What I saw is a series of sketches of people and situations that I encounter in the city. I’ll be posting once a week.
I’ve been looking at the work of South African artist, William Kentridge. I could look at his drawings and prints endlessly.
He makes short animated films from his prints and drawings. In the video below, he talks about the artist’s role in observing and depicting pain and suffering.
For more videos on Kentridge’s work – and for videos about other artists’ work – see the Art21 website (great resource).
I’ve started dabbling with painting. Sometimes I copy paintings and sometimes I paint from life. This week’s work has reminded me how much it takes to develop a way of seeing.
This apple painting is a copy (unfortunately, I don’t know who the painter is.)
If I’d put an apple on my kitchen table and tried to paint it, I doubt I would have used the dark shadows and background that make the colours of the apple so vibrant. I used the painter’s understanding of composition, tonal values and colour.
When I paint from life, I have a hard time figuring all those things out. And brush strokes. I don’t know which brushes to use, how wet or dry they need to be, how to make the transition between shadow and light and between one colour and another, and all kinds of other things.
There’s an endless amount of stuff to learn about technique and materials. But for me the most important thing is developing a way of seeing.
A couple of years ago, the city delivered a couple of composting bins – green bins – to my building. Until then I’d only been recycling paper, glass and plastic. But once I started using the green bins, my garbage shrank a lot. I was putting out about one small grocery-store bag a month and working on cutting that down to half.
It was all going well until I started working on an art installation.
The project was to make public payphones more visible and useful. Yanis, a fellow artist, and I decorated all of the Bell payphones in the neighbourhood and added lists of free 1-800 numbers to important social services inside.
We did a test phone to see how the materials we chose would hold up:
Outdoor art installations have to withstand brutal exposure to weather – which often means using materials that don’t break down.We used adhesive wallpaper, which we cut to size and painted. The panels held up to ice, rain and blistering sun, and they were removable – all requirements. So we went ahead and, over the course of a year, covered 17 phone booths – and generated a lot more garbage than my target of one small bag every couple of months. It was an eye-opener.
Now I’m thinking about changing the way I work, and how I explore my themes. Maybe I’ll work with ephemera – with materials that breakdown, dissolve and wash away. These are early days and I still have a a lot of thinking to do about this. And especially a lot of research into materials (it’s amazing how many things I’ve used in the past have been toxic and totally environmentally unfriendly).
A year ago, I picked up a pencil and started learning how to draw, first with basic exercises, then copying pictures from books. I try to draw something every day – even if it’s just a doodle. It’s been good – peaceful, actually. My head is quiet when I draw.
Eventually, I want to be able to render subjects accurately. Not because I see myself working in a realistic style, but so that I have some techniques under my belt when I start exploring how I see the world.
My eye is already looking ahead at the work of artists whose way of seeing appeals to me. Joan Eardley (1921 – 1963) is one of those painters. Her landscapes are luminous and sparse and filled with energy.
The BBC website has a great gallery of British artists. I found a slideshow of Eardley’s work there – really worth checking out.
And here is my first painting, a study of an Eardley landscape – my version in black and white, painted with white household latex paint and black ink – what I had on hand.
Someone I was close to once told me “You can’t have your cake and eat it too”. At the time, I was asking for help hanging on to a crumbling career in the arts.
The message I got was: “You can’t have the life you want…that’s just an unrealistic dream.”
What ended up happening was that I did stop trying to make a living from art. And I stopped sharing my work. I got a full-time job in an office, where I stayed for 13 years.
Now I’m starting to share my work again.
This blog is written in the spirit of having your cake and eating it too – having as much cake as you want, in fact.