Week three began with an ambush. I believe that it was part of a strategic plan. Right when most of us had begun to get our bearings with landscape painting, we were exposed to some incredible artists and instructors who made it impossible for us to get comfortable or lazy with perceptual painting and drawing. Thanks to Ken Kewley, Deborah Kahn, and Lynette Lombard, my comrades and I have no illusions—this is an uphill battle.
Maybe I should abandon the war metaphor. The treachery we experience here is limited to bug bites and sunburns, both due to our own failings to prepare our bodies in addition to our painting materials each day. We are enjoying lovely weather and painting (and drawing) our way to the blissful psychological state of really seeing. Get up, have breakfast, paint for several hours, critique, take lunch, and then draw and/or resume painting. Then we have an elaborate and delicious dinner as a group (like the multi-course Italian dinner we had Wednesday night), and finally go work until it’s time to sleep. We’re here because we are the kind of peculiar people who want nothing but to study, make, and talk about art, and so really this is our utopian society. It is a perfect balance of the relentless artistic pursuit and optimal living conditions. What we’ve been reminded of this week, though, is that we love art because of the perpetual challenge, and therein lies the battle.
Capturing what I perceive is not the end goal; it is one of many components to making real art. The artists who graced us this week demonstrated the importance of controlling, manipulating, and sometimes taking lightly what we embrace as subject matter. These artists don’t produce realistic images, but work that requires a more active role for the artisit. Ken Kewley’s lecture and workshop last weekend taught us to distill visual information by working quickly with a laissez faire attitude toward image and product. In his workshop, students drew quickly and simply from perception to create compositions with abstract priorities. We then quickly made swatches of color observed from the landscape and figures, and collaged them into drawings back in the studio to synthesize what we had observed from multiple viewpoints. It was a stark contrast to the intense and scrupulous approach to looking that we’d been taught by our first drawing instructor, Brian Kreydatus, but with the same goal of capturing what is truly important.
Ken taught us that working from perception does not necessarily mean painting something that you observe simultaneously. He introduced to us the dimension of time. With trained eyes, we come to remember what’s important, and in the studio that can be balanced with formal interests that serve each piece as a work of its own. Deborah Kahn then expanded upon that theme of working perceptually with the filters of time and memory. She describes her own work as perceptual, but based primarily on what she perceives in her work in progress, and informed secondarily by her understanding of visual perception of the world. I was amazed to hear perceptual painting defined in this way—the important perception is not only of subject matter, but of the created image. Drawing and painting can be reactive, fluid, and alive on the paper or canvas. Composition and emphasis are not fixed from the start, but should be found through the application of marks on a surface.
Inspired by our guest lecturers, I did some experimenting, but failed to find methods to execute the artistic control I wanted over my drawings and paintings. Fortunately, Lynette Lombard entered in as our new drawing teacher just in time to enlighten us on how to take the reins. I just want to say right now, Lynette’s drawing classes are absolute magic. Four hours with her flies by, and leaves me wondering how I survived without the new things she had just taught. Her classes begin normally enough with drawing models and the studio as we see them, but then we are introduced to axes, alignments, and wealth of other tools for controlling our drawings, and implement these upon what has already been drawn. We edit and adjust continuously, even during critique (brilliant!). And then we all have to be herded off to dinner, for though we are starving after a long studio day, we are on fire and want to keep going with our drawings.
I can’t express the kind of overwhelming excitement this week has provided. On the one hand, I’ve seen artists whose work seems so far from where I am. I’m dying to reach that territory, and know that the only way to get there is to work constantly. It’s all I want to do. I don’t want to stop to eat or sleep (I don’t care how nice and cute my new cottage is). I want to work until my paintbrushes and I fall apart beyond use. Right when I felt I was getting a grasp of color, space, and movement, I was reminded of the elements of imagination and feeling. Rather, I wasn’t reminded, but allowed and encouraged to let those things matter again. I’m getting a good enough grasp now of the straightforward technical aspects of image-making to let impression and emotion play roles, and I don’t know what could be more motivating than that.