DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Finishing Touches

Dreamer, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Here’s one of my recent works of a type I call chaos compositions.  These are large-scale drawings, four by five feet (122 x 152 cm) and up, made with aquarelle crayons on black paper or canvas.  These combine multiple sketches of the same model in different poses, overlapped willy-nilly without preconceived design.  I basically keep adding drawings to the same paper until it starts threatening to be an indecipherable mess, and then struggle to reveal the beauty in the wondrous complexity that results.

Part of what I’m going for here is to create images that demand of their viewers a kind of looking that is completely different from our default response to pictures.  When we look at a picture, we tend to see it all at once.  We immediately recognize its imitation or simulation of our visual experience of the world, and relate to it through the reality or fantasy that it illustrates for us.  Deeper looking may involve noticing telling details or observing how an idiosyncratic style communicates the subjectivity of the visual experience.  But it is the immediate and unified visual experience that captures our attention and imagination.

A piece of pure abstract expressionism deliberately foregoes these illusionistic charms, but still, it tends to hit us all at once.  We take it in as an overall composition of textures and colors and shapes that express something directly through their energy or their physical properties.

With these chaos compositions, the first glance is a hit of the abstract kind.  We see a busy field of colors and lines, and maybe we get a feeling of swirliness or jaggedness.  It is far too jumbled to be interpreted as a picture, though we cannot fail to see that the elements of the composition are human figures.  Some are more developed and others more sketchy, some are clear and bold while others are almost lost in the density.  Abstraction and figuration coexist here in a state of virtual tensegrity.

Most (not all) of the figures in these drawings are complete figures, but to see a figure in its entirety requires starting with its more obvious features and carefully tracing areas of color or line that may be woven in with several other figure drawings occupying the same plane.  If the viewer is sufficiently captured by the drawing to try to unravel it in this way, he or she has been drawn into a way of looking that is far more actively engaged than the receptive mode demanded by most pictures.

Kuan, a dancer/choreographer and model who recently posed for one of these chaos compositions (not shown here because not yet finished), observed that these drawings are like maps of cities.  There are different neighborhoods of varying character, all woven together by lines of movement.  You can look at the map and get a kind of overview, but the only way to really explore the city is to follow the lines, to move about within it, experiencing the distinctive pockets of a particular character and the transitional areas where multiple characters may coexist.

In previous posts on this blog, I’ve shown the progressive building-up of one of these pictures, or I’ve shown how the original figure drawings can be recovered by carefully studying the finished work.  I’ve looked at this work as it relates to my earliest creative impulses to express movement through line.  Many other examples of chaos compositions can be found in this gallery on my portfolio site, and related work can be seen in any of my posts tagged “movement drawing“.

Those posts should give you a good idea of the process behind these works.  Here, I’m going to focus on the final stage of development of three recent chaos compositions, looking at the finishing touches whereby I try to discover the composition residing in the chaos.  Here below is what “Dreamer”, the drawing shown at the top of this post, looked like at the conclusion of my session working with the model, Izaskun, before finishing work:

Dreamer, 2010, by Fred Hatt, early state

The finished version shown at the top of the post has been developed by a couple of hours of work in the studio, without the model present.  If you scroll up and back down to compare the two versions, you can see that the early state immediately above this paragraph contains virtually all of the figurative elements that are in the finished version.  You may be surprised by how little has really been added to the drawing to finish it.  But I think you’ll agree that the final version has a richness, a “snap”, and a dimensional quality that aren’t there yet in the early state.

Unfortunately, these large drawings lose a lot of their impact in such small reproductions.  (I’d love to have a show of these pieces in a gallery large enough to host a collection of them, but I don’t have anything lined up at this time.  Any gallery referrals are welcomed!)  Let’s look at a detail of “Dreamer”, in before and after versions:

Dreamer, 2010, by Fred Hatt, early state, detail

Dreamer, 2010, by Fred Hatt, final version, detail

Part of what I’ve done is simply to color in background areas to help separate the figures from the overall black field.  I’ve also paid particular attention to the faces.  I find the faces work as powerful focal points in these pieces.  The face in the upper right quadrant of this detail has had its warm tones complemented by cool tones.  The distorted face of the foreshortened figure in white, here in the upper center, has been proportionally corrected, which also allowed me to clarify the red-lined face just to the left of it.  The faces in the lower left quadrant have also been sharpened or developed.

Here’s another chaos composition, “Hero”, shown as it was just after my session with model Jeremiah, and then as finished:

Hero, 2010, by Fred Hatt, early state

Hero, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Again, let’s look at a detail view, the better to see some of the finishing touches:

Hero, 2010, by Fred Hatt, early state, detail

Hero, 2010, by Fred Hatt, final version, detail

In this segment of “Hero”, nearly all of the final development is focused on the background.  Color in the background clarifies both the figures and the overall structure while allowing the figures to remain close to their original form as raw, quick line drawings.  The standing figure near the right hand side of this detail has been filled in with yellow, and a figure just above the eyebrows of the large face on the left side of the detail has been restored from almost complete obscurity to just near obscurity, by tracing its lines in a lighter color.

Here’s our third and final example, “Sole”.  The model here is Madelyn.  First, the whole piece in two states:

Sole, 2010, by Fred Hatt, early state

Sole, 2010, by Fred Hatt

This piece started with the large feet, drawn to nearly fill the space of the drawing.  The full figures were then layered over and around the feet.  For me the soles of the feet represent the human connection to the earth, our grounding.  (A similar oversized sketch of feet, without the overlapping figures, can be seen here.)

Compared to the other two chaos compositions featured above, “Sole” has more of the feeling of a landscape.  The figures are, if anything, even more hidden, and the background elements, especially at the top and bottom, have been filled in with more detail and texture.  Here are our before and after detail views:

Sole, 2010, by Fred Hatt, early state, detail

Sole, 2010, by Fred Hatt, final version, detail

The in-between black spaces have been filled in with snaky and leafy patterns.  The arch-backed figure in the lower part of the detail has been made more dimensional by the addition of a network of cross-contour lines.  Both linear faces in the upper half of the detail have been sharpened with black and red and white lines.  The toes of both of the underlying giant feet, which had become obscured beneath the figures drawn over them, have been brought out by the addition of red outlines.

In finishing these drawings, I am cautious not to overdevelop the figures that result from my initial work direct from the live model.  I feel that the drawings made by direct observation have an energy that is rarely enhanced by further finishing, even if the figures are very rough or distorted.  The finishing work is often largely focused on the gaps between the figures.  Developing a background helps to push the figures into the foreground, giving them a feeling of depth and separating pieces that would otherwise be lost in the general tangle.

All three of the drawings featured in this post are 48″ x 60″, aquarelle crayon on paper.

Powered by WordPress

Theme Tweaker by Unreal