1986

Some of my earliest attempts at abstraction were built on studies of work by Kandinsky and other German expressionist works in the collection of the old Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard, the essays and paintings of Hans Hofmann, and many other influences. The general structure I was getting came out of landscape (via Kandinsky, Hofmann, De Kooning… ) and the gestural mark-making from expressionism, and my experience in life drawing at the Museum School with teachers Tim Nichols and Bill Flynn. I made smaller studies in pencil and perhaps might reuse some elements from these, but for the most part the larger drawings would be improvisations, started with a general structure in mind and allowed to take shape as the drawing progressed.

These charcoal drawings were made in the winter of 85-86 while I was living on Nantucket Island. Both images here are scans of old slides I found recently, and were included in the first solo exhibition I had on the island, at The Little Gallery, in 1986.

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narrative

–the surface is a container for the things that you may do to it.

–each action (may react to existing surface but) is a new separate action.

–taken together they form a narrative, in the sense that each action follows another, like frames in a film follow one another, each new action projected upon the next, and unlike film in that the traces of each frame is not transitory as light.

–any treatment of the surface is OK – it may be altered by masking, extensions–the extent of the the container is part of the narrative–its identification is the location for work, for painting

–you do something and then you do something else. The image is what is left to see at the conclusion of every action, and the “painting”, when you don’t want to or cannot see an additional step to take forward (when the narrative is over)

–every step should be taken free from the demands of a preconceived image, at any point a turn in direction must be possible, and all options open

Robert De Niro at D. C. Moore

Robert De Niro Sr., still life

A beautiful exhibition of paintings and drawings by Robert De Niro Sr. at D. C. Moore. The color in these paintings is striking, and they look much better first hand than in any reproductions I have seen. “Inspiring” is a good word to describe these works. De Niro has not had the attention he deserves from the official art world institutions and press, although painters have always been aware of and have valued his work. I hope this exhibition will help to remedy the situation, because I would like to have more opportunities to see both his paintings and drawings.

collage with ink and acrylic

I have been making drawings on rice paper with sumi ink, watercolor, and dry pigments mixed into acrylic gel, and using some of the drawings as material for collage. The acrylic paint used here is zinc white pigment mixed with a matte acrylic gel, poured onto the paper and then manipulated with various tools.

Typically I am working on a series of drawings based on a set of related ideas, and then cutting and tearing those into sections and repositioning the parts from one or more drawings to make each collage. I use an acid free glue stick for the adhesive, and may run a collage through a printing press to make sure the pieces are firmly pressed together before adding paint.

Untitled. Collage drawing with ink and acrylic on rice paper, © 2014 Graham White, artist

speed

speedIncreasing the speed of the drawing had a very positive effect on the way the images were coming out. The increase in speed required an increase in the energy expended and greater concentration, and the immediate effect was an image that was larger and bolder, with edges of greater variety and interest.

I remembered a very short film I saw recently of Willem de Kooning drawing with a brush–a sign painter’s lettering brush–and he made his lines and the drawing very quickly, each line very fast, a pause, and on to the next.

drawing with graphite into paint

When I made this painting I was using rabbit skin glue to size the canvas and an oil ground. I had stretched this on a board, and after applying a layer of white oil paint began to draw into it with a soft graphite pencil. The oil was slow drying (and the room cold) so I had days to add drawing, and to erase with additional paint. The graphite embedded in the paint burnished to a surface with a soft shine in the process of working. No additional fixing or resurfacing was needed as the graphite was embedded permanently in the oil when it had dried. I later mounted the canvas on regular wood stretcher bars and added a frame.

Untitled, oil and graphite on canvas by Graham White

powdered wax and charcoal

Looking into the possibility of mixing powdered charcoal with powdered wax and using as a drawing medium, and then fixing the drawing by heating the wax until it fuses with the support. Initial experiments with wax in particles about the size of corn meal not entirely successful. The carbon binds to the wax well, but the particles are too coarse to manipulate in the way that I imagine.

perception – memory – invention

I was reading recently about the painter Euan Uglow and his early training at the Slade school with William Coldstream. Unfamiliar with Coldstream’s work, I was surprised to discover how completely and faithfully Uglow adopted and stayed with his teacher’s process and basic approach to painting, which consists of a process of constant measurement of the subject and continual adjustment of the image to bring the two it into as close an alignment as possible.

Working from life is a process of perceptual observation, commitment to memory, and then, after some amount of loss of the memory and possibly invention, a transfer of the image to form in some media, paint, clay, whatever.

It is striking that both Uglow’s working process, and so career, is built on a desire to obsessively focus on a fixed set of elements. Perhaps simply as a way of moving forward, it was useful to him to, rather than base his process on experimentation and imagination, do the reverse, and drastically exclude options.

James Lancel McElhinney

I have been working with James McElhinney on a new website for his work, just launched, McElhinneyart.com. James teaches at the Art Students League, has a new publication of his sketchbooks in print and a series of interviews with artists and art historians for the Archives of American Art and Newington Cropsey Cultural Studies Center.

I met James at the League in the drawing sessions that he conducts there and have enjoyed and found helpful both the format of the class and his observations on the practice of drawing.

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