I have been working on a painting that was based on a image constructed from a group of drawings that had been cut apart, collaged, photographed, and transferred to the computer to composite in Photoshop. I projected a completed digital image onto canvas, sketched it in with paint, and then developed while using a printout of the digital drawing as a guide.
From the outset I knew there would be elements in the drawing that I could use for the painting or leave, and in the process of selection it became apparent to me that digital images are complete by themselves, and not waiting be translated to some other material–a perspective I had not had so clearly before. They are screen work, and could only be represented in some other form, as prints on paper perhaps, but those parallel forms would only represent them in the way that a photograph might represent a painting. That is, not very well.
In visiting the de Kooning retrospective at MOMA, the divide between what is actual in the world and what is a representation or simulation of reality is obvious. If you have only seen reproductions of his paintings, you have not seen his art. They are entirely about physical presence. Actual human scale and interaction, material, touch, and color… none of which can be represented successfully.
Digital media should also be experienced natively, as art and the media in which it is conceived and created cannot be separated. Or it should be clearly understood as journalism, a pointer to an original. Something new might be re-imagined in another media, but the actuality of the original will be lost in the translation.
I drew portraits from life, various charcoals and pencils, and typically during a six day pose, a drawing over one or two sessions. Starting again, from one drawing to another, and in each drawing.
Every drawing begins with an intention, to use a particular tool, or scale–some arbitrary form of entrance–and then if it goes well, the drawing unfolds in accord with some self-organizing logic. Which can change. I was listening to a Bob Dylan recording and while playing the bridge on guitar he made a mistake, and just as quickly changed the flow of the music to make that part of the piece. I thought… well, that’s it.
It has been said that to draw is to always start again. That is the ideal, the sense of the drawing continually taking shape. And then, not having known what the drawing should look like–it is a challenge to know when you are done.
Friedel Dzubas told a story about visits he made with Helen Frankenthaler to Willem de Kooning’s studio in the early 50’s. They would see paintings underway that looked incredibly strong and complete. Later they would see same work when he was finished with it, and think the earlier versions had been the better. I guess it is likely that de Kooning was the only one to have seen some his best work.
“For many years I was not interested in making a good painting–as one might say, ‘Now this is really a good painting’ or a ‘perfect work.’ I didn’t want to pin it down at all. I was interested in that before, but I found out it was not my nature. I didn’t work on it with the idea of perfection but to see how far one could go–but not with the idea of really doing it. With anxiousness and dedication to fright maybe, or ecstasy, like the Divine Comedy, to be like a performer: to see how long you can stay on the stage with that imaginary audience.” –Willem de Kooning, Content is a Glimpse: Interview with David Sylvester, 1963.
Well, I didn’t always get off the stage as soon as I should have. All of these on paper, about 18×24.