DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Dancing Brush

February Cross Pollination #1, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Drawing with ink and brush has a fluidity that captures the energy of motion.  The brush is sensitive to the slightest variations in pressure, rendering lines that have varying weight and dimension.  I have long favored this medium for movement drawing, where there is no time to develop the image through shading, color and details.  That spontaneous moving brush line is both expressive and efficient.

I’ve previously posted my sketches from Cross Pollination events at Green Space Studio in Queens here, as well as here and here.  At these casual sessions, musicians, dancers and artists come together to inspire each other.  Often, musicians and artists dance, dancers paint or play music.  For an artist, there’s a lot of energy and rhythm to draw upon.  For an artist with a figure drawing background, it’s challenging because there’s little stillness.  My experimentation has led me to an approach that’s basically abstraction built on figurative forms and fragments.

February Cross Pollination #2, 2010, by Fred Hatt

The above sketch shows various elements of the scene:  the long dreadlocks of the saxophonist Sabir, the seated flutist Lori, and Theresa with her sketchbook on her knees.  Most of the other forms here are fragments of the moving dancers, glimpsed in a passing instant.

February Cross Pollination #3, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Here I went completely abstract with an octopoid shape.  You can’t tell it, but the lines here are also based on the bodies and movements of the dancers and musicians.

February Cross Pollination #4, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Attitudes and bearing inform the one above.

February Cross Pollination #5, 2010, by Fred Hatt

And here the dancers get a little wilder and freer, driven by the saxophone and drum you can see at the center of the composition.

All of these drawings are 18″ x 24″ (46 x 61 cm), sumi ink on paper, using brushes.


Womb of Art: Paleolithic Masterpieces

Detail of the Lion Panel of Chauvet Cave, France, fig. 84 from "Dawn of Art: The Chauvet Cave" by Chauvet, Deschamps & Hillaire

These lions look so full of life they might at any moment pounce on their prey.  This is a small detail from the “Lion Panel”, an expansive composition featuring dozens of animals, discovered in 1994 in a cave in southeastern France.  Across a huge cave wall with a niche in the center, the lions appear to be stalking herds of rhinos, mammoths and bulls.  The realism is classical, the scale and energy modern, yet radiocarbon dating has proven this magnificent work is approximately thirty thousand years old!  The mastery displayed here makes a mockery of the concept of “primitive” art.

It has been barely a hundred years since scientists have agreed that the paintings in certain caves are the work of artists of the paleolithic or old stone age, the end of the last glacial period, when homo sapiens coexisted with Neanderthal people and the kind of herds we associate with the African veldt roamed Europe.  In 1879 the nine year old daughter of amateur Spanish archaeologist Sautuola discovered the magnificent murals of Altamira cave, but it took over twenty years before the scholarly establishment accepted the prehistoric origin of the paintings.

Since then, academics have disputed about the meaning and motivation of these works.  In The Mind in the Cave:  Consciousness and the Origins of Art, David Lewis-Williams, a scholar specializing in ancient rock art, argues that the paintings in the paleolithic caves are the product of shamanic vision quests.  These are not the kind of caves some people lived in, but deep caverns requiring significant effort to penetrate.  Inside these spaces there is no external light or sound.  The paintings may record visions arising from ordeal and sensory deprivation.  Ancient footprints found in the caves show that children accompanied adults into the caves, so the exhibition of the artwork by dim and flickering lamplight may have been a kind of initiation.

Most visual art associated with present-day hunting and gathering cultures is highly stylized, relying on abstract conventions that represent things conceptually rather than accurately following their appearance.  In contrast, the paleolithic art is remarkable for its realism.  Obviously those animals were not posing for the artists inside the caves, but the confident rendering of lifelike animal contours convinces me that these artists were well practiced in observational drawing.  The caves may be significant not as the place of origin of art, but as the place of its preservation, as there must have been an abundance of art outside the caves that did not survive.

I’ll refrain from engaging the scholarly arguments here, and just share a few samples of visual art of the European Paleolithic that speak to me across the millennia, revealing the timeless qualities of great work.  These images come from books in my personal library, and I hope the copyright holders will not mind my sharing them with you.  Altamira, mentioned above, is the source of this exuberant galloping horse:

Galloping Horse, original painting in red, copied by Abbé Henri Breuil, fig. 130 from "Art in the Ice Age" by Maringer and Bandi

This painting has the lightness and simplicity of the loose brushwork of Asian painters grounded in calligraphy and taoism or zen.

This back-biting bison carving, from Trois-Frères Cave in France could be mistaken for a Picasso:

Bison sculpture in reindeer antler, from La Madeleine, France, fig. 44 from "Art in the Ice Age" by Maringer and Bandi

The Cave of Trois-Frères in France is famous for a human-animal hybrid image known as “The Sorcerer“.  It also has a magnificent complex herd scene with at least forty-five animals, densely overlapping, all of them individually expressed in different lifelike positions.  Is the figure on the right in the detail shown below a hunter disguised in a bison’s skin, a shamanic summoner of animal spirits, or a bison god?

Detail from a mural engraving at the Cave of Trois-Frères, France, copied by Abbé Henri Breuil, p. 135 from "La Peinture Prehistorique: Lascaux ou la Naissance de l'Art" by Georges Bataille

Here’s another detail from the same cave:

Bison, engraving at the Cave of Trois-Frères, France, copied by Abbé Henri Breuil, fig. 121a from "The Roots of Civilization" by Alexander Marshack

These vigorous drawings burst with vitality, conveying the power of the looming beasts and the fury of the hunt.

You may notice that I’ve chosen to show many of these works in copies made by the Abbé Breuil, one of the early 20th century’s foremost specialists in European cave art.  His beautifully rendered copies clarify images that are often hard to read in photographs, painted or engraved on rough and mottled stone surfaces.  It’s difficult for photographs to capture the qualities of cave art, which is not flat and not intended to be seen in harsh bright light.  Many of the original paintings incorporate the bulges of the stone walls as the bulges of the animal bodies.  In other places, paintings continue from walls up to vaulted ceilings, as in this image from the most famous painted cave of all, Lascaux:

Ceiling of the Axial Gallery, Lascaux Cave, p. 111 from "The Cave of Lascaux: The Final Photographs" by Mario Ruspoli

Depictions of animals are far more numerous, and usually more detailed, than depictions of the human form in paleolithic art, but the human figures can be strikingly sensual:

Reclining female figures from Cave of La Madeleine, France, relief carvings above with copy drawings below, fig. 111 from "The Way of the Animal Powers" by Joseph Campbell

Those remind me of Matisse.  The carved “Venus” figurines, a selection of which are shown below, prefigure the styles of Brancusi and Gaudier-Brzeska:

Small paleolithic figurines, from left to right, vitreous rock from the Riviera, hematite from Moravia, mammoth ivory from Ukraine, and mammoth bone from Russia, figs. 121 thru 124 from "The Way of the Animal Powers" by Joseph Campbell

From a slightly later period, after the invention of the bow and arrow, we have silhouetted figures like this one, similar in style to South African rock art, but this is from Spain:

Archer with compound bow, rock painting in black from the Spanish Levant, fig. 177 from "Art in the Ice Age" by Maringer and Bandi

This is just a small sampling from an incredible wealth of prehistoric masterpieces.

New note added April 21, 2010:  Get a great feeling for the art in context with the navigable CGI reproduction of the art in context in the cave of Lascaux.



Blacklight body art at a party at Collective Unconscious, NYC, 1999, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

I’m involved with several events over the next few days.  Click on “Calendar” for details.

Sunday the 14th:  Opening for Spring Studio 18th Anniversary Show, featuring hundreds of artists.  Spring Studio, NYC, starts 6:30.

Sunday the 14th:  Blacklight Body Painting Dance Party at St. George Healing Arts, Staten Island, 6 pm on, donation suggested.

Tuesday the 16th:  KAMI, live music by Gregory Reynolds and butoh dance by Mariko Endo with video and light by Fred Hatt, part of a multi-media program also featuring Ben Miller and Orin Buck, at the Gershwin Hotel, NYC, 8 pm, $10.

Monday the 22nd:  New choreography by Jung Woong Kim, featuring special light effects by Fred Hatt, at Movement Research at Judson Church, NYC, 8 pm, free.


Rhythmic Line

Modern Dance, 2008, by Fred Hatt

A sense of rhythm is as central to the art of drawing as it is to music.  It is the movement of the artist’s hand that gives a drawing its sense of movement and life.  Strokes that are fluid and responsive imbue a sketch with vitality.

I run a session at Spring Studio in Manhattan, where beginners struggling to get the hang of drawing from life work alongside accomplished artists who have logged many thousands of hours at the drawing board.  If you look at people at work, you’ll notice that most beginners draw tentatively.  They measure a lot and try to use intellectual knowledge to figure out what they’re seeing before they make their marks.  There is no rhythm or flow to their lines.  The parts of the body are drawn separately and never quite seem to integrate into a lifelike figure.  But watch a really good artist and you’ll see that the hand is in motion most of the time, moving with the sureness and lightness of a conductor’s baton.

Lounging Ryan, 2008, by Fred Hatt

The contours of the body are all curves of various kinds.  In drawing, these curves are translated into movements of the hand.  I allow my perception to flow along the contours like a skier gliding along the grooves and rises of a snow surface.  The drawing hand moves at a fairly constant pace, and those contours become rhythmic gestures traced onto the paper.

Natural, 2010, by Fred Hatt

In quick drawing, I almost never do any kind of measurement to determine proportions.  If the flow of movement is constant, proportions fall into place because of a sense of rhythm in the changes of direction.  The movement of the hand continues even when the pencil or brush is lifted from the paper, so that every rounded form is carried through from the front to the back, or from one side to the other.  Thus even an unshaded line drawing is given a sense of solidity and connection.

Arch, 2010, by Fred Hatt

In longer, more finished drawings, I do measure proportional and angular relationships and make corrections, but only after I’ve first captured the feeling of the pose through this rhythmic tracing of contours.  Proportions rigidly applied can crush the life out of a sketch, while giving priority to the flow and connection of forms can make a drawing communicate living energy even if the proportions are pretty far off.

Clasped Hands on Hip, 2008, by Fred Hatt

Attitude, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Complex shapes like hands, or complex poses that are hard to analyze in terms of straight lines, become simpler when treated as a continuous flow of curved shapes.

Hands, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Writhe, 2009, by Fred Hatt

The following sketches were done at Cross Pollination at Green Space Studio, a monthly event that offers the opportunity to draw while dancers warm up and move freely in the studio.  The dancers aren’t posing – even when they’re stretching or relaxing, they don’t stay in one position for more than a few seconds at a time.  The strokes I make are rough gestures, more often responding to memories of fleeting perceptions rather than the simultaneous perceiving and drawing I do in a life drawing session with timed poses.

Dancers Stretching, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Three Moving Figures, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Three Resting Figures, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Improvised Movement, 2008, by Fred Hatt

And here are two large-scale drawings – the first is 30″ x 48″ (76 x 122 cm) and the second is 48″ x 60″ (122 x 152 cm) – that take rhythmic flowing contours beyond the simplicity of the quick sketch:

Nyx, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Star, 2008, by Fred Hatt

If you like the movement drawings from Cross Pollination, check out this post for more.

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