Reflection in action

13 Jan

Reportage drawing is a complex activity bringing together several layers of experience, acquisition, intention and reflection. Through my own practice, and eventually the practice of other reportage artists, I am seeking to identify in the reportage act the simultaneity of seeing and depicting that reveals the inherent strategies, both intentional and intuitive, that are manifest in visual language. Reportage drawing is well suited to this path of inquiry because although it is undertaken in a variety of environments and with differing agendas, the act requires a high level of intuitive response to stimuli and concretely reveals strategies for articulating forms. Additionally, reportage drawing is often undertaken as a means to comment upon and extend ideas about society at large. It is my contention that the visual language of the reportage artist is imbued with the intent of the artist. This is particularly true of the reportage drawing that I engage with. My reportage drawing is heavily editorialized and my own visual language resembles an extensive graphic vocabulary that simultaneously renders form and comment.

Below are some recent drawings from Paris. Well, I composed them in my head in Paris but I drew them a day later back in London. What is lost and gained in working from memory is something I am very interested in. As these drawings are fairly successful, it does challenge the notion that reportage drawing is necessarily anchored to a time and place. That time and place can be as temporal as our perception at any given moment. These drawings then are a reflection. Perhaps that is what reportage drawing is; reflection in action. paris.2 paris.3 paris.4 paris

The constituent parts

11 Oct

If drawing is a visual language then it is certainly distinct in form and function to other languages. Every other language is concerned with the constituent parts. The letters, the words, the structures. Drawing is largely concerned with the end result. What is represented. We derive a host of meanings from how it is made and the strategies employed in rendering the forms but, the totality of the image is paramount. And it should be. Although not as brutal as having the magicians trick revealed, the analysis of drawing can make the drawing seem too determined, too constructed. But if we call drawing a language, we can also speak of the use of language in ways that are more poetic and befitting of an art object. Like language, drawing employs devices that challenge our assumptions and through a complex arrangement of developed notations (symbolic shorthand), the artist is speaking with a singular voice; more akin to spoken language with pitch and timing laid over the intended (or unintended) meaning of the words. Languages, like the places they reflect, have cultures and that is a compelling lens with which to see an artist’s world. A culture of one perhaps. Enjoy these drawings of London. More context for these characters to come. These are just people that called out to me.

Louis Netter repotage

Louis Netter
repotage

Louis Netter Sketch

Louis Netter
Sketch

Louis Netter Reportage

Louis Netter
Reportage

Louis Netter Reportage

Louis Netter
Reportage

Louis Netter Reportage

Louis Netter
Reportage

Louis Netter Reportage

Louis Netter
Reportage

Louis Netter Reportage

Louis Netter
Reportage

Louis Netter Reportage

Louis Netter
Reportage

Summer in the unsettled

27 Sep

The drawings below are from Long Beach Island New Jersey and New York City. Vacationers at the beach were in short supply or so the locals said at any given opportunity. It would seem the hurricane Sandy damage may have kept people away although the island had made a remarkable recovery with reminders at every restaurant and deli. A defiant ‘we will not be defeated’ seemed to ring out of every establishment. This was even with flood waters the year before being over a meter in height in the same places.

Long Beach Island was not what I expected. After years of seeing the classic circular LBI stickers on the back of wealthy SUV’s in Westchester NY, I imagined a more prosperous and, to be honest, more boutique beach side destination. It was a more down to earth New Yawk kind of place and I appreciated that. After living in England for 3 years, I am even more aware of the amount of money that Americans have to play with. It is decadent but it is a culture that I understand. This is how we roll so to speak. After a week of drawing, socialising with my family and eating for Uncle Sam, I remembered how seductive abundance was and how it was like a sedative, dampening my inclinations toward dissent. I was packing on the pounds trying to temporarily ignore my better instincts. It would seem from looking at my drawings, that the problem persists for many.

In this unsettled and uncertain moment in American life, America is doing better than most. It seems less to do with the facts on the ground than a powerful optimism that quickly shakes off set backs. It is hard to see an America that would ever fully embrace modest living and the sensible, conservative, well worn habits of its European fore fathers. History would suggest that transitions so extreme are less likely than out and out collapse. It would seem the ride isn’t over yet.

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Pumpkins and incarceration

27 Jun

It occurred to me recently when I was trying to describe free association to a student that we make very strange connections in our mind that although outwardly absurd, reveal a distinct strategy. In this particular case I was demonstrating how one might think around the idea of Halloween and I started with pumpkins, and then went to face paint, throwing eggs, vandalism and finally incarceration. It was a tidy narrative, even moralistic! Drawings are also associative in that they are the summative combination of various ideas that may be related only by their cooperation in seeking a form. It is a confusing task to teach drawing and creative problem solving to budding artists. You want them to own their work but a significant truth lies waiting to be understood. Drawings, like our unfettered thought processes, cannot be tethered to some notion of control and ownership. The bad cliché ‘if you love something let it go’ is almost accurate. Just be careful you know what your drawings are saying behind your back.

summerdrawing.13 summerdrawing.1 summerdrawing.3 summerdrawing.4 summerdrawing.6 summerdrawing.7 summerdrawing.9 summerdrawing.10 summerdrawing.11 summerdrawing.12

Impenetrable gray

31 Oct

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.

The bright yellow thing in the sky

24 Jul

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.

The View from Mont Blanc

8 Mar

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.

 

Walking the dog

8 Feb

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.

Indian Summer

9 Oct

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.

Summer

13 Sep

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.

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