DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt

2014/04/18

Falling Water

Still from “Awosting”, 2014, video by Mariko Endo and Fred Hatt

Still from “Awosting”, 2014, video by Mariko Endo and Fred Hatt

There is a kind of holy awe in feeling dwarfed by nature, going where our habitual self-importance dissolves in the face of grandeur. We feel ourselves as mere specks in a vastness, and yet to know our minuteness is in itself a kind of expanded consciousness. In our limited everyday sense of ourselves we are great and important, but also limited and mortal. When we are even a little bit aware of the immensity of the universe, we know that we are nothing, but also that in some way we are that vastness, for it has manifested in us in the form of awareness.

Still from “Awosting”, 2014, video by Mariko Endo and Fred Hatt

Still from “Awosting”, 2014, video by Mariko Endo and Fred Hatt

Last year, as the warm weather was just starting to give way to the first chills of autumn, I took a drive up to New York’s Ulster County with my friend the dancer and teacher Mariko Endo. Mariko has a background in butoh, the postwar Japanese performance movement. She wanted to dance under a waterfall. My great friend Alex Kahan, who lives in the area, took us to Awosting Falls in Minnewaska State Park, where we shot this video.

Still from “Awosting”, 2014, video by Mariko Endo and Fred Hatt

Still from “Awosting”, 2014, video by Mariko Endo and Fred Hatt

Awosting Falls is no mighty Niagara or Iguazu or Victoria falls. It’s just one of hundreds of cascades in the ancient, eroded mountains of the Eastern United States. It draws much of its majesty from its natural amphitheater, a nearly perfectly vertical semi-cylindrical backdrop around its rusty-colored plungepool that seems to contain and magnify the roaring cataract. It is a perfect proscenium to make a solo dancer look and feel small.

Still from “Awosting”, 2014, video by Mariko Endo and Fred Hatt

Still from “Awosting”, 2014, video by Mariko Endo and Fred Hatt

Mariko entered upon this stage to feel the frightful power of the water crashing around her, and to channel that power through her body in dance. Both Mariko’s movement and my shooting were improvised. We hadn’t known enough in advance about what the falls would be like to really plan or choreograph something. I had to shoot from a distance and we couldn’t talk to each other over the thunderous waters, so each of us entered into our own experience of responding to the energy of water and stone.

Still from “Awosting”, 2014, video by Mariko Endo and Fred Hatt

Still from “Awosting”, 2014, video by Mariko Endo and Fred Hatt

Mariko and I worked together to edit the video, returning to it several times over several months to try to find some structure. Mariko approaches editing as a kind of choreography, selecting bits of movement and sequencing and manipulating them to create a progression of feelings and transformations.

Still from “Awosting”, 2014, video by Mariko Endo and Fred Hatt

Still from “Awosting”, 2014, video by Mariko Endo and Fred Hatt

When I asked Mariko what the piece was about for her, she gave me this quote from Tatsumi Hijikata (1928-1986), the originator of the butoh movement in dance: “We should be afraid! The reason that we suffer from anxiety is that we are unable to live with our fear. Anxiety is something created by adults. The dancer, through the butoh spirit, confronts the origins of his fears: a dance which crawls towards the bowel of the earth.” Mariko added, “The wind and the sound of massive amount of water falling which occupies my whole body. Speed and movement is the energy itself. When you are there, Nature foces you to face yourself and where you really are. I wanted to make a film which the audience can feel the texture of the rocks and the speed of the water fall through me.

Still from “Awosting”, 2014, video by Mariko Endo and Fred Hatt

Still from “Awosting”, 2014, video by Mariko Endo and Fred Hatt

I hope a little bit of that feeling of being surrounded by overpowering natural forces, and of surrendering to let those forces flow through oneself, is communicated in this brief video piece. We borrowed a piece of music by the great English composer Jocelyn Pook – I also hope this video will turn some people on to her wonderful music.

Still from “Awosting”, 2014, video by Mariko Endo and Fred Hatt

Still from “Awosting”, 2014, video by Mariko Endo and Fred Hatt

If you receive this blog by email, or if you want to watch in HD (strongly recommended), you’ll need to click this link to see the “Awosting” on Vimeo.

Awosting from Fred Hatt on Vimeo.

 

2014/03/15

The Verb “To Draw”

 

Sky God, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Sky God, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Today, on Drawing Life’s fifth anniversary, I would like to invite you to an exhibition (details at the bottom of this post) and to ask the question, “Why is ‘drawing’ called that?

Serrate, 2008, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Serrate, 2008, by Fred Hatt (detail)

The word “draw” comes from Old English and Germanic terms describing various forms of pulling. Sometimes it’s draw, sometimes drag, draft, or the like.

Neon Creature, 2008, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

Neon Creature, 2008, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

(Note: The illustrations between paragraphs are details of my artworks that have appeared in the past five years of Drawing Life. Clicking on the images will link you to the original posts containing uncropped versions of the works. An earlier post with similar detail crops is here.)

Mitchell 2, July, 2011, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Mitchell 2, July, 2011, by Fred Hatt (detail)

We have phrases like draw back, draw forth, draw out, draw in, draw from, draw towards, draw up, draw down.

Street Grass, 2008, photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

Street Grass, 2008, photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

An account can be overdrawn, a character in a play underdrawn, breath indrawn.

Torso Vessels, 2009, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Torso Vessels, 2009, by Fred Hatt (detail)

You can draw a card, draw a gun, draw a conclusion, draw a crowd, draw a salary, draw a carriage, draw water, draw fire, draw a blank.

Waxing Moon, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Waxing Moon, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Supposedly the reason we use the word for sketching, or for making pictures, is because we draw our charcoal (or other marker) across a page. But of course the hand engaged in such action is pushing as much as it is pulling.

“The Active Mirror”,2003, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

The Active Mirror, 2003, drawing performance by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing 

Maybe if we called it “pushing” instead of “drawing”, we would think of this artform differently. But the sense of pulling seems right to me in myriad ways.

Earth, 1998, photo tryptich by Fred Hatt (detail)

Earth, 1998, photo triptych by Fred Hatt (detail)

To draw observationally is to draw near to something, to study it as if you could pull its essence into you through your eyes. The artist draws inspiration from the subject. By having a subject or object of study the artist remains grounded in a living relational reality, drawing the spirit of life into the picture.

Vascular Tree, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

Vascular Tree, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt (detail) 

To draw imaginatively is to draw images, entities, energies up from the unconscious. It is to find embryonic notions and incubate them, and to coax them out of the nest. It is to exaggerate, to extrapolate, to speculate, to reach into the well and draw up the water of potentiality, to make the unreal visible.

Connection, Healing Hands series, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Connection, Healing Hands series, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail) 

To draw abstractly is to draw upon primeval attractive forces and the structures and processes that derive from them. It is to know hues and shades as pure qualia, to know marks and shapes as matter and energy, to know structures as harmonies.

Towering, 2012, 38? x 50?, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Towering, 2012, 38″ x 50″, by Fred Hatt (detail) 

To share one’s artwork with another person is to attract someone to you not with your looks but with your vision. Even the work of an artist long dead, if it be strong, brings some of those that experience the work close to the artist’s bosom or cranium. The audience is pulled into the artist’s way of experiencing the world.

Twixt, 2011, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Twixt, 2011, by Fred Hatt (detail) 

Of course most of what I’m saying applies not just to drawing per se, but to any really great work of art, be it music or dance, storytelling or performing. Art is what draws us. It draws us out of ourselves, draws us to a new way of feeling. Art draws magical power out of humble, earthy materials. Art calls up the bright spirits and the dark spirits so that they dance for us. Art draws us in. It draws out the creative power that is hidden everywhere and in all. Inspiration means the drawing of breath. Our consumer culture is all about taking in. Drawing is taking in with acute high awareness.

Licking Flames, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

Licking Flames, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt (detail) 

Most of our contemporary arbiters of culture think of drawing as a subsidiary thing – a training practice like a musician’s scales, a quick and dirty throwaway tool like brainstorming with Post-It Notes, a messy way of working out a composition or concept, like a plot outline. They see drawing as sketchy, undeveloped, unsophisticated.

Soft Angles 5, 2009, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Soft Angles 5, 2009, by Fred Hatt (detail) 

I contend that drawing is one of the very most basic forms of art, along with music and dance and performing and storytelling. I think it makes more sense to say painting, sculpture, and design are developments from drawing than vice versa, and so drawing must be considered more fundamental.

Adapt Festival 3, 2013, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Adapt Festival 3, 2013, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Those who have followed this blog over the years know that I work with photography, video, performance, body art. I think of drawing as the root of my practice, and the other forms as extensions or variations on drawing. The images accompanying this text are details of figure drawings, doodles, abstract paintings, photographs, and body art. For me they all have some quality in common – a quality that is the essence of drawing.

Window Display in Sunlight, 2010, photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

Window Display in Sunlight, 2010, photo by Fred Hatt (detail) 

Where do you draw the line to define drawing as distinct from, say, painting? Wet media vs. dry? That doesn’t quite nail it. Some pastellists call their work paintings, while ink wash or watercolor sketchers may call their work drawings. Quick vs. developed? That doesn’t work either. There’s a fashion in the art world these days for painstakingly obsessive works using ink or pencil, works that may take longer to make than most paintings, and usually these get called drawings. My friend Lorrie Fredette, sculptor and installation artist, recently made a series of works using sutures, black and white threads sewn into sheets of paper, and she called these drawings. Not all drawings are linear, not all are monochromatic, not all are simple. If there is an essence that defines the art of drawing, it might be directness, or spontaneity, the distillation of energy in image.

Double Exposure, 2007, 30? x 60?, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Double Exposure, 2007, 30″ x 60″, by Fred Hatt (detail) 

What do you call an artist whose primary focus is drawing? Draftsman? That sounds to me like someone who makes schematics and blueprints. Calligrapher? Graphic artist? Designer? Cartoonist? Sketcher? Delineator? Depicter? Tracer? Doodler? Those are all subsets of drawing. “Drawers” usually refers to either sliding storage compartments or underpants, so that doesn’t quite fit the bill either. I have seen some use the term “drawist”, but that seems to me an awkward construction. It think I will have to settle for calling myself a drawing artist.

Coral, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt (detail)

Coral, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt (detail) 

If you are someone who draws, or who loves drawing, let me know in the comments section what drawing is all about for you.

Henry, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Henry, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

If you’re in the D. C. area you can see one of my original drawings in the exhibition “Melange“, curated by Iurro, at Artspace 109, 109 N. Fairfax Street, Alexandria, Virginia.Artists in the show include Rachel Blier, Peter Bottger, Joren Lindholm, Scott McGee, Paul McGehee, Jitka Nesnidalova, Tea Oropiridze, George Tkabladze, and Tati Valle-Riestra. The opening is Sunday March 16, 3 to 6 PM.  The show will be up March 18-May 10, 2014.

2014/02/23

Creating a Masterpiece: Frank Moore

Frank Moore, 2011 photo by Sasha Cagen, cropped

Frank Moore, 2011 photo by Michael LaBash, cropped

One of my mentors, the California-based writer and performance artist Frank Moore, died last October at the age of 67. Frank was born with cerebral palsy and was unable to walk or talk, but he was determined to break out of his own isolation. Once he had done that, he kept on going in that direction, which led him to create a kind of initiatory performance art aimed at dissolving the artificial barriers between people, and between individuals and their own creative power. (Frank tells his own story in the classic autobiography Art of a Shaman.) I first encountered Frank’s writings in the MIT-published journal of performance studies TDR: The Drama Review, and in 1989 was privileged to experience “Journey to Lila”, one of his all-night participatory shamanic erotic ritual performances at Franklin Furnace in New York.

Frank Moore and his Chero Company at Franklin Furnace, NYC, 1989, photo by Eric Kroll

Frank Moore and his Chero Company at Franklin Furnace, NYC, 1989, photo by Eric Kroll

“Journey to Lila” was an eight-hour series of experiences, by turns silly, sexy, disconcerting, frightening, ridiculous, liberating, playful, warm, and bonding. By the end of it most of the audience was undressed and playing with each other like naked children. While some moments of it could be challenging, I never felt that I or anyone was unsafe or coerced or being exploited or laughed at.

When the World Wide Web came along in the mid-1990′s, I discovered that Frank Moore was a pioneer in using that new communication medium, with his extensive “Web of All Possibilities“. I was able to reconnect with him and his tribal extended family, got to know Frank personally, and participated in several other Frank Moore performance events over the years (I’m in the left background in the photo below). The first artwork I ever put on the web was on the Featured Artists section of Frank’s website. I consider Frank a mentor and one of the few genuine geniuses I have been privileged to know.

Frank Moore's "Free Tribal Hot Skin Passion Music/Dance Jam",  Surf Reality, New York City, 2002, photo by Michael LaBash

Frank Moore’s “Free Tribal Hot Skin Passion Music/Dance Jam”,
Surf Reality, New York City, 2002, photo by Michael LaBash

I’ve seen a lot of great performances and experienced many immersive theatrical events, but nothing has had such an enduring transformative effect on me as Frank Moore’s “Journey to Lila”. It came along at a pivotal moment in my life, and it opened my mind. I had recently moved to New York and was trying to figure out how to live my life as an artist. I was fascinated by magic and was reading about things like Tantra and alchemy, but magic remained a sort of abstraction for me. I had thought of it more as a subject matter for art, as symbolism or as fantasy, only pointing towards mystical truth. Frank showed me that magic can be the operational technique of art, that it is a completely practical approach to transforming reality or creating freedom, and that its materials can be utterly humble (a cup of water, a roll of aluminum foil, a Sonny and Cher song) and its actions very simple.

Frank Moore and dancers in the "Outrageous Beauty Revue", 1987, photographer unknown

Frank Moore and dancers in the “Outrageous Beauty Revue”, Mabuhay Gardens, San Francisco, 1987, photographer unknown

Ever since, I have understood that people deeply desire freedom, that they want to live in a world of love and joy, and that if you invite people to play with you in such a world, many of them will. It has nothing to do with the harsh things our society uses to drive and motivate people – fear, envy, guilt, competition. The magical way is the way of a pure heart – which, in Frank’s case, provides the perfect complement to a dirty mind. Frank showed me a wild but gentle way of freedom, and I still try to follow it in my own artistic career and in my own life.

Americans always talk about Freedom and Liberty as our great values, but everybody has different ideas about what these words mean. I grew up in the American West, where the icon of freedom is the lone gunslinger, and where a common notion of personal liberty understands it as autonomy, or as having your own turf where no one else can meddle, protecting yourself and your family or community with fences and guns, and if you’re rich, with dollars and lawyers. Of course, everyone needs a place to feel at home, and fiercely defending that is important, but to really feel free, to have the kind of freedom you need to make art, to make love, to nurture people, requires trust and connection, not autonomy but interdependence. That is the kind of freedom Frank Moore wanted to foster.

For a disabled person like Frank, dependency is obvious and it’s impossible to believe in the delusion of autonomy. Frank had to gather helpers around him, and he would never have been able to do all he did without the support of his larger community and his intimate tribal group, which, at the end included Mikee, Linda, Erika, Alexi and Corey. Any tribute to Frank is also a tribute to Frank’s people.

Frank was a rebel of the underground, and his use of sexuality and messiness and a deliberately crude aesthetic helped to keep him in that place below the radar where magic can be safe. I am sure that many people were transformed by his work as I was, and that the seeds he sowed will be producing nourishing fruit far into the future.

Frank Moore communicating with his head pointer, U. C. Berkeley, 1984, photo by Mary Sullivan

Frank Moore communicating with his head pointer, U. C. Berkeley, 1984, photo by Mary Sullivan

Frank Moore’s publishing company, Inter-Relations, just put out a posthumous collection of Frank’s writings called Frankly Speaking. It’s full of great stuff, but I’d like to share here a brief piece that gets at something profound about the creative process, wisdom that is often neglected by teachers. Since many of my readers are artists or art students, this should serve as a good introduction to Frank Moore’s way. I’ve interspersed the text with some of my own doodle-like abstract watercolor sketches, not as illustrations of Frank’s essay but just as my tribute to Frank Moore, examples of my own attempts to work with the kind of freedom Frank is talking about here.

Pedestrian Surge, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Pedestrian Surge, 2014, by Fred Hatt

CREATING A MASTERPIECE, by Frank Moore, published in Lummox Journal, March 2000, included in Frankly Speaking: A Collection of Essays, Writings & Rants by Frank Moore, 2014, published by Inter-Relations

An artist starts, let’s say, a painting with a set idea of what he is going to paint. Sooner or later he makes a “mistake” – a color or a line which doesn’t fit in the original idea – which “ruins” the painting. When this happens most people give up, thinking that they are not cut out to be artists, and withdraw back into the common existence. Others try to pretend that they didn’t make the mistake, that the color or line isn’t there on the canvas. They go on painting as before. When they are done, they have painted the shadow of what they wanted. Morevoer, this shadow is covered with a haze. Others keep starting over whenever they make mistakes, not accepting any mistakes. They are rewarded for their endurance with the perfect copy of the thought form which they had held for all this time. They are rewarded by what they think they want to create. Their thought form has been brought down into the material plane. The creation is perfect. But it is not a masterpiece. It is perfect within the limitations placed around it by the rigidness of the artist. The work is perfect, but not free.

Wetlands, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Wetlands, 2014, by Fred Hatt

A masterpiece is perfect and free. The master artist paints an adventure in color, words, or notes. What others see as mistakes, he sees as challenges, boxes out of which he has worked as the basis on which he creates a totally new, fresh pattern. These challenges, boxes, keystones, keep appearing as he works, demanding the artist’s flexibility. If the artist looks back, trying to hold on to what he thought the painting was or would be, he gets trapped in a box out of which he must battle or be turned into a rigid, bitter pillar of salt. The artist has to keep his whole attention on the swirling colors in front of him in order to be the creator.

Burning Bush, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Burning Bush, 2014, by Fred Hatt

To create a masterpiece, the artist has to use and risk every bit of himself. But he also has to create with God, for God is the one who creates what most people call mistakes, and that the master artists sees as his tools and materials. God does not create for the artist. God just provides the tools, the guiding bumps. It is up to the artist’s free will whether he creates or gets dragged down by the weight of the tools. When the artist is creating, he feels no weight.

Growth Spurt, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Growth Spurt, 2014, by Fred Hatt

The most important masterpiece is a lifetime. This is a statement of hard fact. Creating a masterpiece in every day living is governed by the same rules as creating a masterpiece in paint, but much harder because the artist is also the canvas. In every period of time, in every land, there are a few masterpieces of art and writing. But a masterpiece lifetime is much rarer.

Orb, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Orb, 2014, by Fred Hatt

“Creating a Masterpiece” is on pages 64-65 of Frankly Speaking: A Collection of Essays, Writings & Rants by Frank Moore.

Photos of Frank Moore and his performances were found on the web. Clicking on the photos will take you to the sites where I found the photos.

2014/01/26

Élan Vital

Filed under: Drawing,New work — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Fred Hatt @ 16:39
Windmill, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Windmill, 2013, by Fred Hatt

I’ve named this collection of my recent figure drawing work “Élan Vital” after philosopher Henri Bergson‘s concept of a dynamic impulse manifesting in evolution and creativity.

Resting Torque, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Resting Torque, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Figure drawing is the ongoing practice or discipline through which I strive to perceive the world and my fellow beings not as objects, but as patterns of flowing energy. Science, philosophy, and contemplative intuition can lead one to understand the world in this way, but only an active practice can train the senses to experience it directly.

Shepherd's Crook, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Shepherd’s Crook, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Usually we look at things or people, identify them, and then simply relate to them as objects of utility, threat, pleasure, or whatever role they play in the drama or game of which our ego is the protagonist. To look at things as an artist looks is a kind of meditation, a work of detachment. There can be a lovely pleasure in the activity, and there is surely a goal – the desire to capture something wonderful in a sketch drives our efforts. The intention is focused on the drawing, while the attention is focused on the model.

Sinuous Form, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Sinuous Form, 2013, by Fred Hatt

The eyes naturally move in “saccades“, hopping like a flea from one point of attention to the next. As I study the model’s body, I try to feel these jumps as flowing movements, to imagine that the eye follows the curves I see with a degree of fluid friction, like the oiled hands of a masseur gliding over the rises and hollows of the body. Of course my eyes don’t really move in such a continuous way, but the brush or pencil in my drawing hand does.

Memorious, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Memories, 2013, by Fred Hatt

The light touches and flows over the body of our model and then arrives through our eyes to tell us what it has learned. Light is ever swifter and more responsive than my fingers, but my practice aims at the impossible – to emulate light with my hands.

Clasp, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Clasp, 2013, by Fred Hatt

A fancy word for drawing is “to limn”. It means to delineate, to describe. The dictionary tells me this word is derived from the medieval word “lymnour”, an illuminator (illustrator) of manuscripts, from the latin “illuminare”, to give light. I had always assumed it was related to the word “liminal”, meaning “on the threshold”, which can refer to sensory thresholds or transitional states, but apparently that word derives from a different Latin root, “limen”. In any case, a contour is a perceived edge or threshold, between foreground and background or between light and dark, so to draw the figure is to illuminate by limning with lines the liminal zones of luminosity of the limbs. “Limb”, by the way, comes from the Latin “limbus”, meaning border or edge, and “line” comes from “linea”, a string or thread (as in linen). Maybe all of these words are related at a deeper or more ancient level of language.

Inward, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Inward, 2013, by Fred Hatt

We use a line to describe a shape, but because a line or mark is produced by movement, it also suggests dynamic energy.

Two Hands, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Two Hands, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Line can suggest the directional flow of light, the impulses of the nerves, the pulsing of blood, and the thrust of muscles.

Sidebridge, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Sidebridge, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Line can show connections or divisions, structure or directionality.

Light and Dark Lines, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Light and Dark Lines, 2013, by Fred Hatt

In drawing with regularity, it is a challenge to keep it fresh. As in any kind of practice, we’re essentially doing the same kind of thing over and over again. Art is like a sword with many edges. If we use the same edge all the time it will end up going dull.

Behind the Door, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Behind the Door, 2013, by Fred Hatt

I try to keep looking in different ways, focusing on different aspects of my subject, always trying to find something special about each pose.

Body and Face, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Body and Face, 2013, by Fred Hatt

I change media, sometimes using a brush, sometimes a pencil, sometimes crayons. Each tool has its own particular characteristics for me to internalize.

Boatman, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Boatman, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Sometimes I use the edge of the crayon and sometimes the point.

Painter, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Painter, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Sometimes I look at light and shadow, sometimes at contour, sometimes at mass and solidity, sometimes at motion or implied motion.

Dancer, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Dancer, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Sometimes I look at the way the parts of the body emanate from the center. Sometimes I look at how the body relates to the environment it occupies.

Irishman, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Irishman, 2014, by Fred Hatt

The subtle qualities, emotion, soul and the like, emerge from the energetic pursuit of more physical aspects of things.

Turn and Push, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Turn and Push, 2014, by Fred Hatt

The materialist view of science holds that life and consciousness are emergent properties of matter and energy, arising from the complexity of relationships among simpler things. But does matter give rise to mind, or could it be vice versa? It seems to me that even the most elementary interactions of particles entail an element of communication. Perhaps mind and matter are just two sides of a single coin.

Reflection, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Reflection, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Without matter to perceive, could mind exist? Without mind to experience it, could matter exist? Disembodied mind is a fog at best, it seems to me, mindless matter a “tree falling in the forest” paradox.

Statue Poses, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Statue Poses, 2013, by Fred Hatt

I would drive myself crazy speculating about the ultimate nature of reality, but a model is posing for me and the timer is running. Knowing that the end is coming makes me throw myself into the pursuit.

Thinking Man, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Thinking Man, 2013, by Fred Hatt

The discourse around contemporary art expects the artist to say something, to make a political statement or to question or unravel or reframe some cultural thing or other. I find I don’t much care about any of that. Here I am in a world of wonders and the clock is running.

Pose Sequence, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Pose Sequence, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Beauty is a subjective thing, in the eye of the beholder, they say. To capture your experience of beauty and share it in such a way that another might experience some echo of what you have felt is a way to propagate beauty in the world.

Stride, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Stride, 2013, by Fred Hatt

For any kind of artist, there is so much beauty to see, not just in faces and bodies, but in landscapes and animals, in imagination and feelings, in rhythms and tones, in epics and parables, in bliss and terror – in all the things an artist can illuminate. The timer is running.

Two Back Views, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Two Back Views, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Thanks to the models who posed for the pictures in this post: Amy, Andrea, Angela, Bethany, Chuck, Claudia, Emma, Eryn, Joe, Kristin, Kuan, Michael R., Michael W., Pedro, Taylor, Terry, Vadim, Wardell.

Drawings are in various combinations of aquarelle crayon, gouache and watercolor, pencil, ballpoint pen, and brush marker, ranging from 14″ x 17″ (36 x 43 cm) to 38″ x 50″ (97 x 127 cm).

2014/01/17

A Show of Hands

 

Study of Hands, c. 1474, by Leonardo da Vinci

Study of Hands, c. 1474, by Leonardo da Vinci

You may hear it said that artists hate to draw hands, and I don’t think there is any part of the human body that is more challenging to draw well than the hands. Of course for that very reason artists who relish a challenge love to draw hands. In the drawing classes I supervise, I have often noted that beginning artists tend to draw hands (and feet) too small, while the most accomplished artists often draw hands disproportionately large.

Hands are complicated structures capable of an incredible range of pose and expression. The fingers are the most sensitive as well as the most dextrous part of the body – paragons of both feeling and action. To watch the fingers of a great pianist, guitarist, or violinist, to see the expression that a master actor or painter or dancer conveys through the hands and fingers, is to experience the most profound grace the human being can embody.

Let’s look at images of hands in works of painting, sculpture, cinema and photography. Throughout this post click on the photos to go to the websites where I found them, and click on the titles of works in the commentary to see full versions where I show details, or to find more information about the works pictured.

Lady with an Ermine (detail), 1490, by Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo’s hand of a Lady with an Ermine almost makes you feel the sleek fur and impulsive muscularity of the animal she strokes.

Madonna del Magnificat (detail), 1481, by Sandro Botticelli

Madonna del Magnificat (detail), 1481, by Sandro Botticelli

Botticelli’s Madonna of the Magnificat invokes the holy with beatific faces and delicate hands, portraying the Virgin as scribe.

David (detail), 1504, by Michelangelo Buonarroti

David (detail), 1504, by Michelangelo Buonarroti

Michelangelo’s David has enormous hands with incredible detail of veins and sinews, an image of power in repose.

Study of Hands, 1506, by AlbrechtDürer

Study of Hands, 1506, by Albrecht Dürer

The way Michelangelo carved with a chisel, Dürer carved with black and white line on toned paper.

The Fortune Teller (detail), c. 1594, by Michelangelo Caravaggio

The Fortune Teller (detail), c. 1594, by Michelangelo Caravaggio

Caravaggio’s Fortune Teller, like all of his work, is so vivid you feel the characters are alive before you. The hands are as strikingly present as the faces. Look at the palm-reader’s seductive grasp and stroke.

Hamsa amulet, artist unknown

Hamsa amulet, artist unknown

The Hamsa is a hand-shaped amulet for protection against the evil eye, commonly found in many variants throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The symbol has been around since before the era of monotheistic religions, but it survives in Judaism as the Hand of Miriam, in Christianity as the Hand of Mary, and in Islam as the Hand of Fatima. “Hamsa” means five in Arabic, and it represents five fingers, but it is usually abstracted to be symmetrical, so it appears as a hand with three fingers and two thumbs. As a symbol surviving from antiquity and remaining popular today, it shows the persistence of the idea of the hand representing spiritual power and blessing. (Indeed images of hands are among the earliest surviving human artistic representations.)

Tian Tan Buddha of Po Lin Monastery, Hong Kong, 1993, designed by  Hou Jinhui

Tian Tan Buddha of Po Lin Monastery, Hong Kong, 1993, designed by
Hou Jinhui

In Hinduism and Buddhism, symbolic hand positions called “mudras” are an important aspect of both ritual practice and the iconography of sacred art. There are hundreds of defined mudras, different lists of them for different traditions and disciplines. The gesture of the Buddha figure above is the Abhaya Mudra, the fear-dispelling gesture.

Dance mudras, date and photographer unknown

Dance mudras, date and photographer unknown

Classical Indian dance forms such as Bharata Natyam have their own collections of mudras, essentially a form of sign language for telling a story in dance. (Some dance mudras are demonstrated in the set of photos above.)

Hands of Buddha at Stupa of Dharmakaya, photo by lestermore

Hands of Buddha at Stupa of Dharmakaya, photo by lestermore

Buddha figures also have a whole set of prescribed mudras that represent things like charity, understanding, and asceticism. The right hand of the buddha above is making the sign of debate or discussion.

Mudra sculpture in New Delhi Airport (detail), designed by Ayush Kasliwal

Mudra sculpture in New Delhi Airport (detail), designed by Ayush Kasliwal

The Airport in New Delhi features a public sculpture depicting a variety of traditional mudras. The one shown above is called prana mudra by yogis. In yoga, mudras are like asanas (yoga poses) for the hands. This one is performed to promote the flow of vital energy throughout one’s body.

Christ Giving His Blessing, 1481, by Hans Memling

Christ Giving His Blessing, 1481, by Hans Memling

Mudras are not exclusive to the religions of Southern and Eastern Asia. Christ is frequently depicted giving a gesture of benediction very similar to the hand positions seen in Hindu or Buddhist figures.

Christ as Savior, c. 1614, by El Greco

Christ as Savior, c. 1614, by El Greco

One explanation of this gesture is that the three upraised fingers represent the Trinity, while the two lowered fingers represent the dual nature of Christ as man and God. (Eastern Orthodox representations of Christ feature a different hand position.)

The Creation of Adam (detail), 1512, by Michelangelo Buonarroti

The Creation of Adam (detail), 1512, by Michelangelo Buonarroti

Hands are potent and adaptable symbols in sacred art. Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam shows the vigorous hand of God transmitting the life force to the weaker hand of Adam.

Isenheim Altarpiece (detail), 1516, by Matthias Grünewald

Isenheim Altarpiece (detail), 1516, by Matthias Grünewald

Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece features on one panel the tortured hands of the crucifixion, and on another the raised palms of the luminous Christ rising from the grave.

Study of the Hands of God the Father, 1508, by Albrecht Dürer

Study of the Hands of God the Father, 1508, by Albrecht Dürer

The exquisite drawing above is a preparatory sketch for the Heller Altarpiece, another great hinged triptych painting. The left hand holds the orb of the world, and the right hand crowns the Virgin.

Baton Gestures, illustration by Priscilla Barrett from "Manwatching", 1977, by Desmond Morris

Baton Gestures, illustration by Priscilla Barrett from “Manwatching”, 1977, by Desmond Morris

Let’s get a little more secular now. The illustration above is one of many great pictures in the pop anthropologist Desmond MorrisManwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behavior. It shows “baton signals”, gestures that “beat time to the rhythm of spoken thoughts.” Hand gestures can do as much to inflect human speech as can tone of voice.

George B. Bridgman, illustration from "The Book of a Hundred Hands", 1920

George B. Bridgman, illustration from “The Book of a Hundred Hands”, 1920

Bridgman‘s Book of a Hundred Hands is a whole collection of an artist’s acute observations about hands, presented in both words and sketches. This is the kind of book that can help one learn how to notice things.

Burne Hogarth, illustration from "Drawing Dynamic Hands", 1977

Burne Hogarth, illustration from “Drawing Dynamic Hands”, 1977

Burne Hogarth had a way of expressing the power of motion through a detailed understanding of anatomy.

Burne Hogarth, illustration from "Drawing Dynamic Hands", 1977

Burne Hogarth, illustration from “Drawing Dynamic Hands”, 1977

Hogarth may be best known for transforming the style of superhero comics. His anatomy books are among the best for artists because they depict anatomical structures not in the inert diagrams of typical textbooks, but in vigorous action.

Two Hands, 1885, by Vincent van Gogh

Two Hands, 1885, by Vincent van Gogh

The impressionist and post-impressionist artists tried to show that everyday realities, like these rough peasant hands, can be as full of wonder and beauty as anything holy or heroic.

Baby's First Caress, 1891, by Mary Cassatt

Baby’s First Caress, 1891, by Mary Cassatt

The discovery of touch between a mother and child is surely as powerful a human experience as there is. Lots of artists are good at depicting mystery or vehemence, but it takes rare sensitivity to portray such a subtle moment as Cassatt does in this picture. Look at how the child’s touch to the mother’s face is returned as she holds one of the child’s hands and one of his feet in her hands.

Self Portrait with Hands on Chest, 1910, by Egon Schiele

Self Portrait with Hands on Chest, 1910, by Egon Schiele

Schiele shows the exciting narcissism of youth in his pout, his cockscomb hair, and his dramatic fingers.

Hand with Reflecting Sphere, 1935, by M. C. Escher

Hand with Reflecting Sphere, 1935, by M. C. Escher

This Escher print perfectly distills the unity of hand, eye, and playful mathematical mind that this artist cultivated through all his work.

All Power to the People, poster, late 1960's, artist unknown

All Power to the People, Black Panthers poster, late 1960′s, artist unknown

The fist is the ultimate expression of defiance and determination.

Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley, 1894, photo by Frederick Henry Evans

Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley, 1894, photo by Frederick Henry Evans

Let’s look at some photographic explorations of hands. An artist’s essence is as much in his hands as in his face. Don’t Aubrey Beardsley‘s long, long fingers look like the only fingers that could have produced his efflorescence of flamboyance in black and white?

Georgia O'Keefe, Hands, 1918, photo by Alfred Steiglitz

Georgia O’Keefe, Hands, 1918, photo by Alfred Steiglitz

And here is Georgia O’Keefe, austere and sensuous at the same time.

Profile and Hands, 1932, photo by Man Ray

Profile and Hands, 1932, photo by Man Ray

Man Ray‘s abstracting eye glamorizes the tactile.

Nancy, Danville, Virginia, 1969, photo by Emmet Gowin

Nancy, Danville, Virginia, 1969, photo by Emmet Gowin

Emmet Gowin sees the mystery in the everyday, the family, the land.

Hands on the Beach, 1959, photo by Bill Brandt

Hands on the Beach, 1959, photo by Bill Brandt

For Bill Brandt, the body is monumental, towering.

Interlocking Fingers No. 6,  1999, photo by John Coplans

Interlocking Fingers No. 6, 1999, photo by John Coplans

John Coplans‘ sole subject is his own aging body, seen with the sharp eye a naturalist might direct on some taxonomic oddity of nature.

Still from "Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens", 1922 film directed by F. W. Murnau

Still from “Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens”, 1922 film directed by F. W. Murnau, with Max Schreck

The cinema may be the perfect art form to explore the image of the hand. Nosferatu‘s vampire has rodent teeth, a rigid posture, and the talons of a raptor.

Still from "The Hands of Orlac", 1924 film directed by Robert Wiene

Still from “The Hands of Orlac”, 1924 film directed by Robert Wiene, with Conrad Veidt

In The Hands of Orlac, a pianist receives a transplant – the hands of a murderer.

Still from "Night of the Hunter", 1955 film directed by Charles Laughton, with Robert Mitchum

Still from “Night of the Hunter”, 1955 film directed by Charles Laughton, with Robert Mitchum

In the magical realist classic Night of the Hunter, Robert Mitchum plays a homicidal preacher with LOVE and HATE tattooed on his knuckles.

I’ll conclude this post with a selection of works by Auguste Rodin, an artist who grasped all the expressive possibilities of the human hand, and explored in his work many of the themes we’ve seen in the work of other artists above.

Clenched Hand, 1885, by Auguste Rodin

Clenched Hand, 1885, by Auguste Rodin

Could a face express such anguish? Compare this hand with those in Grünewald’s crucifixion, or with Burne Hogarth’s contorted hands.

The Burghers of Calais (detail), 1889, by Auguste Rodin

The Burghers of Calais (detail: Pierre de Wissant), 1889, by Auguste Rodin

This hand and the face combine to show us the mournful resignation of a man accepting his own death. (This is a detail from the multi-figure “Burghers of Calais“. The story it tells is explained at the link.)

The Hand of God, 1896, by Auguste Rodin

The Hand of God, 1896, by Auguste Rodin

Here Rodin shows us the hand of God as the hand of an artist like himself, modeling living figures out of clay. The position of this hand is very similar to that of the figure just above it,

Cathedral, 1908, by Auguste Rodin

Cathedral, 1908, by Auguste Rodin

Both this work and the next are composed of two right hands. A left and a right hand coming together are the prayer of one. Two rights shows the encounter of two individuals. The “Cathedral” is the potent egg-like space that is created in between the hands of two people who join to dance together.

Hands of Lovers, 1904, by Auguste Rodin

Hands of Lovers, 1904, by Auguste Rodin

There is profound power in this gentle contact. These hands are not grasping, clinging, or controlling. Each hand remains a free individual, with all its senses tuned to the mystery of touching the other.

If you know anything of the story of Rodin and his muse, protegée and fellow sculptor Camille Claudel, you may doubt whether Rodin ever achieved such sensitivity in his own life. But even if he did not, for me, he manages to express it in these moving sculptures.

Below, Rodin’s assemblage of a life-cast of Claudel’s sad and delicate head with a cast of the oversized hand of a figure from the “Burghers of Calais”, four images up.

Assemblage: Mask of Camille Claudel and Left Hand of Pierre de Wissant, 1895, by Auguste Rodin

Assemblage: Mask of Camille Claudel and Left Hand of Pierre de Wissant, 1895, by Auguste Rodin

For the artist, the hand is the extension of the mind. Eyes and thoughts reach out like fingers, touching the world, exploring it, shaping it.

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