Today I am remembering the joy of discovery that accompanied life drawing which I did almost every day for years when I was in my teens and twenties. The feeling I am describing often happened when I found the plane that emerged from the lighting being just so. The plane affirmed what I had learned in anatomy class or from my studies of plaster casts, old master drawings and marble sculptures. I am discovering this feeling anew while painting from a beautiful drawing by Pontormo.
When I was looking for the next images that will occupy my attention I knew that I wanted to get back to the body. I thought of my friend who told me that my paintings of bodies captured the pain that lives within the body.
I have written before about the books my father brought home from Europe and one in particular was a book of Michelangelo drawings that I would copy. When I was at the NY Academy, I fell in love with Pontormo. I thought about what is beautiful to me, what could take up all of my attention, and I thought of these drawings. I have a copy of the Hacker Art Books revised edition of of Cox-Rearick’s 2 volume The Drawings of Pontormo. But of course the quality of the images do not compare to the digital ones I found on the Getty Open Content site. I printed the Reclining Youth and have been studying it and painting from it. I hope this will take me further into other drawings by Pontormo as well as drawings I have done in the past.
I am seeking a transformation with these paintings from drawings: by taking something I love and all of the feelings that are attendant with that love I hope to create something intense and profound. At first I was thinking of the Buddhist concept of emptiness and trying to achieve this through the contrary process of addition. The result: to achieve a sort of disappearance or separation from time and place. But that is perhaps too much of a task. I will be satisfied with achieving a definition of alchemy: an inexplicable or mysterious transmuting.
The image below was begun only recently. Much more to discover.
I am leaving for California soon. I hope to see the paintings of the Bay Area artists at the John Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco, and to visit some other galleries while there. I have begun a painting of my father, and will be adding a slightly menacing figure who will be measuring his head. I had the pleasure of cataloging some books on phrenology a short time ago, and wanted to use that quack science because it was later manipulated by racists to justify their ideas of a master race. Whenever one group of people decide they are better than another horrible things can happen and they certainly did during my father’s childhood. I really like the photograph of my father that I am working from, because he is caught in the middle of laughing; a seemingly true and robust laugh that I haven’t seen often enough.
It has been used for at least two years, I believe, and it was used to create most of the fighter portraits which will be on exhibit from September through October at the George School.
Yesterday I spent hours looking at the facsimile of The Big Book by W. Eugene Smith. I could relate to the darkness he found in the world and his devotion to its depiction. I could also relate to John Berger’s words about Smith’s mother: “How did the moral drama, which is so integral a part of his photography, first begin for him? Unquestionably, profoundly, and until the end, it began with his mother.”* A detailed review of Smith’s Big Book can be found here.
*Berger, John. Pieta: W. Eugene Smith, The Big Book, Volume 3 Essays and Texts. Austin, University of Texas Press; Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona. 2013.