Three exhibitions in New York, each by a superb artist in a different century, but all united by a lifelong passion to draw, draw, draw, anything and everything. For an artist, these current exhibitions are a wonderful reaffirmation of the central role drawing potentially plays in the development and creativity of an artist. Gainsborough, Delacroix, Wayne Thiebaud - three very dissimilar artists, yet they are all on the same page in a drawing book.Read More
I am finding that patterns are becoming more and more fascinating to me as I function as an artist. I suppose I have always had a love of nature's order and patterning - in seed pods, striationson tree bark, flower petals and leaves, in the way shadows fall on surfaces, how rocks are distinctively formed, how sands get ridged and shaped by water or wind.
Now, however, I am more and more aware of the amazing power of patterns - in life in general and in art in particular. Take a look at a fascinating website on the Fibonacci Numbers and see how marvellous all these patterns are.
I think my newfound passion for drawing in metalpoint on a black ground has fuelled my interest in patterns, for somehow this medium seems to lend itself readily to the seeming abstraction of patterns. Living as I do in beautiful natural surroundings also helps me suddenly see new patterns which excite and inspire. Artists of all stripes seem to respond to the diversity of nature's patterns, from draughtsmen to photographers.
My small drawings of nature's patterns are often of tree bark and wood grains.
The rewards of looking closely and attentively at nature to see these myriad complex and magical patterns are endless. History is full of artists who have found patterns to be a wonderful source of creativity - just think of Van Gogh, for a start!
It is always encouraging when you read of a great painter in the past expressing what you feel about different subjects. In this case, Delacroix opining about nature.
I bought a lovely book on Delacroix recently entitled Delacroix, Chevaux et Félins/ Delacroix, Horses and Felines. Published in 2011 by the Bibliothèque de l'Image in Paris, it is a wonderful selection of Delacroix' watercolours, drawings and paintings of horses and lions, tigers and even domestic cats. Masterful, vivid, probing and clearly, often, very much working drawings done from life as the animals moved around. Many of these studies later found their way into major paintings he executed, especially his studies of horses.
What especially resonated with me was the page quoted as an extract from his personal journal, dated Tuesday, 19th January 1847. Delacroix opens by stating that the "Cabinet" of natural history is open to the public on Tuesdays and Fridays - in other words, he goes to visit the zoo at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. He joyfully lists all the amazing selection of animals to be seen there, both alive and stuffed, from elephants and rhinos to lamas or bison, and even the famous giraffe given to Charles X of France by Muhammad Ali of Egypt in 1827 which was, by 1847, still there in stuffed glory.
Delacroix then goes on to muse, in his journal entry for that day's visit, about the emotions he experienced. "What could cause the emotion that I experienced at the sight of all this? Perhaps that I was taken out of the pedestrian ideas that form my world, away from the street that bounds my universe. How necessary it is to shake oneself from time to time, to stick one's head outside, to try to read from the natural world, which has nothing at all in common with our cities and with the work of men. Definitely, this view I experienced made me feel better and more tranquil."
Delacroix loved watching all the animals he drew and painted - he got to know their movements, their attitudes, their characteristics. He even drew their skeletons and skinned bodies to learn better how to portray them. His depictions of their movements and essence are full of vigour and passion, excitement and wonder. His studies are as fresh today as if they were executed yesterday. To my eye, as so often happens, that vigour and immediacy is however often lost when he uses those studies in his large oil paintings.
A study of a horse that shows Delacroix' probing eye.
The delight that Delacroix experienced from aspects of Nature is an emotion that I can relate to very easily. The endless fascination and wonder that is there for one to observe and learn about does indeed appear as soon as one steps out into the natural world.
Ephraim Rubenstein, a wonderful artist and fellow silverpoint artist, has just sent me the announcement for his forthcoming solo exhibition at the George Billis Gallery on West 26th Street in New York. Entitled Temples and Cathedrals, it is a show of large-scale mixed drawing media depictions of European Gothic cathedrals and massive Greek temple ruins. It will certainly be a dramatic and impressive array of drawings.
What I found interesting were Ephraim's concepts behind this body of work. In both the pagan temples and the cathedrals, he evokes the "magisterial quality of these sacred spaces". Scale, architecture, play of light are all devices used in sacred structures to impress and convey a sense of the presence of the divine. There can be few of us who have not been silenced in awe at the sight of the mighty harmony of soaring Gothic arches or the dazzling glory of huge rose windows enclosed by lacy stone. Similarly, Greek temples, no matter how shattered by time and man's depredations, evoke the centrality and the power of the gods in man's daily life by the extraordinary elegance and drama of columns, friezes, pediments.
By playing these very different types of structures off each other in his dramatic monochrome renderings of temples and cathedrals, Ephraim reminds us of man's perpetual quest for the sacred. As he points in his press release about the exhibition, the metamorphosis of man's religious beliefs, from paganism to Christianity, is echoed even in the stones of the different sacred structures. Many of the cathedrals were built with stones taken from earlier temples. Another form of Sic transit.
Knowing how beautiful Ephraim Rubenstein's art is, I am certain that this will be an exhibition well worth visiting if you are in Manhattan.
A remark that was made by Andrew Lambirth in the Spectator magazine in mid-April has stayed with me. Writing about a recent exhibit at Tate Modern, Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective, he wrote, "One of the chief pleasures and revelations of this show is the drawings. The five works here, including 'Study for the Liver in the Cock's Comb', are rich enough to merit a couple of hours' study, and yet most people only glance at them en route to the paintings." (my emphasis).
These cursory glances at drawings en route to paintings in exhibitions make me sad. For many a long year, particularly in the United States, the average person has somehow retained the impression that drawings are very much a second class affair, unworthy of much attention and still less worth acquisition. Since drawing as a medium fell out of fashion during the time when abstract art reigned supreme, it is somewhat understandable. Yet drawing permits a depth of understanding, appreciation and - yes - delight in a viewer willing to pause and really look.
Drawings seldom are as commanding as a painting; their presence is more discreet, more intimate. Yet a drawing is not only a pathway to understanding the artist's paintings, it is also a porthole allowing one to see the artist's inner workings and concerns in the most direct and unadorned fashion. Drawing also allows such an enormous variety of approaches and methods that it makes painting - in oil, acrylic, watercolour, encaustic or egg tempera - seem positively staid. Take Gorky's drawings, with their extraordinary inventiveness of form and use of colour - many of them were the result of numerous repetitions and permutations based on drawings done in the fields and meadows of Virginia on his in-laws' farm. At the other extreme is the delicacy of a silverpoint drawing done by someone such as Koo Schadler, who works in classical media today.
There are - happily - more and more exhibitions of drawings, master drawings for the most part. The public which appreciates drawings is a minority, but a very appreciative and passionate one. Ideally, the task of every artist today is to convey to their supporters and collectors how important drawing is in the artistic process, whether it is a working drawing or a finished one which stands alone. If a viewer understands that a drawing is an "open sesame" to understanding that artist and his or her work, then the whole artistic experience is enriched.
That a drawing merits more than a glance - that's the goal! For each artist and then for each viewer.