Paintings done on canvas in Mary Beth McKenzie’s class at the Art Students League. When painting from life I tend to tighten up in the work in a way that I can avoid in drawings, and so set out this session to change that, working more quickly on several sketches in paint over the course of each two week pose, leaving work in various states of finish, and moving on–to take what I like in the drawing and work to get that with the paint.
I also have been increasing the scale of the image, to pull it up closer to the surface of the picture plane and to get away from reflexively setting the figure back into space–the relationship of viewer to image changes, moves closer. There is also less “other” space to contend with, and I can deal with the elements more abstractly and have larger surfaces to paint into with both more control and freedom.
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.