Morning Tea

First drawing du jour with tea, I allow myself whatever liberties I need to get moving.  The favorite pen helps motivate me.  This one is after an Ingres portrait, one I found in Walter Pach’s biography of Ingres.  It began with that eye whose gaze is so penetrating, the effect of which I only partly achieved, which in Ingres completely knocks you over.

But it’s a first drawing of the morning so I allow myself whatever necessary allowances ….


The swift bracing thrill of fast

Certain artists were so visually inclined that I think they drew very nearly every idea that crossed the screen in their heads.  Ingres was like that.  If Ingres thought maybe this finger should be closer to that finger or that maybe the sitter should be wearing a ring instead of a bracelet, he drew it.

I’ll never be in Ingres’s class, but he inspires me to work.  If I have an idea, I try to draw it.  And to draw many ideas, you have to draw a lot.  I try to have lots of ideas.  And if I find I don’t have ideas, I draw anyway.  Sometimes any idea will do.

This drawing was about nubby little trees and shrubs on a hillside.

Art Quote du Jour

Le dessin est la probité de l’art.

Dessiner ne veut pas dire simplement reproduire des contours; le dessin ne consiste pas seulement dans le trait: le dessin c’est encore l’expression, la forme intérieure, le plan, le modelé.  Voyez ce qui reste après cela!  … Si j’avais une enseigne à mettre au-dessus ma porte, j’écrirais: Ecole de Dessin et je suis sûr que je ferais des peintres.

Drawing is the integrity of art.

Drawing does not mean simply reproducing contours.  Drawing does not reside solely in line;  drawing is also the expression, the interior form, the composition, the modeling.  Show me what’s left after that!  If I put a sign above my door, it would say Drawing School; and be sure, I would produce painters.

                                                                                                           — Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

More drawing after the masters

drawing Ingres woman

Last couple days I’ve sent myself back to school, making drawings after various old masters (mostly Ingres, as in this case).  I suppose this might be viewed as the “artist’s vacation.”  A few days spent leisurely drawing, a change of pace, a change of media, a change of subject matter.  As with some of the other drawings I’ve posted lately, this drawing is one I did with my left hand.  Using my left hand slows me down.  I cannot possibly draw fast, and I feel as if I notice more.  Whether I actually do or not, I can’t judge.  But even the sensation that time is passing more slowly is delightful. 

Of course, one copies an old master to learn.  So this “slowing down” is also time spent with the artist being studied.  Looking so intently at Ingres’s painting (as reproduced in a book), I find myself marvelling at the extraordinary richness of Ingres’s world.  The way he sees even just the woman’s hair, for instance, is just amazing.  He has turned her curls into the most intriguing structures which he reproduces with a great and loving sensitivity.

In making a copy, you experience the painting you study so much more deeply.  And it is as though the master tells you, “oh, look at this!”  and “what about that!”  and thus you have a silent conversation in the pure language of images.

drawing Ingres woman detail

Okay, I suppose it’s possible to do a kind of quick drawing with one’s left hand (talking to right-handed artists here).  And I did do this next drawing in a fairly short time, in a sketchy way (though most my left hand drawings look a little sketchy no matter how carefully I make them).

drawing Ingres woman two

I made this first left hand drawing of the Ingres woman in a rather quick, summary way.  It’s a “getting acquainted” kind of sketch.  Then I did the longer drawing at the top of the post. 

drawing Ingres woman two detail

The two drawings have a slightly different character and mood.  And thus one can make many versions of a single subject, even when copying.

And it’s not even his birthday

drawing after Ingres roughyoungman

As previous posts explain, I have been doing left-handed drawings after Ingres.  It’s become an unofficial Ingres Day around here.  And it’s not even his birthday.  (That’s August 29th.)  This drawing is taken from a very un-Ingreist portrait, the Young Man with an Earring, 1804 of the Musee Ingres, Montauban.  The young man looks rough and rude, and Ingres’s treatment is dark and smudgy, not the superlinearity that we customarily expect.

And my version is … well … my version.  Some details below.

drawing eyes of Ingres rough young man

I can’t help it.  I love close-ups.

drawing mouth of Ingres young man

The shading all runs the “other” direction because this is my left-hand’s shading.

Some Residents of Heaven

drawing after Ingres apotheosis detail

My daughter asked me today if I could have a meeting of my favorite artists in heaven, who would I invite?

Hmm.  Had to think a moment.  Ingres, of course.  Rubens, Durer (my candidates for three of the greatest draughtsmen of history).   Would have to include Degas.  I cut my teeth on Degas, and he’s a great admirer of Ingres and even met Ingres.  Since I invited Rubens, how can I not invite Rembrandt?  Duh.  And I thought I should invite Hokusai, too (the old man mad about drawing) even if he’d have the most difficult time conversing with the others, being Japanese.  Van Gogh.  And last but not least, Winslow Homer. 

Homer made lots of drawings, but is not known very much for “finished drawings,” having given up anything remotely like that when he stopped being an illustrator.  But I’ll take even a scribble by Homer any day.

I figured that English, French and Latin connections would be enough to allow most everyone to talk to most everyone else (with others doing a bit of translation).  And Hokusai, all he’d have to do is start drawing and everyone would stop talking and just do some jaw dropping and watch, before picking up their own drawing tools.

With this lovely question for inspiration, I have been drawing today with my left hand again, which I do for amusement and freedom.  Decided to make some drawings after our heavenly hero Ingres, taking images from my copy of the book Ingres by George Vigne. (And no, I didn’t pay the price they’re asking for the book now.)  My copy is made from the Head of Boileau, 1827 (Musee Ingres, Montauban).  You can see Boileau in the completed Apotheosis of Homer here (he appears in the lower right corner of this detail).

So, we won’t all be playing harps, I think, when the role is called up yonder.  Some of us, I wager, will be drawing!

drawing man's eyes

Denouement of the Little Squares



This will be the last essay devoted to the subject of little squares for a while.  One hopes that the Ellsworth Kelly audience is paying attention, though I fear that this group of readers has not ventured any further than the original post I wrote in which I bad-mouthed the currently fashionable (and now also rather elderly) artist.  I will not have scratched the surface, really, of the full significance of boxes as a form in art.  However, one needs to move on.  For whomever might be interested in the saga from beginning to denouement, it began with a post called Less than Perfect.

Above is an amazing and strange drawing by the great French artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.  He made the drawing as a study for his famous portrait of Mme. Moitessier (now in London).  Though the real Mrs. Moitessier never posed nude for the portrait, the artist realized this drawing either by working from memory — or, as is more likely — having a studio model assume the pose so that he could better study the structure of his pictorial idea.

What is most strange, however, is not the nudity of the model but the strange conjunction of the figure with a grid of squares.  Even if Ingres had intended to use this grid to firm up his drawing as he transferred the idea from drawing to canvas or from one study to another study,  this grid is not even placed over most of the figure.  Indeed the focal point of the grid (assuming that the middle position relates to the focus) is located approximately at the model’s left elbow.

Seeing the drawing in reproduction, I can’t detect whether the grid or the drawing was made first.  Either alternative presents questions.  If he made the drawing first and the grid after, one wonders what purpose the grid serves.  If he made the grid first and then the drawing, one wonders why he didn’t choose a plain sheet for such an elegant study.  As things stand, though, with model and grid both occupying prominent places on this sheet, we find a drawing of sinuous organic lines contrasted with a delicate, spider’s web of incisive geometric boxes. 

When the whole appears to be more than the sum of the parts, as here, one can only speculate that perhaps for an enigmatic reason that we can only feel without quite understanding, the figure drawing and the mathematical grid both enliven each other.

For me it demonstrates that in true art, a complex psychology lives.  It resides inside certain images, giving them a force and resonance that speak to the heart and the mind in the silent language of sight.  Certainly, this life of little squares possesses more ingenuity and more poignancy and more insistence than do Mr. Kelly’s very less ambitious images.

I may not have persuaded his fans, though.  Alas.  Thus it is still true that you can bring a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.

Here I really am?

With a question mark, here I am.  I took this photo to create a drapery I could draw à l’Ingres.  My being present technically makes this a self-portrait.  But I’m really just along for the ride.  The drapery is the star.  Beginning artists should make lots of drapery studies.  The old masters started the idea, and it holds more weight than at first one supposes.  Drapery in portraiture defines the figure.  Of course, times were better for artists when flowing robes were the fashion!  Ever since the decline of Athens, artists have fallen on hard times.  Praxiteles, we miss you!  I jest, of course.

Drapery is also this very pliable thing.  Look what crazy Gothic artists did with drapery.  Drapery is an inanimate subject whose amorphous forms can adapt very readily to whatever subliminal messages an artist — or a whole society– is trying to express.  It is very “true” and “realistic” and yet it is thoroughly “abstract” and sometimes conventional.

Drawing drapery leads one naturally into landscape or figure or still life.  It’s an artistic Rorschach test, a mirror of the psyche.  You draw the drapery and reveal — yikes! — the self.

Meanwhile, I’ll have to get back to you when I’ve done my drawings from this photo.

[Top of the post:  Drapery study, by Aletha Kuschan, digital photo]

mme moitessier as moi

I don’t look like this, yet in some crazy way this is my portrait.  I made this whimsical pen drawing after Ingres’s magnificient Portrait of Mme Moitessier that lives in the National Gallery, London.  I saw the painting when it was loaned to the National Gallery of Art in Washington for an Ingres exhibit a few years ago, but made this drawing from a reproduction.  While searching the net for an image of the painting to show readers, I also found this surprising appearance of the grand lady.  (She gets around more than I supposed!)  Actually the real painting is much larger than the reproduction of her that gazes out upon the pedestrians.  The real MacCoy measures 120 x 92.1 cm (about 60 x 38 inches).  Some of the real Mme Moitessier’s story is available  here.

I realize that lots of people care about celebrities.  There wouldn’t be celebrities, I mean, such category of persons would not exist, were there not a “demand” for them.  It’s not a sentiment that I share.  Of course, I can identify some of the currently famous actresses of the present because like everyone I enjoy eating, and consequently find myself shopping fairly regularly for groceries.  And the ubiquitous check out tabloids stare out at you and greet everyone and update the world of the latest misadventures of the famous “beautiful people.”

Well, that kind of thing holds no appeal for me.  Most of the famously photographed people could arrive at my doorstep, and finding them outside their grocery store check-out line context, I wouldn’t know who they are.  But — if Mme Moitessier ever showed up…. Holy cow!  Wouldn’t that be the day!  I’d certainly recognize her.  And she’d be a stand out in any group wearing the fabulous dress she wears in Ingres’s portrait.

Of course, Mme Moitessier is unfortunately quite long dead.  Moreover, she probably did not thoroughly resemble the woman in her picture.  Or let’s just say, it was mighty convenient of her to happen to look so much like the Roman fresco goddess that Ingres worshipped, into whose pose Ingres put her.  The dress may be partly Ingres’s invention. So, one might as well expect a fictional character to arrive at one’s door.  The odds that Britney Spears’s car would break down in front of the house, and she require the use of some of our wrenches and other car tools is far more likely than that anyone vaguely resembling Mme Moitessier should arrive.  And, really, it’s a shame.

[Top of the post:  Me as Mme Moitessier, sort of… by Aletha Kuschan]