Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Studio visit with Art Historian

It's wonderful to get some art historical perspective on one's work. Surprisingly, after getting curtains together for the video projection, most of the focus of the studio visit was on the charcoal drawings. (But there were great ideas for the video, including using a mirror, which I promptly put in place- more on that next time).

There was a nice confirmation that art is not required to be self-reflexive, and not all about me. She was baffled about prior questions of 'what this all has to do with me', which is not necessary. In fact, if "it's about me, then ugh, I'm bored, lemme outta here!"
Luckily that was understood, but then came the usual perplexed question- "Well why this era? Why does everything seem to be a few generations before you? (As another said, all the 1930s.) That's not your childhood. It's all out of time, unless you grew up in a really weird house."

"I did." I am able to respond. Well, not weird so much, but the ole growin' up in a log cabin off the Appalachian mountains tale always resurfaces. Yes, a log home surrounded by old objects and frequent trips to look at antiques when I was a child, which, quite frankly, usually freaked me out a bit. And now I must return to face them. That's my answer for now (besides the aspect of analog technology being much more physically present and tactile).

Back to the drawings- I had questions about them all being pieces of a narrative. They look like film stills. Cindy Sherman must be dealt with. And it's good that they are fragments. It would be boring if you knew the whole tale (so she also thought that picking up the phone to just hear excerpts from the stories was a good idea).

William Kentridge also a mention of course, his "Five Themes" at MoMA- always getting close to just a shtick, but them comes around and really amazes you.

The last reference was a bit of a surprise: Robert Longo. I mostly know his "Men in the Cities" series and didn't pick up a connection right away. Yes, they're photographic drawings... oh! I get it.

Men In the Cities

The main reason to look at his work is to find the connection between charcoal drawing and photography- what is the reason for re-drawing a photograph rather than just printing it out? What does that mean?

I found some good references in Joyce Korotkin's article, ROBERT LONGO'S DRAWINGS OF DISASTERS, originally published by Galeria Soledad Lorenzo, Orfila, 5. 28010 Madrid, in a catalogue for Robert Longo's exhibition at the gallery in 2003.

Joyce says, "For Longo, the rush is in the drawing of each layer of the work, rather than in the finished, sedimentary image. Being in his studio and seeing his process is like watching sedimentation in action. Charcoal is applied, wiped off, applied again, finessed with more wiping and subtle touches, then sprayed with fixative. This layer is then worked and reworked again and again, until the build-up of successive layers achieves a pictorially complex velvety depth, one that would be impossible to achieve in a single pass."

Longo says, "Drawing from photos is a way of reclaiming the images that haunt us. By drawing them, I make them become not just something I am looking at but something that becomes part of me, every molecule of my being… Art is not so much about emotions but more about experience… It's like when a photograph develops. I'm so fascinated with the image that I find myself orchestrating elements within the picture, amplifying them or decreasing them, customizing them, like in the tradition of Caravaggio. I'm not concerned with keeping true to the original. The original gives me the ground to work with. Take the shaft of the column of the bomb, for instance, that's not the way it is, really."

More interesting examples of charcoal renderings of photography are seen in the "Magellan" series of pop culture imagery and the "Disaster Drawings", many images gleaned from newspapers, ads and historical archives.

Magellan Series

So much to think about- although I am not going the pop culture and national disaster route, there is certainly a common cinematic and apocalyptic theme, as well as using charcoal to reclaim the imagery as one's own.

I will last post the latest drawing, tentatively titled "Child Bed" (self-explanatory) in which I just couldn't get myself to resolve the figure. It has to remain unfinished for some reason, perhaps because it is such an unformed age, and not a full memory.

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