned to abstraction and highly subjective experimentations with form and media.  Being a dyed-in-the-wool modernist, I share their sensibility. When I do representational studies I have no intention of exhibiting them.   I do them for myself, for the sheer pleasure of drawing.   In my life drawing group I sometimes experiment with materials that are difficult to control and sometimes, like earlier this week, I go with the intention of working representationally, of studying the anatomy and getting it right.

Well, not quite.  I gave myself an extra challenge–can’t seem to get away from the modernist involvement with the mess of the materials.   I had prepared the gloss paper (that I like to work on, 11 x 17)  with a thin wash of acrylic in sepia.  Then I drew on that with black China Marker, which I’ve talked about here before.  China Marker is waxy and cannot be erased.  The only way to remove a line is to scrape it off with a razor blade.  Now, when this is done on prepared paper, the thin acrylic layer also comes off, exposing the original white of the paper.  The effect of that is that the scraping, while functioning as the removal of the undesired line, is at the same time attracting attention to itself.  The scraping becomes part of the working process itself, in fact a kind of celebration of erasure.

You can be sure, that nobody in the 16th century was allowed to think of erasure in this complementary light.  But we moderns (and postmoderns) see  process itself as occupying center stage.  The work is not so much about the result, as about the work-and-thought process itself.

It’s an idea that still meets with a lot of resistance, a hundred and fifty years later.  What developed in my life drawing session was disconcerting at first, but then it was exciting because I saw the philosophical implications of negation there.  It reminded me of Mark Tansey.  My exposing the surface of the paper and embracing the scraping process as integral to my work, is peanuts—literally just scratching the surface—compared to the work of Mark Tansey, who makes his monochrome paintings by scraping away the paint he applied to the canvas in the morning of his working day when he started making the painting.  He paints by removing paint, he actually unpaints.  Since oil paint dries in about six hours, that’s all the time he has to finish his unpainting.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Tansey

http://www.orbit.zkm.de/?q=node/275

For readings on negation as a philosophical topic, see Mark C. Taylor’s books.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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