John Berger said that every drawing is autobiographical by nature. What must people think about my drawings! My drawings are actually about people. People who have earned their faces. Good, bad or weird, there is a celebration of the well lived life. Even when that life amounts to gross excess or even callous disregard for others. We are the sum total of the granular day to day, minute to minute life we lead. Drawing for me is a kind of topography of lives lived and to extend the map metaphor, I am drawing destinations on a journey. It is a knowing wink and a nod that my drawings give back to me because they know that when I see them sparkle with decay, I too am equally doomed. Under the impenetrable gray English sky we can both laugh at the absurdity of it all.
After a miserable summer even by English standards, the first day of unadulterated sun and clear skies was like a gift from a god I thought had long abandoned us. Southsea was truly on parade with heavily tattooed men with wives or girlfriends in revealing questionable outfits and kids running feral and throwing beach pebbles at people passing by. I even managed to witness and capture that distinctly English rite of having a flask of tea regardless of the heat. It was glorious and the heat of the sun was making the lead of my graphite stick move across the paper like dirty butter. So at the end of the day, I had a bad sunburn, 5 drawings and a well deserved pint. Enjoy.
After dishing out more money than I ever would have thought for a pen on Ebay, I struggled to get what the fuss was about. The pen was no ordinary one. I am referring to the Mont Blanc 149 piston fountain pen. It is regarded by many as the best fountain pen in the world and according to some artists, it is a fine machine capable of keeping up with the hand and mind of the artist. After receiving it, I tested it on several sketch book pages. It was unremarkable. It felt sluggish and the line wasn’t as varied or as interesting as I had hoped. A big fat waste of cash. Then, I had a brainstorm. Perhaps a pen like this needed a surface that was firm enough to let it glide. Like a skater on freshly surfaced ice. I also imagined that bright white paper may be the best option as black ink would look most crisp. So, I purchased bright white illustration board and unscrewed the fine torpedo cap of the big (some call it a man’s pen but that is grossly narrow in my view) torpedo shape. Wow! It handled like the Porsche it really is. With no idea of what I was going to make other than a vague exploration of Portsmouth characters, the drawings flowed with the ideas and the pen was tremendously exciting to use. My reason for buying the pen in the first place was to have a new tool. More than that, to have a tool that combined what I love about etching and drawing and was more expedient to use in upcoming explorations into graphic novels and personal projects. Much more to come.
These drawings have been eagerly awaiting the warm glow of the computer screen for months. I have been meaning to get them up here but it has not happened. Finally, the dog gets walked. From the Isle of Wight Zoo and streets to Brighton and Bath, these drawings have little in common other than they were produced for pure enjoyment and, in regards to the colour pieces, as a kind of controlled experiment. I am starting to tap into the English frame of mind and I am constantly being surprised. Like any people of any nation, complexities abound especially when you move beyond the surface. My students are also inspiring me. As much of an old dog as I am, (an old dog that needs several walks) there is always a desire to push my image making capabilities to even greater heights. The shape of that is being formed in my head as we speak and may represent a further departure from realist subjects. For now, these drawings have their walk on the cyber stage. Enjoy.
These drawings are from last weekend’s heat wave. Well, it was actually the crest of a weeklong wave that had the UK bathed in sunshine and a temporary, if not illusionary sense that summer had not left us. For those here in August (I was in NY) it sounds like it was the summer weather that was poorly missing. Southsea beach in Portsmouth was more crowded than I have ever seen it and it was clear that many outsiders made a b-line for the beach, eager to savour every minute of the precious warm sun and air. So, beach goers were predictably in their swimming costumes and lying out like seals on rocks, limiting movements to occasional dips into the water (which for my unadventurous and feeble body was absurdly chilly). The human display was fantastic. It is too bad really that we only get to witness that parade of flesh on warm days. It is both a visual and intellectual treat (intellectual in that the informed viewer can see the display with some distance, a look at a species at play. Never mind we are one of them). The drawings largely drew themselves. Characters leapt into the sketchbook, demanding a rendering and asserting their existence. Tenderness is creeping more and more into my drawings. Times are tough and the pain is spread all around. While art is never beholden to societal expectation, I can’t help but feel more camaraderie with my fellow man as we all feel the tug of some impending crash or maybe flush, like a toilet. And with the value and relevance of art and art education being debated in society, it is ever more important to shout its contribution. Even when it is as simple as holding up a mirror to our own wonderful strangeness.
These drawings are from Southsea, the Isle of Wight and New York City. As diverse as these places are, there is the common thread of summer pastimes. For many, especially New Yorkers, the idea of free time is foreign so every moment of vacation/holiday is precious. Still, the ultimate goal of time off is to relax and when people let their hair down, I like to be there with pencil in hand. There is also something apolitical in my drawings this summer. Instead of my typical posture of ridicule and sneering cynicism, I feel real sympathy for my subjects, especially the Americans who have had a rough 3 years with economic doom at every corner. I realized as well that Americans are big hearted and kind people. It is a shame that the political face of the nation and our foreign policy has put the ugly american forward, resulting in its true nature going unseen by much of the world. True there are still the nutcase right wingers and people with old hate in their hearts but much of that can be written off to pure ignorance and people pushed to the edges of society. The recent anniversary of 9/11 reminded me of course of the heartbreaking tragedy of the day but also, how proud I felt to be in a country that, when pushed to the brink, would take care of its own. It was a brief moment when America restored it’s moral place in the world, not by political action, but by honest to goodness citizenship. With so much petty political turmoil today, Americans forget that the country was founded on the principal that the people are running the show. 9/11 showed that when push comes to shove, our better instincts, our bravery, and big hearts rule the day.
These Berlin drawings have been in my sketchbook since January when we took some students over. It was an amazing city that exceeded my expectations. The city was large, even American in a sense with a kind of grand ideal that felt like home. It also has that same nostalgic ambition that cities like Detroit and Pittsburgh have. A kind of rusting ambition. You can still imagine George Grosz scurrying around drawing prostitutes entering the park at night, and fat bankers slobbering as they stuff food into their mouths. The Weimar city of contrasts between rich and poor, healthy and wounded, still feels alive. More than any other city besides perhaps Paris, Berlin has a palpable connection to a dynamic, creative, and violent history. They all seem to be wrapped up in one sensation and walking the streets can feel quite oppressive. Still, the city is full of people who love art and love life and it is one of the last truly affordable European cities. I had a wonderful time and next time promise to plant myself in the middle of it all and truly channel the spirit and courage of the great Grosz.