DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


End-On: Extreme Foreshortening

Filed under: Figure Drawing: Poses,Top Ten — Tags: , , , , , — fred @ 23:18

Dynamo, 2010, by Fred Hatt

My friend, model/muse and blogging mentor Claudia likes to post photos of herself to celebrate the anniversaries (first, second, third) of the launching of her great blog, Museworthy, and it has been my honor to be the chosen photographer each year so far.  This year we were seeking a new approach.  Claudia had the idea of getting in low and close with the camera, treating the body as a landscape.  She chose this sensual abstraction for this year’s anniversary post.

I love seeing the body this way.  Unusual angles create perspective effects and unfamiliar juxtapositions, and utterly transform the familiar forms of the body.  Foreshortening is a fundamental concept in drawing, designating the distortion of long shapes when seen end-on.  Often, in figure drawing, this refers only to an arm or leg that appears pointed toward the viewer of the image.  A familiar example would be the pointing finger and arm of Uncle Sam in James Montgomery Flagg’s iconic army recruiting poster of 1917.  Here I post examples of my figure drawings in which not only the extremities but the entire body is seen from a foreshortened perspective.

Looking at the body from an angle close to the central axis is very helpful in understanding it as a three dimensional form.  In these foreshortened torsos, we see the protuberances of the iliac spine of the pelvis rising to either side of the pubic bone.  The abdomen is a saddle-like shape, concave in one direction and convex in the other.  The ribcage is a converging arch.  The pectoral or breast muscles show a continuity with the deltoid muscles of the shoulder.  The upper of these drawings still shows analytical lines I drew to figure out the angular relationships of bodily landmarks.

Surveyed, 2004, by Fred Hatt

Thorax, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Looking at the body from the head end shows a succession of rounded or symmetrically swelling forms:  the top of the skull, then the cheekbones and nose, the jaw, the collarbone, the shoulders, the chest, the ribs, the abdomen and pelvis.  You can see it as a kind of architecture based on a series of differently shaped arches that you pass through or over, or as a landscape of hills and valleys that you can traverse on a meandering trail.  From this angle the legs and feet are often severely forshortened, and are best observed in relation to the cross-sectional contours of the torso.

Lounging, 2000, by Fred Hatt

Head End 2, 2006, by Fred Hatt

Head End, 2006, by Fred Hatt

I try to see organic physical forms as manifestations of patterns of energy.  In looking down the length of the body, you can see each of these levels as manifestations of the elemental forces associated with the chakras, a series of focal points arranged along the central column of the body in a Yogic conception of energy anatomy.  For example, the pelvis, corresponding to the water element, has the form of a basin, while the chest, corresponding with the air element, has the form of a bellows.  Here are a few sketches from a series exploring the energy patterns of the body in this context:

Strata, 2002, by Fred Hatt

Flat, 2002, by Fred Hatt

Zones 1, 2002, by Fred Hatt

To see the body in extreme foreshortening, I find it helpful to look at it not in terms of an understanding of structural relationships and proportions, but cross-sectionally, as a series of transverse contours receding in space.  The National Library of Medicine’s Visible Human Project, a three-dimensional atlas of human anatomy, has a website that offers animated “fly-throughs” of the human body in the various planes of sectioning.  Here’s the transverse section animation, the one most relevant to these end-on views of the human body.

Here are some more of my compositions of the body in extreme foreshortening:

Crossed Ankles, 2004, by Fred Hatt

Nuit, 1999, by Fred Hatt

The examples above are drawn from a distance of at least three meters and so show a sort of compressed perspective.  The feet and head are roughly in the same proportional scale but the angle of view has caused things to be seen in unfamiliar juxtaposition.  The drawing below is drawn from much closer, so it shows more perspectival diminution.  The feet and legs, closer to me, are large in comparison to the upper body and head, which are further away.  The length of the foot, measured on the drawing, is more than twice the width of the skull, but it looks right because it represents the perception of perspective.

Perspective, 2010, by Fred Hatt

In this foot-end view, the angles of the feet and legs are the foreground of the drawing, while the upper body becomes the mountain on the horizon.

Side Drawn Up, 2001, by Fred Hatt

Prone Reach, 2006, by Fred Hatt

Splay, 1999, by Fred Hatt

When the head is the foreground element, it remains abstract as we are looking at the top of the skull, and the face, if seen, is highly abstracted.  The body is even more landscape-like seen from the head end.

Climber, 2006, by Fred Hatt

In the drawing below, the blue line in the background is the “horizon”, or edge of the floor on which the model was lying.  The body formed a tilted rectangular form, so I tilted my drawing board to maximize usage of the page.

Tilted Horizon, 2001, by Fred Hatt

Sometimes these end-on views become visions of pure organic form.

Prone Twist, 2009, by Fred Hatt

The twisting of the body, as seen in the example above, also creates interesting sculptural forms seen from the foot end.

Corner, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Here the legs go one direction and the head the opposite, with the hand and arm reflecting that arc of movement.

Helix, 2001, by Fred Hatt

Here the position of the legs gives a soft curve to one side of the figure and a sharp angle to the other.

Bow and Arrow, 2000, by Fred Hatt

When the body is visually compressed by foreshortening, an upraised knee becomes dramatically long and vertical by contrast.

Wrist to Knee, 2008, by Fred Hatt

Angular Recline, 1998, by Fred Hatt

In the drawing below, the use of a mirror gives a view of the same pose from both the head end and the foot end.

Mira, 1996, by Fred Hatt

I’ll close this collection with a more finished piece, a foreshortened figure of graceful serenity.

Tranquility, 2008, by Fred Hatt

All the drawings in this post are aquarelle crayon on paper, in the size range of 18″ x 24″ to 20″ x 30″.  Other examples of foreshortened figures can be seen in this post and this one, and there are many others scattered through my portfolio site and other figure drawing posts on this blog.  This post features a famous 15th century foreshortened figure painting by Andrea Mantegna.

If you’re a student of drawing, you might be interested in a new series of articles on learning the basics of drawing that has begun appearing in the Opinion pages of the New York Times online edition, under the title “Line by Line” by James McMullan.



Filed under: Photography: Structure — Tags: , , — fred @ 09:14

Twilight Manhattan, 2006, photo by Fred Hatt

You have to get a little outside of it to get good views of Manhattan’s famous skyline.  The view above is from a Tribeca highrise apartment balcony.  The one below is from across the East River in Brooklyn.

Dead End, 2006, photo by Fred Hatt

Atop a bridge you’re both high and outside, as in this view from the approach to the Queensboro Bridge.

Bridge Approach, 2003, photo by Fred Hatt

You can get a good view from under a bridge too.  Here the framing structure is the Manhattan Bridge.  The lighted arc of cables further back is the Brooklyn Bridge.

Framing Bridge, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt

You can have this view from your apartment, if you are a billionaire.

Central Park View, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

The skyline is such an iconic way of seeing New York that even an image of disaster takes the form of a skyline.  This is a photomural, inside a building in lower Manhattan, of the smoldering pile of the World Trade Center following the 9/11 attack.

9/11 Mural, 2003, photo by Fred Hatt

New Yorkers, used to the familiar outline of the Twin Towers, felt there was a hole in the skyline.  Every year around the anniversary, beams of light rise in place of the missing towers.

Converging Beams, 2003, photo by Fred Hatt

Another type of memorial that creates a skyline is the gathering of gravestones in a cemetery.  Here, the buildings of midtown Manhattan in the background blend in with the stone slabs and columns of Queens’ Calvary Cemetery in the foreground.

Cemetery Skyline, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

Taking a closer view of the contours where the buildings of Manhattan touch the sky, wooden water towers are a distinctive feature of the lower-rise portions of the city.

Water Tower Rooftops, 2007, photo by Fred Hatt

The sky silhouette seen in the outer boroughs of New York often includes church spires, clotheslines, and satellite dishes.

Laundry and Spires, 2006, photo by Fred Hatt

Sometimes you can see a skyline by looking downward.

Reflected Towers, 2006, photo by Fred Hatt

The mirrored skyline lends a certain quality of serenity to this view of an industrial wasteland.

Newtown Creek Skyline, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt

Contrasting shapes meet the sky here where a Frank Gehry-designed office building in white glass rises next to the High Line, an elevated freight track converted into a park.

Gehry & High Line Construction, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt

Another translucent white glass building, the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory at the New York Botanical Garden, nearly blends in to the overcast sky, in the view below.  Not every skyline contour is hard and toothy.

Conservatory, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

Fog can also create a soft-edged effect.

Citibank in Fog, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

In the view below, only the Empire State Building is tall enough to be seen above the trees of McCarren Park in Brooklyn, shining through the evening mist.

Ghostly Empire State, 2003, photo by Fred Hatt

A ruined waterfront warehouse in the sunset has a skyline of crumbling grandeur.

Burned Warehouse, 2006, photo by Fred Hatt

The warehouse’s eroded contours contrast with the thrusty ones of this neo-gothic structure, Grace Church.

Gothic Silhouette, 2007, photo by Fred Hatt

These 19th century east side townhouses have chimneys like crooked fingers.

Chimneys, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt

We tend not to notice the sky contours of signs and street lamps, as they blend in to general visual clutter, but the shapes can be fantastic abstract sculpture.

Billboard & Streetlamp, 2007, photo by Fred Hatt

The gleaming towers of architects must share the skyline with the ragged juttings of infrastructure.

Tower, Poles, Wires, 2003, photo by Fred Hatt

The combinations of all these elements can become glorious geometries of chaos.

Crossing Lines, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt

Here, a particular angle of view brings together building, statue, lamp and tree for a composition that crackles and twists.

Central Park South, 2010, photo by Fred Hatt

In buildings the supporting framework is decorously concealed, but bridges nakedly display their engineering.  Here, the towers of the Queensboro Bridge and the Roosevelt Island tramway stand side by side.

Tramway, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

New York’s first great bridge was the Brooklyn Bridge, a masterpiece of engineering and still the most beautiful of Manhattan’s bridges with its delicate cabling.

Bridge Cabling, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt

The roof of the Metropolitan Museum currently hosts this gigantic birds-nest-like structure, the architectural sculpture “Big Bambu” by the Starn brothers.

Big Bambu, 2010, photo by Fred Hatt

Birds use the cables and spars over the Manhattan streets as bleachers to spectate on the human beehive, and their bodies become part of the skyline.

Pigeon Perch, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt

In the outer boroughs, people toss their old sneakers onto the wires.  This one was unusually generously festooned.

Shoes on Wire, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt


Matisse the Deconstructionist

Portrait of Yvonne Landsberg, 1914, by Henri Matisse

The exhibit “Matisse: Radical Invention 1913-1917” is on view through October 11, 2010 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  The show features work from a brief period in the middle of Henri Matisse’s long career, roughly coinciding with the first World War.  It shows the artist engaged in a heroic struggle to transform his “decorative” style into something hard enough and grand enough to stand out in the twentieth century.

Traditional painters start rough and then labor to make their work more polished, more developed, more elaborate.  Matisse worked and reworked his canvases and sculptures to strip them to their structural essence.  He had no interest in smoothing the brushstrokes or making a more convincing illusion of reality.

View of Notre Dame, 1914, by Henri Matisse

Matisse was born in 1869, when photography was already ubiquitous, and came of age in an era when the most interesting movements in art explored liberation from visual realism.  His early work was a kind of post-impressionism, traditional subjects loosely painted with a sensuous approach to vivid colors.

During the time period this show focuses on, Matisse was determined to take his work to a new level.  Perhaps he was challenged by the impact made by the cubism of Picasso and Braque.  Perhaps his previous work began to feel too small and genteel in a time of war. Many of his sculptures and large canvases of this time were repeatedly and heavily reworked, becoming in the process more austere, more bold, and more abstract.

Even as the size of the works expanded towards the monumental, as Matisse’s early rounded, cloudy forms gave way to angular slabs, and his sweet candy colors to fields of blue, black and gray, the images remain sensual and inviting – Matisse could not obscure his inner warmth.

Goldfish and Palette, 1914, by Henri Matisse

Matisse knew that the process of working towards greater abstraction was as interesting as the final works.  Photographers documented incremental stages of paintings that were revised over a period of years, and his sculpture, “Back”, was repeatedly altered by reworking plaster casts, retaining the molds of different versions.  Even where earlier states of the paintings are not documented, Matisse left pentimenti clear enough to invite the viewer to try to penetrate the development of the work by examining the layers of paint.

“The Back”, four versions, 1908 through 1931, by Henri Matisse

The curators of this exhibit have used digital tools to analyze these stages of development, and one gallery presents this analysis in an animated display.  If you are not able to make it to the Museum of Modern Art to see the exhibit, this exposition of the successive changes in “Bathers by a River” and “Back” is presented in the excellent website on “Matisse: Radical Invention” hosted by the Art Institute of Chicago, where the exhibit was initially shown.  For anyone interested in the creative process of visual art, this website is worth perusing.

Another great example of Matisse’s work from this period is “The Piano Lesson”, recently compared with other artists’ treatment of the same theme in this post at my friend Claudia’s blog, Museworthy.  The original painting is in this show.  It’s eight feet tall and all that gray is surprisingly luminous.

I also recommend matisse.net, one of the best websites out there devoted to any artist’s full career.

Images in this post were found on the web.  Clicking on the images links back to the sites where I found them.


Faces of the People

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

New York City is a magnificent environment for people watching.  On the streets, manual laborers mingle with capitalist big shots, celebrities blend in with the masses, and economic refugees share the sidewalks with tourists on spending sprees.  I know of no other city that compares with New York for ethnic and cultural diversity.  If you love humanity for its endless variations, New York is a sumptuous banquet.

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, performance photo by April Panzer

Of course, once you leave the street or Subway and step into a culturally specific environment, most of that diversity disappears.  Unfortunately, that is true in the galleries and performance venues of the art world.  The art world in New York is not all white or all American, but it is almost entirely populated by people with a certain kind of education and upbringing, with certain well-defined ways of speaking and acting and dressing.

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, performance photo by April Panzer

Those who work in arts administration are united in proclaiming the value of diversity and have been trying for years to reach out to “underserved audiences” and “underrepresented populations”.  Their efforts have been somewhat successful – I think art audiences in New York, especially for large, well-publicized events, are clearly more diverse now than when I moved here two decades ago.  Still, it doesn’t begin to compare with the diversity on the streets.  Art galleries in New York are all free to enter, but the vast majority of people never do.  Unfortunately a lot of art is pretentious and unfriendly to the uninitiated.  This attracts an audience of initiates, whose aura of exclusivity tends to deter those who do not see themselves as art world insiders.

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

A few years ago I took advantage of an opportunity to use my art to connect with people on the street.  Chashama is an arts organization that has special access to the asset that is most problematic in the dense and expensive city – space.  Chashama’s founder and artistic director, Anita Durst, is a member of a legendary real estate dynasty family.  The Durst Organization develops skyscrapers in Manhattan.  Properties that are condemned or transitional are made available for the arts through Chashama.  I’ve been involved with Chashama events since the mid-1990’s.  They have a great track record of supporting all kinds of artists, including some that most of the institutions would consider too underground or outsider or offbeat to present.

“The Active Mirror”,  2002, by Fred Hatt, performance photo by April Panzer

During the early 2000’s, Chashama had a whole block of storefronts on 42nd Street between Sixth Avenue and Broadway, while the Durst Organization was constructing the Conde Nast Building at the corner of Broadway and 42nd, the southern end of Times Square and the Theater District.  They hosted a huge festival of theater and dance, performance art, visual art and installations called “Windows on 42nd Street“.  In April, 2002, and again in July, 2003, I presented a drawing performance called “The Active Mirror.”

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, performance photo by April Panzer

A sign on the window read: “A reflection is the view of a virtual eye behind the glass.  Look at your reflection in a storefront window, and you see yourself and your surroundings, superimposed over the merchandise on display.  But in this window, on this day, the view you see in the window is that of another subjective eye, an artist who sketches what he sees through the window, on the window.  Stop to watch, and your portrait may appear there on the window.”

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

I lined the inside of the window space with white fabric and the inside of the plate glass with clear acetate.  I hung some of my portraits in the window space, to prove, I suppose, that I was a qualified portrait artist.  I stood at the window with my black Sharpie and sketched the urban landscape until I could attract passersby to stop for me.  If anyone paused to watch, I quickly began sketching a likeness, starting with a recognizable detail of attire or hairstyle so the subject would know that I was drawing him or her.  I had to work quickly, as I couldn’t expect anyone to have the patience to give me a prolonged pose.  Other passersby would stop to watch the action, and I would quickly move on to the next subject, since if my audience would disperse I would face the difficult challenge of gathering a new cluster.

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

Visual art is usually considered an indirect form of communication.  You make a painting or whatever, and later, people look at it and try to imagine what you were thinking or feeling in the act of creating it.  For a long time I’ve had an interest in the potential of visual art as a more direct way of relating to another person.  This interest has been explored through a highly collaborative way of working with models, through the idea of art as a ritual or experience (such as body painting), and through treating the act of drawing or painting as a dance or performance, for an audience.

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, performance photo by April Panzer

In “The Active Mirror”, my offer to strangers was to share with them my way of seeing them.   I could not speak to my subjects, nor they to me, through the thick plate glass.  My sharpie sketches were my only way of relating to people.  Around the corner in Times Square, there are portrait and caricature artists who make a living sketching the tourists.  My sketches were not for sale, just for public display, and I think many of the people who stopped for me were not tourists, but New Yorkers who would never think of sitting for a street caricaturist.

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

Everyone is comfortable looking at something in a store window, even people who would never enter an art gallery or performance space, so by the end of five hours of sketching, the windows were covered with images reflecting the wondrous diversity of the New York street.

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, view from inside the window, drawings and photo by Fred Hatt

Here are some more details:

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

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

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

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

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

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

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

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

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, view from inside window, drawings and photo by Fred Hatt

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