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Oaxaca (7/10/19, pencil and white charcoal pencil)

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Oaxaca Zocalo (7/11/19, pencil)

After drawing the above two–and keeping up a streak of drawing daily–I fell ill with a bug whose main effect was to drain me of energy so that it was hard even to stay sitting up for long. So I didn’t draw for two days, and then tonight, it felt so good to have enough life in me to look at the passionfruit in our fruit bowl and try to convey its wrinkles.

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Passionfruit (7/14/19, pencil & white charcoal pencil))

Something I want to practice more is drawing clothed people. They always look so stiff. I tried to draw a dancer in Teotitlan the other day, and while his shadow looked lively, he looked like he was made of wood. I couldn’t capture the gesture, his sense of movement and aliveness, the way I can (sometimes) when drawing nudes. It’s all practice.

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Recent sketches have brought me face to face with a big challenge in my drawing: how to portray very complex, detailed objects without showing every detail and while still conveying their general appearance. Drawing always entails decisions about what to put in and what to omit, but with some subjects it’s particularly difficult.

Last week I tackled the overhead branches of a leafy tree (known locally as a huizache; I think it’s a kind of acacia). I was rescued from this one early because Joy and Indigo wanted to go into the nearby museum, so I don’t know whether the approach I was using would have worked.

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Then there’s this, from yesterday. As with the overhead branches, the complexity of these vines climbing the wall (of the San Pablo cultural center, in Oaxaca’s Centro) is exactly what drew my eye, and what I want to get onto the paper. Yet I don’t want to draw every single line and shadow. I drew fast and tried not to get too many niggly details down, but I didn’t know how to do what I would do with a more unitary subject, such as a human nude: draw in big simple shapes and then add detail. A subject like this seems to be nothing but detail, so I’m flummoxed.

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Sorry for the glare on the paper. These are quick and dirty cellphone shots of my sketchbook.

For context, here’s another visitor’s photo of the same wall. Yummy detail, right? But how do I capture that?

I’ll keep working on it. I’m looking at nature drawings by masters like van Gogh and Monet to try to figure out how they conveyed complexity.

During vacation, I’m managing to do what I did earlier this spring for a few months, and drawing for at least a few minutes every day. Can I make a daily habit of it once I’m back into the swing of work? Let’s see.

A friend suggested that posting drawings now and then might help me, which I think is true, so here are a few.

I’ve been carrying my sketchbook with me (it’s small, about 5″ x 7″) and trying to work fast when I have a few minutes. Working fast helps me focus my attention more on the big picture and less on the niggly details, and in these four it worked fairly well. More on that challenge tomorrow.

The first two are graphite; the last two are fine-tip pen.

I had a kaleidoscope pattern in my office window that I’d made during one of the sessions of Exploring Mind, Hands, Spirit and Heart through Art I lead monthly. Dan Harper, our Associate Minister for Religious Education, asked if I’d like to make some more to be coloring pages for kids to do during services. So that’s what I’ve been happily doing with a lot of my art time for the past few weeks. Here are four in various stages of completion.

Once again I’m undertaking a daily spiritual practice for several weeks. I’ve called it a Lenten practice in the past, but I’ve become uncomfortable doing so, out of respect for Christians. I don’t take it lightly, but for me it is not a period of repentance, much less preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus, so I don’t want to dilute what is, for others, one of the most sacred seasons of their year.

What I want is to engage in a deeper dive into reflection than I usually do, and for a longer period. The theological context aside, I think Lent has staying power as a practice because it’s both intensive and time-limited. It’s like Ramadan or, in the secular realm, 30-day diets: we can better challenge ourselves when we have a set amount of time in which to go deeper. I have seldom made a go of a daily practice, but seven weeks is something I might be able to sustain.

So far this year, I have. My two practices are to do five minutes of art play every day, ideally first thing in the morning, and to read the daily devotion in Resipescence: A Lenten Devotional for Dismantling White Supremacy, edited by Vahisha Hasan and Nichola Torbett. I learned about this wonderful book just as Lent was beginning, so I didn’t have a copy until about ten days in, but I caught up right away and have continued meditating on one per day. And the art has been a joy.

Do you have any spiritual practices, ether connected to Lent or not?

Black History Month, day 7

Darn. I am too tired to write a proper post. I want to give this wonderful artist his due, so I’ll just post a teaser for now and write more about him in tomorrow’s post.

I love this photo for three reasons. It pulls back far enough to convey how fluid and soft Anatsui’s sculptures appear (they are in fact made of thousands of tiny bits of scrap such as bottle caps). It shows the scale of the piece. And–oh, my heart–it is a portrait of our late, beloved friend Bean.

(Thanks to Gilad Kfir for taking this gorgeous photo of them, and his kind permission to use it here.)

Black History Month, day 5

I love this picture book of the song that came to be known as the “African American national anthem,” “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” The words by James Weldon Johnson are thoughtfully, sometimes devastatingly paired with linocuts by the great printmaker and sculptor, Elizabeth Catlett.

I have not been able to find out how these pairings came about. The song came first (Catlett was born 15 years after it premiered, and the prints were made in 1945-6, when she was 30-31 years old, which, by the way, blows my mind) but did she make the prints specifically to accompany this song? Or did she choose them out of her oeuvre almost 50 years later? Or did an editor choose them? I’m curious, though ultimately it doesn’t matter. The words illuminate the art as much as the art illuminates the words.

Johnson and his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, wrote the lyrics and music, respectively, for a Lincoln celebration in Jacksonville, Florida, where it s sunny by an enormous chorus of children. Thirty-five years later he wrote:

Shortly afterwards my brother and I moved from Jacksonville to New York, and the song passed out of our minds. But the school children of Jacksonville kept singing it, they went off to other schools and sang it, they became teachers and taught it to other children. Within twenty years it was being sung over the South and in some other parts of the country. Today, the song, popularly known as the Negro National Hymn, is quite generally used.

The lines of this song repay me in elation, almost of exquisite anguish, whenever I hear them sung by Negro children.

Elation/exquisite anguish. The lines of Catlett’s prints express this paradoxical combination just as the Johnsons ‘ song does. A beautiful book. (The music for piano and voice is printed in the book as well.)

Black History Month, day 2

 

I could do an entire month’s worth of daily posts just on collage by African-American artists. Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden, of course, and so many other artists of our own time who are taking collage in fascinating directions.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby is new to me, and I love, love, love her work. It’s mostly painting, with Xerox transfers and other collage elements, and frequently makes striking use of negative space. In the piece I Refuse to Be Invisible, invisibility seems to threaten each figure. Faces and hands, flat, recede into the design. The woman in the orange stripes seems less real than her clothes. The face of the woman turned toward us, though, defies being disappeared. She will be seen, and on her own terms.

I need to see this artist’s work in person!

As I’ve done before, I’m challenging myself to blog about African-American* history, thought, and culture every day this month.

Today’s post arises from my having just finished the audiobook of Letters to a Young Artist, by the actor, playwright, professor, and author, Anna Deavere Smith. She reads it herself, naturally, and I’m glad I heard it in her voice, though I am going to buy a paper copy as well. It’s a book I’ll want to reread, thumb through, underline bits of, pull off the shelf frequently, and give copies of to friends.

She’s writing to a painter, and many of her examples come from acting and writing, but the advice–no, the wisdom–goes far beyond any particular art form. In fact, what the artist M. C. Richards once said kept running through my head as I listened to Smith’s direct, engaging, humble yet confident words: All the arts are apprenticeships; the true art is our life. It’s life wisdom she’s imparting here, as valuable for minister-me as artist-me, and most of all for human-me.

Not having a print version before me, I can’t properly remember the things I wanted to underline and share. (I couldn’t even place electronic bookmarks, because I was driving.) But if you’re looking for a hopeful, urgent response to the crisi/es that we 21st century people face, try listening to the voice of Anna Deavere Smith.

*or African, or African diaspora

Trypophobia, I have recently learned, is a fear of holes. Many people with trypophobia not only give holes in the ground a wider berth than safety demands, but they can feel quite ill at even the sight of a photo of a hole. If you are such a person, you will want to stop reading now.

I seem to be the opposite. I must have trypophilia, because I am strongly drawn to holes and images of holes. I don’t (usually) want to enter them, but I do want to gaze at them. For example, I find this photo of the Seahorse Nebula, which appeared on NASA’s Astronomy Photo of the Day earlier this week, both beautiful and compelling.

It’s a bit dizzying, a bit frightening. I am not a roller-coaster person, but when I look into a hole, I think I understand for the first time how those who love roller coasters can enjoy the thrill of fear and happiness at the same time. That’s how that image makes me feel.

Andy Goldsworthy, one of my favorite artists, has created many works based on holes over many years. Every time I see one I gasp a little, with a mix of recognition, giddiness, and wonder to which I can put no name.

Holes / Middleton Woods, Yorkshire / 1 February 1981 is inviting and also suggests that maybe someone lives in that cozy spot.

His Rowan Leaves and Hole (1987) makes me feel as if I am going to fall endlessly, harmlessly through beauty.

The holes aren’t always empty. Sweet Chestnut Leaf Hole reveals more sweet chestnut leaves, and Hanging Hole is really as much a window or door as a hole; you know what lies behind it, because you can see the tunnel. In the case of Woven Branch Circular Arch (1986), you could even step through the hole–which is a hole, even though he doesn’t call it one.

But I’m most drawn to the ones that seem to go, either nowhere, or into infinity: to suggest a depth within the object they frame that the artist intuits but that would not otherwise be visible. The sculpture he chose for the cover of his book Wood suggests an infinite passage into a tree, and Pebbles Around a Hole, one through the planet itself.

I don’t know why I love these so much, but in my own drawings I’m sometimes reaching for that same paradoxical sense of presence in the space between.

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