I decided to do a take-off on Botticelli's famous "Birth of Venus" -- making her older, but still lovely. I also very loosely based some of her features on my own. Of course, as they say, every portrait is, to one degree or another, a self-portrait. Not a "finished" piece, but more in keeping with the freshness and spontaneity of a sketch.
I have come to peace with myself. I am a draftsman. My lofty goal is to meet the dictionary definition: "an artist exceptionally skilled in drawing." I know the "Art World" considers drawings to be the least important, aka the least marketable of the arts. If we just look at 2-D artworks, the Market hierarchy goes like this:
Paintings are the most important. Oil paintings first, acrylic second. In general, Big is Better.
All other media pale in comparison. Watercolor and pastel jockey around for second place, I suppose. Printmaking -- intaglio, lithography, woodcut, silkscreen, etc. -- might come in third. Collage is in there somewhere. But, drawings? Pencil or ink on paper? Smudgy charcoal? Puh-leeeeeeze! They aren't "finished"!
I am at peace, though. What do I love to do? I love to draw. Do what you love.
Here is a recent drawing. Done on my iPad, using the Sketch Club app, then editing in Camera+.
Doing artwork on the iPad has been both frustrating and rewarding. Why frustrating? I have been in a comfortable rut with charcoal and pastel on Kraft paper for awhile. And doing charcoal gesture drawings on printer paper. I've received a lot of positive feedback on those works. So, I'm impatient with the learning curve of the iPad. I want to be just as skilled with it as I am with more traditional media. The tactile sensation is nothing like drawing with charcoal on paper. The tools provided by the app simulate oil painting, watercolors, pen, pencil, crayon, etc. But, it doesn't act exactly the same.
But. learning new skills is inherently rewarding. It's like solving a puzzle. I'm convinced that what we call self-esteem comes, in part, from mastery. The other component is unconditional love, but that's a different blog.
The iPad offers some interesting possibilities. I took a picture of a drawing that I gave away to the model. Taking a picture indoors with my iPhone camera produced a very blurry image. So, in iPhoto, I straightened and cropped the image, then uploaded it to the iPad. Brought up the ArtRage app, and started working on the image. Here is the progression:
Here is the first blurry photo.
Then, straightened and cropped:
And, then, after some time playing around with ArtRage.
Is it better? Worse? Or, just different. The original drawing was a three-minute pose, if I recall correctly. Gesture drawings have a great feeling of energy. The ArtRage version looks more like an illustration, I think. I hope some of the energy remains.
The model still has the original drawing. The iPad offers the possibility of manipulating the original image many, many times over, without in any way altering the original piece. So, if I liked the original charcoal on printer paper piece, the wonderful thing is: it is still there, unchanged. Unless, of course, the model smeared the charcoal. Pretty cool.
"I think continually of those who were truly great," begins British poet Stephen Spender (1909-1995).
in my family, less than an "A" on the report card was failure. I graduated 5th in my large high school class and thought myself a failure. In our entertainment-driven culture, we celebrate the Big Stars, forget the Has-Beens, and pity the Wanna-bees.
I made a B+ in my first college drawing class. Therefore, I believed I was a no-talent failure. So, I majored in art history instead of studio art, as I had planned.
About 5 years later, I returned to school and earned that BFA in Studio Art. "So there!" I could tell my past self.
Twenty five years later, am I famous? No. Does it matter? Not at all. Will I achieve the stature of a Leonardo, a Michelangelo, a Raphael? Extreeeeeeeemely doubtful. Will I ever even be a big fish in a small pond? Does it matter? What matters is to keep at it, despite the lack of glory, fortune and fame.
Perfectionists get very little done, you know. Sometimes a "good enough" job really is good enough, if you put your heart and soul into it. I give you a Leonardo. And, one of my small paintings. His is magnificent. And mine? Well, it's good enough.
Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci (as if I really needed to tell you)
Senalka, acrylic on panel, 12 x 12 inch, by Laura Grimes
And, here is Stephen Spenders poem, in its entirety:
I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul's history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns,
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms. What is precious is never to forget
The delight of the blood drawn from ancient springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth;
Never to deny its pleasure in the simple morning light,
Nor its grave evening demand for love;
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit. Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are fêted by the waving grass,
And by the streamers of white cloud,
And whispers of wind in the listening sky;
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire's center.
Born of the sun, they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.
For over 25 years now, a lifedrawing open studio has met on Tuesday mornings at the Dougherty Cultural Arts Center in Austin, TX. I attended this studio in the 80's, intermittently in the '90's. In this, the first decade of the 21st Century, I became more regular. Dorothy Billman started this endeavor, and she stayed on as the studio monitor for 25 years. Aa few years ago, at the age of 83, she fell and cracked her pelvis. I substituted for her, expecting her return. She planned to return. But, she did not get back to driving. No one was willing to take it on, and I wanted to keep drawing, so I stepped in officially. The group has grown, so much so, that I opened up another open studio at the Austin Visual Arts Association on Wednesday mornings. I put us on MeetUp.com, where I promote, not only my group, but every lifedrawing group in the Austin area, at least the ones I know about.
Even in the liberal city of Austin (Austin is not really part of Texas, it is its own little world), the nude still shocks people. This dynamic baffles me. Americans, who watch R-rated movies with both nudity and truly pornographic violence, still find a painting, a drawing, a sculpture of the nude scandalous.
Sheesh. I blame the state of art education in our country. Few people have even a passing familiarity with art history. They know of Michelangelo's David, and would probably visit it if they found themselves in Florence. Perhaps they have seen images of Botticelli's Venus, from his painting "The Birth of Venus". They could visit her in Florence as well, at the Uffizzi Gallery, the house of so many of the greatest works of Western art. Would they flinch, seeing these works? The David was commissioned to stand in the public square, as a symbol of the city of Florence. Men, women and children walked by for centuries. Did they shield their eyes?
So, I offer images of both works. Judge for yourself. And make the pilgrimage to Florence before you die. You won't regret it.
Lifedrawing sessions normally begin with gestures. The model does very short poses, usually one-minute ones, poses that could not be held for much more than a minute. Gesture poses are active, dynamic. My favorite part of lifedrawing studio is the gestures. I could do an all-gesture class of 3 hours, but, even with breaks, the model would collapse with exhaustion.
I believe gesture drawings are similar to calligraphy. When we watch a master of Asian calligraphy at work, we do not see the years of practice, the honing of skill over time. We see deft strokes of the brush, quick, yet somehow without haste. Perhaps the brush moves for a minute or less. Yet, the artist's hand produces great works of art in that small space of time.
So I offer you, the reader, just a few of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of gesture drawings I have done in the last 25 years or so
I will not claim they are great works of art. They are a record of a moment, a moment that is gone, but not lost.
I hate to use the phrase "to beat a dead horse" in this context. But, I know everyone is tired of hearing about torture. It's yesterday's news. In the United States, those who are pragmatic and those who are idealists argue round and round and round. Let's see how artists have explored this subject.
Here, early Italian Renaissance painter Fra Angelico depicts the torture of the damned in Hell. The demons obviously enjoy their work. At the bottom of the painting, Satan eats the poor, lost souls with relish. This work would have been meant as a cautionary tale to the faithful, of what could happen if they persisted in sin. Angelico was known for the sweetness of his work, and had to find a different approach for this subject. I imagine it was unpleasant for him, and that he was relieved to return to painting the Virgin, the baby Jesus, angels.
Northern Renaissance painter Matthias Grunewald depicts perhaps the most famous torture victim in all of history, Jesus Christ upon the Cross. We are very familiar with the cleaned-up versions of the Crucifixion, the calm, alabaster Jesus, hardly marked, a few drops of blood at His hands, His feet, His side. Here Grunewald shows us something closer to reality. Crucifixion was death by slow torture. The Romans were particular masters of it.
Next, a Dutch woodcut shows "The Water Torture". Was this during the Inquisition? Or were these government officials seeking information? We do not know. The man writing in the book appears quite calm, as he waits for the words of the man being tortured. He is documenting the interrogation, it seems.
Moving on to modern times, this World War II poster starkly pronounces the difference between the Allies and the Axis. Implicit in this work is the assumption that good guys don't torture, only the evil do.
In his graphic novel Maus, Art Spiegelman tells the story of his father, a Holocaust survivor. As he flips back and forth from present to past, we see the lifetime pain and anguish suffered by the father, by Spiegelman's mother, a survivor who commits suicide, and by the artist himself as the son. The Jews are depicted as mice, the Germans as cats, the Poles as pigs. He had a difficult time finding a publisher for this work. The subject matter seemed so inappropriate for the comic book style. Finally published, Maus won many awards, including a Pulitzer Prize Special Award in 1992.
In his Mercenaries series of the 1980's, the late American artist Leon Golub explored the dark world of those who fight, brutalize and kill for hire. As do the demons in Hell, his soldiers of fortune enjoy their work. We see the camaraderie of men engaged in a common activity. He said of his work: Artists are part of the information process... Visual history is important in providing a record of what is going on – levels of intention, levels of confidence, levels of aggression or control.
Best known for his paintings of pleasantly plump people engaged in light-hearted harmless activities, Columbian artist Fernando Botero also has turned his attention to the dark world of brutality and violence. To the left we see a painting of a drug cartel's victims, men, women and children gunned down in the seemingly never ending cycle of violence in his native land. Below, we see him with one of his paintings depicting the events at Abu Ghraib. Fra Angelico was commissioned to paint Hell and was no doubt relieved to return to depicting the Virgin with Baby Jesus, choirs of angels, etc. But, Botero chose these unpleasant subjects as a testimony to the world.
Cambodian artist Vann Nath is one of only seven survivors of the notorious Khmer Rouge prison S-21. About 14,000 people -men, women and children-perished in that horrific place. His skill as an artist saved him. He was put to work doing portraits of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot. Now, his paintings expose the brutal torture inflicted there. He has said: But during that whole time I kept wondering if the Khmers were simply destroying themselves. I wondered, how can we do this to ourselves? Is it self-hatred? Are we trying to wipe ourselves from the face of the earth?
What of myself as an artist? I have no political work to show. But, I have treated the subject of the Crucifixion. The work to the left is titled "Through Mary's eyes". As Mary was transfixed in helpless anguish, standing by the Cross, she must have still seen the little boy she loved. Below, we see her crazy with with grief over the lifeless body of her son. No loving mother wishes to outlive her child. And to see him die a slow death by torture must have ripped out her heart. Did she see the coming Resurrection? We do not know.
Yesterday evening, an art reception. In an unusual venue. HIll Country Bible Church NW presents the most cutting-edge exhibits in northwest Austin and, I believe, could compete with any gallery in the city. Over 45 artists presented work in many different media, including painting, sculpture, watercolor, drawings, mosaic, glass, lettering arts, ceramics, mixed media. Plus, the cake is awesome.
For the first time, I exhibited not only paintings, but also digital photographs. I received the most comments on one of the photographs, "Closer". I found this broken car side-mirror while walking with my dog on an undeveloped property in my suburban neighborhood. How long had it lain there? I do not know. It's brokenness called out to me. The sky reflected in the chunks of glass seemed such a poignant image.
βλέπομεν γὰρ ἄρτι δι’ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι, τότε δὲ πρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον· ἄρτι γινώσκω ἐκ μέρους, τότε δὲ ἐπιγνώσομαι καθὼς καὶ ἐπεγνώσθην.
I brought a friend. I believe it was her first visit to an art opening reception. And, as I said, the cake was awesome.
Ah, a family vacation. I did get to slip away to some art museums. Here I am, in a blurry iPhone photo, copying the body language of a sculpture at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The LACMA has a wonderful collection of German Expressionist works and an equally wonderful collection of Japanese art. What a contrast! The raw, dramatic work of the German Expressionists versus the spare serenity of of the Japanese. For information about LACMA, see the website at:
And here my husband views the photo he just took on his iPhone of the Rembrandt hanging before him. Awesome!
In San Francisco, I visited the Jewish Museum of Contemporary Art. Among the exhibits, "As It Is Written: Project 304,805." AKA the Torah Projects. Here is the description from the website: "As It Is Written: Project 304,805 is centered around a soferet (a professionally trained female scribe) who while on public view will write out the entire text of the Torah over the course of a full year." Very moving. Check it out on their website: http://www.thecjm.org/
Also in San Francisco, I visted the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The most moving piece I found? A sculpture by Magdalena Abrakanowicz. Here website describes her work as "emotive...and disturbing." Very apt. "Four on a Bench"
Many, many works at SFMOMA. Of particular note, an exhibit of works by Chuck Close. Much, much more of course. For more info, check out the website at: http://www.sfmoma.org/
And in Portland, Oregon, the Portland Art Museum. Two wonderful exhibits: "The Bible Illuminated: R. Crumb's Book of Genesis" and "A Pioneering Collection: Master Drawings from the Crocke For more info on the Portland Museum of Art, see the website: http://portlandartmuseum.org/
In addition, a small exhibit of works by Leon Golub. (For more info on Leon Golub, refer to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Golub ) Here is this piece, on view in Portland, from his "Mercenaries" series. I am drawn to beauty, but beauty can be found in work that would not be considered "beautiful" by most casual observers. I find his work deeply moving as it depicts the depravity that still lurks in the heart of humanity.