In early January of 2016 I saw a wonderful exhibition of paintings and drawings at the Frick Collection in New York. The exhibit was Andrea del Sarto: The Renaissance workshop in action and the beautiful book with the same title is where I found some tragically prescient drawings by the master, one of which I have included in this post. I have been working on the painting based off of these drawings for a few weeks, on and off, and with much stumbling. But it seems to be coming together.
I am taking an online course entitled Marriage and the Movies and it has me thinking about how characters that African Americans had to play in movies were almost exclusively supporting roles, both figuratively and literally as they often had to prop up white actors/actresses. Most famously Hattie McDaniel’s character performed this function for Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett in Gone with the Wind. I remember many in the audience hissing when they saw the slaves in a showing of the film in New York in the 1990’s.I like to think that this portrait just begun of McDaniel will hiss and more if anyone would challenge her.
I am challenging myself to create group portraits. It is a continuation of expressing the notion that that those who are prisoners, whether criminals or victims are connected to us and we to them. I did some drawings of groups when I was exploring images of my father as a child during World War II. These drawings led me back to the whole painting surface, as I am using negative and positive space to bring the picture into harmony. This was influenced by a talk I gave at the George School, when I spoke of how I was breaking the rule I learned in school of covering the whole canvas with paint. I rejected this in my series of fighters; now I am returning to it. My reading of the finely researched and brilliantly written David Park: a painter’s life by Nancy Boas also contributed to my thoughts about this painting. Park is my role model because of his ability to convey the universality of people. He did it with amazing technique, energy and integrity.
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.