Sunday, October 22, 2006

Silverlake Sketches

I am almost officially done moving in, a few boxes of random odds and ends still. I need a few more pieces of furniture since I sold or tossed out 70% of my previous furniture because it was tired and uninspired.

Being in a new location my mind is ablaze with new ideas. I heard somewhere that Picasso moved often to keep inspired, and now I see that reasoning. Though if I move again I doubt it will be for quite some time. I am thoroughly exhausted and sick of having a head full of packing tape and UHaul reservations.

I have been exploring the new neighborhood and already am planning some new paintings that are pretty different from what I have been doing. Also I have plans for a new photography series (self portraits/landscapes still) that I want to do in Griffith Park. I got lost driving around in there one morning and found some interesting locations, I may have to tresspass a little to get the photos though. But I like to break the rules to take a photo, it comes through. Like the time I stripped down to a slip in Malibu Creek State Park within earshot of families picnicking.

What I have been occupying myself with mostly of late (since I have not jumped full force into painting quite yet, I just barely unpacked my tubes of paint this week) is sketching out and about.

I was drawing on people in restaurants at lunchtime for a while with the goal of doing a drawing a day. But over time I became bored with that-- partially because of the staleness of most restaurants. People don't move around that much, and they generally have one pose (sitting down stuffing their face.) Plus it is often hard to get a good angle and to be discreet about it. People often come up and watch or talk to me-- which sometime I don't mind-- but it distracts me and sometimes my audience lingers a little long and a little close.

Somehow I decided to draw people at music clubs instead. On average I attend 1-2 live music shows a week. Not all of the clubs are the best places to find a corner and sketch people-- but sometimes the stars align and it works out. And it is much more dynamic than restaurants. First of all, the people are more interesting (in the way they look and dress) and they tend to move around much more. There is so much more variety.

Most of all, I love to draw musicians while they play. I think this started when I studed at Yale's Summer School of Music and Art at Norfolk. I spent the summer living in a pretty remote part of Connecticut-- and had my own studio with no real obligations except eating, sleeping and painting. (There was also a good darkroom and this was my first time to dive into photography.) The head painting teacher that summer was Sam Messer (google him if you don't know him.) He was very big into mixing painting with literature & music & film. He prepared a reading list for the summer all of novels. He had some of the authors come and speak. Paul Auster, Siri Husvedt, Mary Gaitskill.... (Mary Gaitskill was the best, she spent 3 hrs in my studio looking at my work and discussing narrative structure with me.) He also had the same approach with getting models for the students. One model was a gymnast who gave us some of the most bizarre poses I've ever seen from a model. He also would have the music students (mainly classical) come and practice while we worked from them. We could draw, paint, take photos-- anything-- as long as we participated. Musicians are great to draw as they play because they are not stiff and posed-- the move and change continuously. Their minds are on what they are doing so they are not self conscious about being drawn.

My favorite musician subject that summer was a cellist. I've forgotten her name, but she would play these incredible songs that she wrote-- very contemporary and unique-- all on cello. Here are some of the oil sketches I did of her.

They are each about 2 inches square-- and were done from pencil sketches I did as she played. (I was going through a miniature phase to protest the teachers urging me to do 8 foot paintings as if big paintings meant better paintings.)

I find myself returning to the same exercise of drawing musicians. Not only does challenge me by trying to sketch fast and capture brief moments-- the energy from the music, the performer and the crowd inspires me. It's not about accuracy of likeness, or finding a perfect poetic image meant to last centuries. It's about the experience, the accidents, the fleeting moments that come and go and get fixed in memory much like the performance itself.

Here are a few of my recent sketches. I usually draw in pencil or pen at the club first. When I get home I go over them with either goache, pastel, watercolor pencil, charcoal or a mixture of them. I think this is similar to how the impressionists worked catching fleeting moments-- they painted from life and then added more back in the studio going off of their memory.

This is a sketch of the crowd-- done with pencil, goache and charcoal. All the figures were backlit by light from the bar as well as red light flooding from the stage.

This one is from the same night and falls into the category of happy accidents. It wasn't so crowded so I had a good view of the stage. Ferraby Lionheart is performing-- he is seated at the piano. He is partially obscured by this guy seated on a stool. I love when figures are cropped unexpectedly-- it adds mystery because the viewer can't see the action. It makes one want to peer past the obstruction. This reminds me of one of my favorite Degas paintings:

Here's another from the same performance:

I've started to go to see the same bands/musicians play over and over again. Every performance is completely different-- even at the same venue with the same songs. And my sketches are different too. This is Ferraby Lionheart another night. It was much more crowded so I didn't draw as much, but I managed to do this one page of sketches. I've also included what I drew in the club and what I added later. In this sketch I also scribbled some of the lyrics as I drew. It was all drawn during one song while I was standing on a bench to see.

I have more sketches I did of other musicians, performances & crowds on my flickr site. I'll post more as I go.

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