So, last week when I wrote about the difficulty of putting emotion into artwork generated from reference photos, I was in the midst of brainstorming about my homework. My drawing instructor assigned a 16″ x 16″ representational drawing built with an emotional line quality. The subject matter and the emotion could be of our own choosing, and they didn’t necessarily have to be conceptually related. I got the bright idea to try to draw a poet and attempted three other drawings that I ultimately had to abandon. I’m happy with the Kerouac portrait, especially when I consider that I haven’t taken a formal drawing class for 30 years, don’t usually do figural things, and have been excessively preoccupied with variations of the 26 letters of the alphabet and the horizon line for quite a long time. The abstracted letterforms in the drawing are text fragments from Kerouac’s On the Road.
When I originally painted this, I wanted to express a memory of the “text” of wind + milkweed snow + tall grasses. Today was a windy day, and I happened to walk through a fully ripened milkweed field, this time with a camera. Lots of times I don’t carry one with me, and just try to paint whatever I can remember. I think sometimes memory drawings and paintings are mistaken for non-objective art, but they really aren’t the same thing at all. If I could stand the cold, I’d probably try to sit in that milkweed field for hours. What I have noticed about memory art is that I can usually capture the emotion of the moment, and that’s often the part that I have trouble expressing when painting from photos.
While out viewing fall foliage, I was lucky enough to take these photos. The scenes brought to mind an excellent book I began reading two years ago entitled A History of American Tonalism by David Cleveland. The 9 1/2″ x 12″ book is over two inches thick and weighs at least five pounds. I got halfway through before I had to begin skimming. Then I had to quit, not out of a lack of interest, but because I was inconveniencing my dog, who felt that the size and weight of this tome had broken the human/canine contract pertaining to his spot in our reading chair. Cleveland’s book is a wonderful source of inspiration for landscape painters as well as an engaging history of American painters trying to express abandoned landscapes of rural nineteenth century New England. There is also an articulate and detailed section about Whistler, and how and where he fits in with the many Americans who learned to paint overseas. Today’s photographs have not been altered, and I just snapped them quickly with an ipad. I’ll get around to painting something about these eventually. I might even try to finish reading this Tonalism book, dog permitting. I am still enthralled with pencil, but my habit of collecting reference photos shows no signs of abating and often results in sudden bursts of painting.
I’m reading a book by Matthew Simms called Cezanne’s Watercolors: Between Drawing and Painting. It’s fascinating to read about artists who were finding less belabored ways to draw and paint than the established practices of their time. Some of you may have noticed that I have been taking a break from color. . .
I’ve had the Cezanne book for months, but only just started noticing the intrinsic beauty of his pencil sketches. I can’t believe it took me this long to start reading it. My reluctance to set it down is coinciding with my reluctance to stop drawing, though I suspect it might also eventually inspire me to return to my brushes.