DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Freudian Analysis

Double Portrait, 1986, by Lucian Freud

Lucian Freud, who just died on July 20, 2011, devoted his long career to painting figures and portraits from life, perfectly ignoring all the art-world trends of his era.

Bella, 1987, by Lucian Freud

Many of his images are of people and/or animals sleeping.  He always painted directly from live models, often friends or family members rather than professionals, and he worked very slowly, so the sleeping poses may be an accommodation to the models.  I am struck, though, by the sense of struggle and intensity in these works.  Freud’s paint has the writhing quality of Goya’s horrors or El Greco’s spiritual transports, but in pictures of people simply relaxing on beds and sofas.  I think the sense of agitation arises from Freud’s own restless struggle to see more deeply and to capture in paint the intensity of his own visual experience.  For Freud, every canvas was a wrestling match against a powerful foe.

Pregnant Girl, 1961, by Lucian Freud

The fleshiness of his painting can be a distraction.  I got a better understanding of  the energy of Freud’s searching eye by looking at his etchings, where the quality of movement stands out.  Most portraitists view their sitters across a distance.  Freud’s perceptual focus hikes over his subjects like a surveyor mapping a territory.  He treats the figure as a landscape, to be explored by touch and movement.

Head and Shoulders, 1982, etching by Lucian Freud

Freud loved animals, and he often shows his own dogs posing with his models.  He told William Feaver, who wrote a book about Freud’s work, “I’m really interested in people as animals.  Part of my liking to work from them naked is for that reason.  Because I can see more, and it’s also very exciting to see the forms repeating through the body and often the head as well.  I like people to look as natural and as physically at ease as animals, as Pluto my whippet.”

Sunny Morning - Eight Legs, 1997, by Lucian Freud

Lucian Freud was the grandson of Sigmund Freud, the progenitor of psychoanalysis.  Sigmund Freud spent hundreds of hours with his subjects lying on a couch, trying to penetrate the hidden recesses of the mind through dreams and free association.  Lucian Freud also spent hundreds of hours with his subjects lying on a couch, but he kept an intense focus on the surface.  I think he felt that the physical body, truly seen, could reveal hidden depths.  Surely Lucian Freud’s work reveals depths, although, as with Sigmund’s work, it could be argued that those depths belong to Freud more than they do to his subjects.

David Hockney; Lucian Freud, 2003, photo by David Dawson

Freud said, “My work is purely autobiographical… It is about myself and my surroundings. I work from people that interest me and that I care about, in rooms that I know.”  Given the necessity of spending a great deal of time with his sitters, he wouldn’t work with anyone unless he genuinely liked that person.  Still, he absolutely avoided any sentimentality or idealization.  Freud’s subjects had to accept that he would portray their every flaw, that he would reveal their mortality.

David Hockney, 2003, by Lucian Freud

While Freud, as far as I know, never worked from photographs, some of his models were photographed while posing for his paintings, which gives us an excellent way of seeing where he exaggerates and what he emphasizes.

Sue Tilley posing for Lucian Freud, 1995, photo by Bruce Bernard

Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, 1995, by Lucian Freud

The painting above is one of Freud’s best-known works, having set a record for the highest price paid for a painting by a living artist when it was sold at Christie’s in 2008 for 33.6 million dollars.  Notice how much older the model appears in the painting than in the photograph.  He seems to have made her more obese and more splotchy.

Many figurative painters do the opposite, omitting bruises and calluses and visible veins, subtly idealizing the body.  And many people are repelled by Freud’s figures, with their sexuality and mortality so blatantly on display.  Speaking for myself, this is the very aspect of Freud’s work that gives it spiritual power.  It is the essence of the human condition that we are spiritual beings manifested in animal bodies that experience fear and desire, suffering and decay.  I see this as the quality of art that Federico Garcia Lorca calls duende, the life force intensified by the closeness of death.

Naked Man with Rat, 1977, by Lucian Freud

Freud’s earlier work, such as the portrait below of Lady Caroline Blackwood, lacks the blotchy impasto of his later work, but there is already a kind of magical realism, with enlarged eyes and expressive distortions.

Girl in Bed, 1952, by Lucian Freud

Freud said, “The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real.”  You can see this principle not only in the individual works, but across the artist’s entire oeuvre.  The later work is unquestionably more abstract, the strokes wilder and freer, but they also have a living presence that is much stronger than in the earlier work.

Four Figures, 1991, etching by Lucian Freud


The Painter's Mother III, 1972, painting by Lucian Freud, and The Painter's Mother, 1982, etching by Lucian Freud

The face below is surely distorted, yet you can see the intensity of the artist’s perception in every thick stroke.  There is a kind of aura, a powerful presence that cannot be achieved by working from photographs and fretting over accuracy.

Esther, 1982, by Lucian Freud


Lucian Freud and model, 2004, photo by David Dawson

Freud said, “Perhaps when you have the sort of temperament that is always looking for flaws and trouble it might stop you from having what you always want, which is to be as audacious as possible. One has to find the courage to keep on trying not to paint in a stale or predictable way.”

Night Portrait, 1978, by Lucian Freud

I’ll conclude this post with two of my favorite Freud nudes.  Night Portrait, above, finds beauty in a pose that seems to be both resting and running, and in the textural contrast between the body and the quilt.  Naked Man, Back View, one of Freud’s many paintings of the model Leigh Bowery, also well known as a performance artist and costume designer, suggests an interior life through the turned-away display of a mountainous back.

Naked Man, Back View, 1992, by Lucian Freud

All the images in this post were found on the web.  Clicking on the pictures links to the pages where I found them.  The Lucian Freud quotes were also found on the web.  All the quote sites seem to have a similar collection of Freud quotes, unfortunately not sourced.


Dramatis Personæ

Bow, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Actor and writer Susan Merson invited me to make sketches at some of the sessions of New York Theatre Intensives, a six-week play development workshop and training program associated with New York’s Ensemble Studio Theatre.  Susan likes to get visual artists to respond in their own medium to the creative process of the actors, directors and writers.  The work is shared with the participants and may be used on the organization’s website and/or public presentations.

I attended two sessions there.  The first one was an acting workshop led by Janet Zarish.  I sat at the side of the room and sketched in white crayon on a 9″ x 12″ black pad.  The class began with warm-up exercises, including spine rolls, the game of tag, and slow-motion tag.  Since I’ve done a lot of movement drawing, this part of the class was a natural for me.

Tag, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Following the movement exercises, the acting students stood listening to the instructor.  Their postures show their energetic engagement.

Listen, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Next, various pairs of acting students performed their versions of little playlets.  The acting duos had been given a page or two of bare dialog, and they had to invent a context and back story and work it up into a scene.  They’d play the scene two or three times, with coaching and notes from the acting instructor.  I tried to make simplified personality sketches, essentially caricatures, of the actors playing their parts.  Fleeting expressions and attitudes are hard to catch in a drawing from life!

Copier, 2011, by Fred Hatt

In most of these, I tried to get more than one expression or position for at least one of the characters.  Without knowing the content of the scenes, you can see these as multiple-figure compositions.  Some kind of narrative content is implied in the drawings, but they’re highly ambiguous.  I don’t think anyone could guess much about the actors’ scenes from these sketches, but maybe the sketches could be imagination stimuli.  For instance, I could see the central figures in the one below as a couple’s public composure, while the faces on the edges represent hidden attitudes.

AA Meeting, 2011, by Fred Hatt

This exercise only increased my admiration for the great theatrical illustrator Al Hirschfeld, who spent eight decades at Broadway openings, sketching in a theater seat, and stylizing his impressions of the actors as elegant ink drawings that appeared alongside reviews in the New York Times.  Drawing actors in action is not easy, and I feel my attempts were pretty rough.

Afterlife, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The three sketches above are based on three acting duos’ interpretations of the same playlet, an encounter between two characters with diverging views of their relationship.  I’ve titled the sketches after context choices made by the actors.

The next three sketches are three different interpretations of a second playlet.  This one centers around one character trying to collect a long-overdue debt from the other character.  It was fascinating to observe how different choices and different actors’ personæ completely changed the feeling of the scene.

Hot Dog Park, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Naked Under Hoodie, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The actress below conveyed a particularly vivid sense of awkward nervousness toward her impassive debtor.

Wordvomit, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The acting class instructor, Janet Zarish, threw a lot of ideas at the actors, offering suggestions and modifications aimed at sharpening the characters and punching up the drama.  I was struck by her many crisp, incisive gestures.  I think they reflect her focus on performative clarity.

Instructor, 2011, by Fred Hatt

I sat in on another New York Theatre Intensives session, and will get to those sketches later in this post, but first, a sketch theater entr’acte.  American Independence Day, the fourth of July, fell between the two NYTI classes I attended.  Spring Studio, where I supervise one of the regular figure drawing sessions, hosted a July 4 special with models costumed as historical American characters, including a Revolutionary War era soldier, Buffalo Bill, Harriet Tubman, Pocahontas and Betsy Ross.  These sketches are in marker or pencil on white paper, 18″ x 24″, and all are based on poses held between two minutes and ten minutes.

American History Figures, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Noble Faces, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The models for this session were all what I would describe as character models.  Like character actors, they have distinctive faces, body types and ways of moving and looking that would stimulate the narrative imagination even without the costumes and props.  It’s impossible to draw these models in a generic way, because all of them are so distinctive.

Caretaker, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Small and Tall, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Barricade, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Later that week I went to a “rep class” session, led by Rod Menzies, at New York Theatre Intensives.  The actors did readings of new scenes by playwrights Crystal Skillman and Jason Holtham, with the playwrights present.  I believe part of the function of the session was for the writers to see how their work in progress was understood by the actors, and how it worked in front of an audience.  These drawings are 18″ x 24″ on white paper, in crayon and/or ink and brush.  Here’s the scene in the studio, with the instructor and playwright sitting at the left.

Studio Reading, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Crystal Skillman’s scene was for two actors, and a little longer than the playlets from the acting class, which gave me a better opportunity to study the actors.  The experience was a bit like what I imagine a courtroom artist does.

A Look, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Here’s my impression of the discussion, with the class instructor and the playwright at the left, and some of the students in discussion at the right.  They really did overlap like that, from my viewing position.  I chose to make them transparent.

Watching and Discussing, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Although the actors sitting to read stayed more still than they did in the acting class, where they had memorized their lines, it’s still hard to draw a reading, because the actors have their heads and eyes down at their scripts much of the time, and their facial expressions and energetic engagements with one another tend to be fleeting.  This remained so even after instructor Rod Menzies urged the actors to engage with each other even at the cost of missing lines in the scripts.

Cold Reading, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Model U. N., 2011, by Fred Hatt

Jason Holtham’s scene was about high school students at a Model United Nations simulation conference.  All the characters were named after the nations they were representing in the conference, which allowed the scene to be read on two levels.

Playwright, 2011, by Fred Hatt

I switched to ink and brush for a few sketches.  The brushed ink line is more expressive than the crayon line, but also much more difficult to control.

Characters, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The directions of eyes and eyebrows, and the set of the mouth, are the most immediately readable indicators of emotion and relational role, at least among those that can be captured in a quick sketch that lacks the sound of the voice, the movement of the body, and the narrative developments of the script.

Reactions, 2011, by Fred Hatt

For me, the experience of sketching at these theater classes drew on my long-term practice of drawing from movement.  I’m used to sketching from dance, with the attention given to large physical movement.  The actors didn’t move so much – most of the interesting changes going on were subtle facial cues.  In drawing faces, I’m accustomed to doing portraits, where I can take my time to study the structure and character of a face.  Trying to apply the quick-response, gestural interpretation of movement to facial expressions was a challenge I definitely haven’t yet mastered, but I love to keep finding fresh challenges!

I’d be interested to hear from actors or other participants in the classes about what you see in my sketches, and whether they reveal anything to you that you might not get by looking at a still photo or video of the classes.  Please feel free to comment here, and I’ll respond.  (Comments from first-time commenters are held for moderation, so may take a day or so to appear on the blog.)



Song of a Child Servant

Mana Hashimoto in "Lullaby", 2009, video by Fred Hatt

Itsuki no komoriuta, or the Lullaby of Itsuki (a village on Kyushu Island, Japan), is one of the best-known Japanese folk melodies.  It will probably sound familiar to you even if you know nothing about traditional Japanese songs.  It’s been covered by many western musicians, including the French pop singer Claudine Longet and the Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell.  Here’s a lovely version in  a trembling, breaking voice style by Ikue Asazaki.

Dancer Mana Hashimoto, with whom I’ve previously collaborated several times, was inspired to explore this song in movement.  Mana describes Itsuki no komoriuta this way:  “Two centuries ago in Japan, it was common for poor families to sell their children, age six and up, to work for rich families as baby sitters or housekeepers. If the rich family were nice and open, the children might be allowed to go once in a while to visit their birth families, but often the children didn’t know when they would get to go home. Itsuki no lullaby is a song in the voice of a child missing her home town as she takes care of a rich family’s babies, putting them to bed.”

Norio Shimizu at lyricstranslate.com provides an excellent translation of the lyrics.  (“Bon” refers to the annual Buddhist festival to honor the spirits of the ancestors by dancing and by floating lanterns on the river.)

As soon as Bon arrives,
I will leave for my hometown.
The sooner Bon comes, the sooner I will go home.

I am no better than a beggar.
They are rich people.
With good sashes and good dresses.

Who will cry for me
When I die?
Only the locusts in the mountain behind the house.

No, it’s not locusts.
It’s my little sister.
Don’t cry, little sister, I will be worried about you.

When I am dead,
Bury me by the roadside.
The passers-by would lay flowers for me.

What flowers would they lay?
The water would come falling down from above.

Mana was struck by the sad, forlorn mood of the lullaby, and by the beauty of its melody.  It appealed to her sympathies as a mother.  “I always want to find some hope,” she says, “to give those children some light.”

Mana Hashimoto in "Lullaby", 2009, video by Fred Hatt

Mana incorporated Itsuki no komoriuta into her full-length choreographed piece “Yumema/Dream Between”, which she has performed recently at Dixon Place and Green Space.  The film “Lullaby”, which I made with Mana two years ago, represents the beginnings of her engagement with the song, as she improvises movement while singing it.

This film was made in the Brooklyn loft of my friend Sullivan Walsh, a metal craftsman, who created the bed and oval mirror seen in the background.

Mana explores space by contact and by reaching out, often using tactile objects as a base for her movement.  Here, a long banquet table is her stage.  In the first part of the video she explores the melody of Itsuki no komoriuta through gesture and voice, bathed in the golden light of the setting sun.  In the second part, she restlessly tests the boundaries of her narrow stage in the deep blue twilight.

The video of “Lullaby” is embedded here.  If you receive the blog by email you will need to click to the blog site or follow this link to the Vimeo site for this video.

Mana will be performing a different piece this Saturday at a benefit for Japan earthquake relief at Tenri Cultural Institute in New York.

Hi Mizu Kaze – rebirth A fundraising event for Japan featuring gagaku and beyond

Featuring Mana Hashimoto (dance) // Sadahiro Kakitani (ryuteki) // Kaoru Watanabe (flute & taiko) with Daniel Abse (recitation) + Yoichi Fukui (sho) + Yuko Takebe (film)

Saturday, July 16, 2011, 7:30pm. $10 suggested donation. Tenri Cultural Institute, 43A West 13th St. (btwn. 5th & 6th Ave.), New York, NY, 10011, 212-645-2800, www.tenri.org


The Artist’s Beard

Filed under: Art History,Collections of Images — Tags: , — fred @ 00:19

Fred Hatt, b. 1958, artist and blogger, self-portrait photo 2011 by Fred Hatt

This is a first for Drawing Life – a men’s style post.  Artists, writers, and musicians create not only a body of work but also a persona.  The possibilities are broad, but the options are naturally constrained by the face and body Nature has given.  As I have found myself becoming a bearish middle-aged man, my own style has gravitated towards a classic type.  The trimmed beard I had ten years ago has expanded to what is now known on the interwebs as an “epic beard”.  It covers my double chin and also serves as a tribute to my many artistic forebears, artists whose fulfillment manifested in silverback gravitas rather than studly cutness or prettyboy romance.  So here is a fairly arbitrary selection of bearded males (and one female) of the creative bent, presented in completely random order.  What a great opportunity to put myself in the context of the greats!

Hermeto Pascoal, b. 1936, composer and musician, photographer unknown

Daniel Day-Lewis, b. 1957, actor, photo by John Spellman/Retna Ltd.

Ernest Hemingway, 1899-1961, writer, photo by Yousuf Karsh

Luciano Pavarotti, 1935-2007, singer, photographer unknown

Jim Henson, 1936-1990, puppeteer, photographer unknown

Thelonious Monk, 1917-1982, composer and musician, photographer unknown

George Carlin, 1937-2008, comedian and writer, photographer unknown

George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950, playwright, photographer unknown

Albrecht Dürer, 1471-1528, painter and artist, self-portrait

Auguste Rodin, 1840-1917, sculptor and artist, photo by Nadar

George Clinton, b. 1941, musician and bandleader, photo by Marcy Guiragossian/Marcy G. Photography

Constantin Brancusi, 1876-1957, sculptor, photo by Edward Steichen

Toshiro Mifune, 1920-1997, actor, still from Red Beard, directed by Akira Kurosawa

Erik Satie, 1866-1925, composer and musician,photographer unknown

Charles Dickens, 1812-1870, writer, photo by Jeremiah Gurney

Allen Ginsberg, 1926-1997, poet, photographer unknown

Devendra Banhart, b. 1981, singer-songwriter, photographer unknown

Ai Weiwei, b. 1957, artist and activist, photographer unknown

Sergei Parajanov, 1924-1990, film director and artist, photographer unknown

Walt Whitman, 1819-1892, poet, photo by Matthew Brady

Isaac Hayes, 1942-2008, songwriter and musician, photographer unknown

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890, painter, self-portrait

Alan Moore, b. 1953, writer, photographer unknown

Hans Holbein the Younger, 1497-1543, painter, self-portrait

Oliver Sacks, b. 1933, neurologist and writer, photographer unknown

John Lennon, 1940-1980, songwriter and musician, photographer unknown

Jennifer Miller, b. 1961, performer and writer, photographer unknown

Claude Monet, 1840-1926, painter, photo by Nadar

Terry Riley, b. 1935, composer, photo by Lenny Gonzalez

Salman Rushdie, b. 1947, writer, 1992 photo by Andy Ross

Frederick Douglass, 1818-1895, writer and statesman, photographer unknown

Johannes Brahms, 1833-1897, composer, photograph by C. Brasch

Jerzy Grotowski, 1933-1999, theater director, photographer unknown

Stanley Kubrick, 1928-1999, film director, photographer unknown

Leo Tolstoy, 1828-1910, writer, photographer unknown

Gustav Klimt, 1862-1918, painter, photographer unknown

The beard is naturally an expression of masculinity and maturity.  It also seems to denote sensitivity in a man of rough or plain features.  Imagine many of the men in these photos clean shaven, and see how their power, like that of the shorn Samson, is diminished.

All photos, besides the one of me, were found on the web.  Clicking on the photo links to its source.

Of course this collection is arbitrary and incomplete.  Feel free to use comments to nominate worthy bearded artists I’ve omitted.


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