Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More Chalk Drawings

The Aesthetic Invitation

For the last few weeks I've been preoccupied with the challenge of working through a change in my approach to making images, and have neglected the blog--I also owe responses to several of you who have been kind enough to comment. I apologize for my flighty behavior! I'll catch up to my ambitions of prompt and steady blogging soon--it's been an unexpectedly busy summer, not least because our son begins college in August. A big change for the family!

The prior string of posts discussing the merits of life drawing coincided with a burst of intense and frequent sessions of working from the live model--more than I've done in years. Over the last several months of steady driving effort I've felt I was pushing beyond a plateau and within the last two weeks I suddenly (it seemed) reached the crest I was searching for. This continuous period of intentional and progressively more instinctive and intuitive experimentation gelled as I pushed, pushed, pushed through hundreds of drawings and dozens of paintings--and eventually lifted my efforts to a new level of awareness that I've been after (not always consciously) for many years.
This shift is difficult to describe in words and I haven't written about it here before now because I wasn't sure I'd climbed within sight of a new horizon I could hold in view, or merely struck a pleasant spell of heightened perception that would slip away from me when other schedule pressures and distractions began to crowd my time. (A regrettably familiar pattern). I'm confident I'm onto a new path though, after an unbroken chain of art-making sessions devoid of an unsure step--a delightful experience!
I've titled this entry "The Aesthetic Invitation" because that phrase best describes the new attitude that seems to be responsible for the fresh (and more importantly, consistent) energy and resonance I'm discovering in my work. I've found a way of shifting my mind toward a distinct, aesthetic assessment of possibilities that are evident in the subject I'm contemplating--before I put a mark down. This can be an almost intangible effect that is outside my habitual spectrum of observation; instead of immediately beginning to mentally measure proportions or locate the placement of contours, shapes and space relationships, I may decide to attempt a visual impression of the fleshy mass of a model's body pressing into the atmosphere around her or him--a subtle essence of a perceived quality that is more than just accurate observation of physical dimensions and form. Or perhaps I might focus on conveying, by means difficult to exactly label or describe, a sense of the person's mood, or an expression of languor, or contained nervous energy.
The resulting process is a flow of largely subconscious intimations that continuously suggests a series of spontanteous yet specific expressive marks; a twist or smearing of a line, smudge, tone or stroke that conveys the impression my mind is responding to, all building and coalescing in harmony as the work reveals itself. This is a real contrast to my familiar typical method of making drawings, or at least the method I'm usually conscious of as I work.
I see now that this semi-awareness I'm attempting to explain is responsible for every "especially good session" I've ever had, but in the past I had no reliable "technique" for "bringing the spell on"--accessing this mental zone of heightened acuity. I now possess an excited confidence that I've unraveled an old and difficult impediment, often described in many creative endeavors as the problem of "getting in your own way", "over-thinking", "trying too hard", and so on. Or more simply and poetically phrased, I've found a way to draw primarily from my heart instead of my head. Hard-won knowledge and skill are indispensable, but in art they must support emotion, not dictate or overpower it.

These portraits of my friend and fellow artist Fred Poore
are examples of the expressive intensity and clarity I've been
writing about--they are made with Cretacolor chalks, a medium
new to me that seems to be a perfect fit for my natural
inclinations. I felt a new and and wonderfully comfortable
"easy insight" as I drew these--I was confident of the merit of
my perceptions and was sure I could express them--a
working condition I am not accustomed to!

This was the last pose of the session--Fred is holding
the model's timer, posing because our scheduled model
didn't show. I think this is the best drawing I did that day,
as each piece fed the next and I grew simultaneously
more relaxed and focused with each pose.

Although the above drawings are accurate in form and contour, that correctness is not the strength of the images--an intangible quality of human consciousness, expressed here with a new (to me) confident grace and vitality is the appeal. I've been trying to consistently achieve this gestalt of seemingly effortless spontaneity and emotional precision in my work for thirty years--I can't tell you how much fun it is to be so pleasantly surprised by these drawings when I stop my hand and take an objective look at what's emerged. It feels like the welcome end of long hard trek!