Dance Shadow Drawing, Temple of the Moving Body, 2014, by Fred Hatt
After five and a half years, 226 posts, and over 2800 images, with this post I bring Drawing Life to a close. Don’t worry – all the posts will remain online, and at the end of this post I’ll provide the link to a new site where I’ll share my work going forward. I’ve been going through a major transition in my life and it’s time for a kind of rethinking and spring cleaning of all my habits and practices.
The images accompanying this post are from an experimental drawing session I did last March with model/collaborator Kristin Hatleberg. I turned my whole studio into a cave of paper and covered the walls and floor with ink strokes tracing the outline or shadow of the body in motion. That was around the time my life transition was getting started, and this session was a sort of ritual for new creative possibilities.
Floor Figures, Temple of the Moving Body, 2014, by Fred Hatt
I rarely write about my own life here on Drawing Life. I avoid drama and so I imagine my life would be pretty boring to anyone not close to me. I devote much of my free time to drawing, photography, and other creative pursuits. While I show work and do events and performances fairly regularly, I’ve always maintained my art as an amateur practice. Of course the word “amateur” means lover, one who does something for the pure love of it. Since I work for a living, I don’t have to worry about creating work to please a market or to make it fit what some critics want to write about. I keep the work free, and I follow it wherever it leads me. To be honest, while I love a lot of living artists and their work, the international contemporary art scene as a whole, with its mega-wealthy collectors and ego-driven art stars, its combination of pretentious discourse and cheap gimmickry, bores me, and while I ignore this official Art World, it ignores me back. I’d rather treat my work as my own exploration of perception and practice. I do want to use it to communicate to a larger audience, but I’m actually more driven by the pleasure of sharing one on one, the special connection that develops between me and my models, the people I sketch portraits of and the people whose bodies I paint, the dancers and performers I collaborate with, and the fans of my work that visit my studio, sit with me on the floor and look through piles of drawings or photographs.
Tracing an Arc of Movement, Temple of the Moving Body, 2014, by Fred Hatt
For a very long time, I’ve lived a Bohemian lifestyle in New York, making my living through freelance photography, video production, film projection and other audiovisual work, with occasional commissions or paid gigs as an artist, teacher or performer. I’ve usually worked as little as I could get by with and kept as much time as I could for my creative work. The cost of living in the city has gone up and up in recent years, but I never had too much trouble finding paid work, though the older I got the more my lack of savings and lack of health insurance concerned me. So when I found the opportunity to take a job with good pay and excellent benefits, I went for it. I’m now a full-time film projectionist at the Museum of Modern Art, the first stable full time job I’ve had in over twenty years. I’ve been a backup projectionist there since 2011, working full time hours since one of the full-timers retired last spring, and an official staff member since August.
Floor Figures, Temple of the Moving Body, 2014, by Fred Hatt
While I have been giving more of my time to paying work – even before my hiring at MoMA I’d been working an erratic but heavy schedule for the last couple of years – I have kept producing as much artwork as ever. While I haven’t been posting here on Drawing Life as frequently as I once did, this year I’ve done tons of drawing and photography, several live performances and film projects in collaboration with dancers, and have been developing a number of long-term projects that need time to come to fruition.
The job, with its demands, its regularity, and its security, changes everything. For a while I thought I could just re-arrange all my old activities into the new schedule, but it isn’t so simple. I’m determined that these changes will not diminish my creative life but will allow it to achieve greater depth. I could choose to keep posting here at Drawing Life as I have been. The list of yet-unwritten blog post ideas I maintain now has over 250 entries, some of which are sets of work that already exist and could simply be arranged for presentation on the blog. But I also want to devote some of my writing energy to a longer form, to a book or books that can develop some of my ideas in more depth. I think the internet is better suited to snippets and tweets and quick takes. Drawing Life’s picture essays have reached a small but appreciative audience, but they represent a sort of middle level of complexity, not enough for a deep read but maybe too much for the multitasking web surfer to take in.
Hand Stencils, Temple of the Moving Body, 2014, by Fred Hatt
So I’m going to write a book. Wish me luck at achieving the kind of sustained discipline that will need. I’ve started a new blog, a Tumblr microblog called Inklings, where I’ll regularly share individual drawings, paintings and photographs, short films, and brief poems and paragraphs to inspire and please my fans. I’ve already added two posts there, a drawing and a four minute film about the wind. I expect to post there twice to thrice per week. What goes up there will also be shared on Facebook and Pinterest and Twitter, so follow the stream at any of those places.
Some of the online book services have blog-to-book functions, so I’m also thinking of making a Best of Drawing Life collection that you can download as an ebook or, better yet, order in hard copy. This would have maybe 50 or so of the most popular posts that have appeared here. Does that interest you? Would you prefer, say, photography and drawing posts in separate collections, or everything interspersed as has been the way on the blog? Are there any particular posts you’d like to nominate for the collection? I’ll continue to check the comments here!
As the calendar rolls over, I looked back through my photos from the year 2012, to remember what I saw and did and made, and I chose some images that stick with me – images that haven’t previously appeared on Drawing Life.
Northampton Tree, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
Early in 2012, I made several short trips, visiting my brother Frank in Western Massachusetts, my friends April and Paul in Connecticut, and my friend Alex in upstate New York, giving me a chance to experience quieter, more open environments than my usual habitat of urban hustle and bustle. (In the photo above you can see Frank in profile in the lower left corner.)
Goshen Morning, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
I love to look at trees in the winter, when their elaborate branching networks are exposed. Branching patterns are among the fundamental organic forms, seen not just in trees but also in blood vessels and nerves, in lightning, in river deltas, in anything that involves permeating flow.
Fallen Tree in Winter Stream, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
Look at the branching toes of an emu, and watch how the huge bird moves, contemplating its kinship to its ancient ancestors, the dinosaurs.
Emu Foot, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
Look at the nobility of this strong animal, an alpaca, with its enormous crystalline eyes.
I live in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn. The neighborhood has recently seen a huge influx of hipsters and yuppies, but the old traditions are still maintained – like the tradition of throwing one’s sneakers to hang from the overhead wiring.
Shoes on the Wire, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
Religious displays and holiday symbols are shown everywhere, an expression of identity, values, and sentiment.
Saint and Savior, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
“Ghost Bikes“, painted white and bedecked with flowers, are placed as monuments to bicyclists killed by drivers by the friends of the deceased. This one has a plaque above it (not shown here) that indicates it has been there since 2005.
Ghost Bike, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
Often my eye is captured by simple street scenes. For a fleeting moment, the arrangement of colors and elements become something wonderful. A ready camera and quick reflexes can sometimes grab one of those moments for more leisurely aesthetic contemplation.
Girl and Flowers, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
Houston Street at Night, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
“If you see something, say something” is the slogan in public service advertisements encouraging citizens to report suspicious things to authorities. Big city people see so many odd things all the time they get pretty blasé – it’s all just “something, something.” At least that’s how it appears in these partially stripped-away stickers on the stair risers.
Something Something, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
I went to a party on the rooftop of some friends who live on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, and I was able to take two shots showing the skyline of Lower Manhattan behind that of Downtown Brooklyn, in the afternoon and at twilight.
View from Flatbush Avenue, by Day and by Dusk, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
Later I went to the one-year birthday party for the twins of my friends Yuliya and Yevgeniy (portrait drawings of the twins are at the bottom of this post). They were staying at a friend’s place on a placid, mirrorlike lake.
Mirror Lake, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
In June I came back from work late one evening to see a house in my neighborhood engulfed in flames.
House Fire, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
Firefighters in Smoke, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
Later in the summer I visited my parents in the town in Oklahoma where I grew up. I went to look at the house I lived in when I was in my 20’s, and found it like this, a charred shell. I don’t know the story behind this.
Burned House on East Maple, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
In the middle of the summer I went to Sirius Rising, a festival in Western New York where I have long taught workshops and done art and body painting. I found this extravagant caterpillar crawling across my painting drop cloth.
Horned Caterpillar, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
Here’s one of my body paintings from the festival.
Flaming Rose, 2012, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt
And here’s a sketch of the branches of the crabapple tree under which I sat to paint on people.
Foliage, 2012, by Fred Hatt
Later in the summer, my friend the dancer Kristin Hatleberg had been granted studio time in the city to pursue a project with dancers exploring different ways of capturing the experience of movement, through words, through photography and video, and through drawing, and then responding to those other media again through movement. Just my type of thing!
Fred Drawing Kristin Dancing, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt (tripod and intervalometer)
In the fall I visited Alex in the Catskills again. We went to Kaaterskill Falls and took pictures of the waterfalls, of people and dogs playing in the falls, and of each other.
This fall was the season of Hurricane Sandy, a gigantic “superstorm” that wrecked the East coastline of the U.S. with surging flood waters. I took this picture of a tree in my neighborhood as it was being whipped by Sandy’s turbulent winds.
Storm Winds, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
My own neighborhood suffered no severe damage, but the next morning most of the leaves of the trees were on the ground.
After the Storm, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
Things like wooden fences were down too. Lower Manhattan had no electricity for most of a week and many low-lying areas (including many parts of the city full of artists’ studios and art galleries) were flooded. I was lucky to live on slightly higher ground.
Broken Fence, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
Here’s the house on my block that burned in June (see pictures above). The wrecked frame of the house had been shrouded in a blue tarp. Sandy shredded that tarp up pretty good.
Tattered Tarp on Burned House, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
Many Subway lines were flooded. Transit Authority workers put in a heroic effort to get the trains back running as quickly as possible after the storm, because public transit really is the essential life blood of the city. For about a week, I had to walk a mile to catch an alternative train into Manhattan, because my local line under the river was submerged. The alternative line crosses the Williamsburg Bridge, and waiting for the train I captured this urban sunset vision.
Williamsburg Bridge Trains, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
The hurricane was followed a few days later by a nor’easter, an autumn lashing of wet snow and cold rain. I took this picture with on-camera flash, so the snowflakes near the camera look like big, out-of-focus white blobs.
Wet Snow, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt
Much of my artwork from 2012 has already appeared on Drawing Life. I noticed in looking through my images from the year that I did a lot of body painting and some light painting photography this year – enough to warrant their own posts some time soon. As the new year comes in, I think it’s appropriate to finish this post with an image from “Gaia Rebirth“, a collaborative performance by a collective of musicians and dancers called the Artist Dream Family, for which I did some blacklight body painting early in December. May 2013 be a year of rebirth and renewal for us all!
Gaia Rebirth, 2012, performance by the Artist Dream Family, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt
Artist's Portfolio Pages, 2000, by Fred Hatt (click to enlarge)
I’ve been focused recently on selecting portfolio samples of my work. Last week I put together the 2011 calendar featured in the previous post, and this week I prepared my regular application for the NYFA (New York Foundation for the Arts) Fellowship, in the “Printmaking/Drawing/Book Arts” category. Nearly every artist in the State of New York applies for the NYFA Fellowship, since it’s a relatively simple application and if you get it it’s a few thousand bucks you can spend however you see fit. I’ve applied many times over the years and never gotten it, and the same is true of most of the artists I know. (One of my friends, figurative artist Susan M. Berkowitz, won the award a couple of years ago.) The odds are a bit long, but not as long as winning a big Lotto jackpot.
Anyway, for the NYFA Fellowship in the visual arts categories you submit eight jpegs that the panel views four at a time, projected on side-by-side digital projectors. The artist selecting work has to decide what kind of presentation will work with this viewing format, while taking into account that the panelists will be seeing thousands of images in a first-cut round that must be rather grueling.
The standard advice is to show a highly consistent selection of pieces. Too much variation will probably be seen as “student work”. Now this is exactly the opposite of the approach I took in selecting pieces for my calendar. There I selected for diversity. My idea was that by showing a variety of media and styles together, the underlying approach, the sense of energy that all the pieces have in common, would shine through. [I took a similar approach in the two-page portfolio and statement from ten years ago, pictured at the top of this post.]
I’ll let you tell me whether you think that strategy worked in the calendar selections. I’m fairly certain it wouldn’t have worked for the NYFA application. They segregate by medium, for one thing, so photography and drawing are seen by different panels, and I don’t think body painting really fits into any of their categories. For NYFA, I selected a coherent and stylistically unified set of large color drawings. Whether they’ll make a good impression when they come up in the numbing procession of images, and whether the particular panelists will respond positively to them, is anybody’s guess.
Picasso desktop wallpaper from brothersoft.com
Going through these decisions got me thinking about the question of diversity of style and media in an artist’s work. Many of our most revered artists crossed those lines all the time. Picasso changed style and medium more often than he changed mistresses. Cocteau, Warhol, Kiki Smith, and just about every really interesting artist you can think of refused to be boxed in by notions of consistency. All of them wanted to show that the essence of their work transcended medium and style.
Somehow, though, the institutional art world wants to define things by exactly the same lines these artists insisted on coloring outside of. Grants, group shows, festivals and arts organizations are nearly always defined by some combination of medium, nationality/ethnicity/identity group, and/or some notion of genre such as “minimalism” or “outsider art”. An artist who paints, makes films, does installations and writes songs risks being seen as a dilettante or as undisciplined.
Some of this is unavoidable. “Art” is such a nebulous and ever-expanding field of human experience that you have to draw some lines somewhere if you are going to study it or curate it. I’m just one of those artists, and there are many of us, who naturally respond to boundaries by wanting to cross them. Indeed, “blurring the boundaries” has become one of the enduring clichés of contemporary artspeak.
In recent decades high-end contemporary art has been increasingly marketed as an “ultraluxe” fashion statement for the fabulously wealthy, that also happens to be a potentially lucrative investment. Dealers and collectors of important contemporary artists want something readily identifiable, a clear and unmistakable signature style. Why pay the big bucks for an original Koons if everyone that walks into your place doesn’t immediately recognize it as such? And of course the dealers lower down on the art food chain aspire to emulate this approach and tend to discourage broadness and experimentation in the artists they represent.
Michael Jackson and Bubbles, by Jeff Koons, 1988
I just don’t roll that way, and maybe I do lack the discipline and persistence that some of the big name artists bring to their work. I’m in awe of the amount of work and networking it must have taken Matthew Barney to create the Cremaster Cycle, consisting of five very non-mainstream feature films plus performances and sculptures and an elaborate personal mythology. He sold his boundary-crossing mega-opus by making it so big and compelling it couldn’t be ignored.
I’ve pretty much done art for my own pleasure and satisfaction. I’ve never seen a clear path to making big bucks or getting a big name without somehow betraying what I feel is the essence of it. It’s my path, my exploration of the world. For me it’s more about asking questions than it is about making big statements. It’s important to me to keep pushing it in different directions and manifesting it in different forms.
This blog is the best venue I’ve ever found for sharing my work with anyone who might be interested in it. Here I can show the full diversity of my practice. I can present it in different ways and highlight different facets of it every week. I can put drawings, photography, video, and ideas in one place. Of course it doesn’t make any money, but it doesn’t really cost much either, except for a significant investment of my time.
I appreciate all of you who read this blog, because art can be a solitary pleasure but it gains an absolutely essential dimension when it becomes communication. Thank you for reading, thank you for commenting, and thank you for sharing my work with others!
The images in this post that are not my own were found on the web. Clicking on them links to the sites where they were found.
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s I lived in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, right across from the stage door of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. My apartment was the parlor floor of a slightly shabby Civil War era brownstone. The adjacent house on one side was a crack den, and the house on the other side was abandoned and trashed, but the location was convenient and the rent reasonable. I spent a lot of time in the unkempt back yard. I never thought of planting a garden or neatening it up to have croquet parties. I liked it just as it was, a place where whatever could grow in the sandy, rocky soil was allowed to grow wild, and where the squirrels and feral cats used the fence tops as elevated pathways.
Ivy, 1991, photo by Fred Hatt
By 1995 the neighborhood was clearly gentrifying, and I was evicted so the owners of the property could fancy it up for a better class of renters. I had to move on and since then I’ve never again lived in a place with a real back yard. I miss the piles of bricks and the gnarly bush, and the odd things that would just spring up there, like the giant pumpkin vine that appeared rather suddenly one year.
Glass on Step, 1991, by Fred Hatt
In that era, all of New York City had a lot more of that wild and ragged quality. The city had been beaten down by an era of radical social changes, urban blight and misguided renewal, the flight of the affluent and the crisis of near-bankruptcy. During all that time New York never lost its vitality. In fact it seemed most vital at the deepest depth of its abjection, a place of creative anarchy. Where the wealthy feared to go, eccentric visionaries could play freely. By the time I made it to the city, it had already begun to be tidied up and remodeled for a new generation of sophisticated upwardly mobile professionals, but I treasured the pockets of ruin that still existed, as I still treasure those dwindling few that exist here today. My back yard was my own little piece of vital ruin.
Framed Herbs, 1992, photo by Fred Hatt
In memory of that time and place, here are some of the still life photographs I made in that yard and that apartment, arrangements of objects that partake of some of that spirit of the wild.
Saucer & Leaves, 1991, photo by Fred Hatt
Roundness combined with organic forms and a dash of randomness – this could be a description of our planet itself. It’s also a recipe for these back yard mandalas.
Pool and Spokes, 1992, by Fred Hatt
Indoors, when things are allowed to fall where they may rather than being carefully ordered, a little of the wild spirit expresses itself in our things.
Messy Sheets, 1991, photo by Fred Hatt
Without designing or arranging objects, the artist’s eye selects and frames, notices the beautiful effect of light or the organic relationship of forms, and turns a messy room into a still life composition.
Photography Books and Extension Cord, 1991, photo by Fred Hatt
Art grows in this gap between the complex, chaotic, fractal order of nature, and our impulse towards simplicity and archetypal purity.
Geometry, 1991, photo by Fred Hatt
With that last thought, let’s remember the mathematician Benoît B. Mandelbrot, one of the great minds of our time, who died this week. Mandelbrot found mathematical order in the jagged and swirly and burgeoning forms of nature.
Yasuko Kasaki interviews Fred Hatt at CRS, May 1, 2010, photo by Satomi Kitahara
At the May 1 opening of my solo exhibition “Healing Hands” at CRS in New York, I was interviewed by Yasuko Kasaki, author, teacher, healer and founder of CRS, in their beautiful, newly renovated studio.
The exhibit consisted of three bodies of work: “Healing Hands”, a series of color drawings based on the hands of the people who do healing work at CRS, “Heads”, larger than life-size portrait drawings, and “Chaos Compositions”, large scale, mostly multi-figure color drawings on black paper. The “Healing Hands” series remains on view at CRS through May 26, while the other two bodies of work were hung in the CRS studio for the opening on May 1 only. CRS Art Gallery Director Satomi Kitahara organized the event. See additional photos of the opening here.
The interview was part of the opening program, to introduce those interested in my artwork to my ideas and process. Just below the next photo is a full transcript of the interview. I have omitted the audience Q and A section to keep this to a reasonable length, but questioners brought up some interesting ideas that will be addressed in this blog soon.
Yasuko Kasaki interviews Fred Hatt at CRS, May 1, 2010, photo by Satomi Kitahara
Yasuko Kasaki: We’ve set up this series named Artist’s Way. Do you know the book, The Artist’s Way? Yeah, great book about process and how to progress our creative energy and so on. I’d like to let Fred talk about his secrets and his way of seeing things. First we should start with the Healing Hands, our exhibition. Those are the hands of healers, including mine. We do spiritual healing, and we see so-called energy. Energy is not actually the appropriate word, as a matter of fact. We are not seeing energy, but we see the quality of the spirit and mind and networking and flow, and connection and balance of the mind power or life force, or something like that. While we are doing this kind of healing, Fred, you see us and see something through your eyes. How do you see the energy?
Fred Hatt: Those drawings were mostly done before and after the healing circles that you have here. The various healers that were models for the drawings would sit in meditation, so they were just sitting and focusing their own energy within and I was just sketching.
Healing Hands #8, 2010, by Fred Hatt
I have always tried to see the human subject as energy rather than as an object. I don’t claim to have any clairvoyant ability or anything like that, but I have practiced life drawing with devotion and discipline over a long time. I go to two or three life drawing classes with timed poses every week. I’ve been doing that for about fifteen years. I’ve gotten to a level where the response of my hand is very quick. I think that what the lines of the drawing record are the movements of perception. I’m constantly looking, and as the eyes move and see a surface or notice some little thing, there’s a gesture of the hand that goes exactly with that. The closer the link is between the perceiving and the gesture, the more it picks up the energy or the movement of the act of perception. The act of perception is an interactive energetic or spiritual link with the person that I’m looking at. I think that intuitively it really captures something.
I did sketches of the healers’ hands, then later I took them away and did some further work, colors and backgrounds, in my own studio. More imagination comes into that part of it, but that’s also an intuitive response to what I can see from the position of the hands. Every little thing expresses something about the person: the way they choose to show their hands, the way that they’re resting, every little movement – little fidgets and adjustments. All of those things are ways of perceiving some quality of the energy. You start to see things not so much as an object of solid matter, but as something that’s flowing.
YK: I thought figurative painters study anatomy of the muscles and bones, but you don’t see those things?
FH: Well, I do, and I have studied that kind of thing also of course. I’m fascinated with that. But I also thought that’s not the only kind of anatomy there is. I’m self-taught as an artist, so I just looked into anything I thought was interesting and relevant. I learned about different ideas of the energy body, chakras and meridians and auras and all that kind of thing, because those systems are created by people who have focused on understanding the energy flow and the ways that different parts of the body are dynamically related, so there are insights to be had from any of that. But I don’t rigidly follow any of those things. I just take in as much information as possible and then try to respond intuitively in the moment, rather than systematically.
Healing Hands #9, 2010, by Fred Hatt
YK: You say moment, but those hands are still, and those faces are still – but not still at all. They are moving, because you are drawing movement. So then, you are drawing and constantly changing, right? So change and movement – you just try to get everything on the paper.
FH: Well, the model is basically still, although a living person is never really still. Even if a model in an art class is trying to sit perfectly still, they’re breathing, the blood is flowing, the mind is working, the nerves are working. There’s a lot of flowing energy going on. There’s also a lot of energy being exchanged between the model and the artist, because for the person posing, when you are being witnessed, when you feel that you are being seen, that really changes your experience. It makes everything you do, it makes your being a communication, a sharing. I think of drawing also as a sharing. I feel like if someone is posing for me, that’s a generous act, letting me really look, letting me try to see as much as I can see of someone. I feel like I have to work as hard as I can, I have to put as much as I can put into it, to honor that. I want that to be a gift back. I think that a lot of artists are making work for the public or the critics or whoever. I always feel like I’m doing it for the models first. I want them to see how I see them. I want it to be a mutual sharing act.
Donna, 2009, by Fred Hatt
YK: When I saw you for the first time here [at CRS], you were dancing here. [To audience] You know that he is a great dancer, great performer, he is so talented. And among other performers, he is really, I don’t want to use the word outstanding – outstanding too, but I don’t want to compare – but the quality of his performance is a little bit different. Other performers just showed us what they created, and said “See us.” But Fred’s way is “See? Can you see? Let’s see together. You can see this movement, you can see this light, see? It’s beautiful. See? You enjoy this?” Anything he does, his attitude is like that. [back to Fred] So sharing is all the time your core. And the gift is not from me to you, it’s just together. Let’s get this gift. This is your attitude. Great, I think.
FH: Picasso said “Creativity is happiness.” I really believe that.
(The video embedded above is a performance by Fred Hatt and Corinna Brown, done at CRS in 2007. More info available here.)
YK: Can you talk about color? I see color in the energy field. But how do you see these colors? I don’t think you perceive the same color, probably differently.
FH: I don’t take the same approach to color all the time. In some of the heads, the portrait drawings here, if you look at them from a distance the color looks fairly realistic, it looks like skin tone, but if you look close, there are no skin tone colors there. It’s a lot of different colors kind of mixing in the eye. I’m actually trying to capture some sense of the color I see, with the idea that color is a relative rather than an absolute quality. Colors change according to what they’re next to, and the colors of something like human skin are so subtle that if you try to just copy the surface color it’s flat and dead looking, so I’m trying to find those subtle variations. Where the blood is closer to the surface you get pinker tones, for example. That sort of thing gives this feeling of what’s below the surface, the life.
Michael W, 2009, by Fred Hatt
On these larger drawings with the multiple overlapping figures, I use color in a much more abstract way. I should describe the process. I work in my studio with a model. We start out doing quick poses, and I just do simple line drawings. I just grab colors at random. I have a big bowl of crayons, and I just use whatever I pull out. That way, once I have a huge mess of overlapping drawings, I can sort of follow one out of the mess by following the same color. It becomes a massive chaotic mess of lines that looks like nothing but static, and then I try to go into it and find order in the chaos. I develop parts of some of the figures, pull things forward, push things back, and find some kind of structure into it. It’s an improvisational process. This way of working creates these complex compositions which I would never be able to design. If I made preparatory sketches and tried to figure it all out on paper, I couldn’t do it. It only emerges from the process.
Seer, 2009, by Fred Hatt
Another thing that’s interesting to me about these is that for the viewer, it requires a much more active kind of looking than a picture. If you look at the portrait drawings, that’s a picture. You see and grasp the whole image. It’s very direct. Most figurative artwork is like that. When you look at these more complex pieces, you look into them and try to find what’s there and find the interesting juxtapositions that happen by chance.
The color in these pieces is, in the beginning of the work, random, as are several other aspects of the process. In the later development stages, I choose colors just out of an aesthetic sense. The colors in these aren’t symbolic or anything like that, but they emerge in the process. I think just because they’re on black, the colors have this neon, or black velvet painting, quality of light. I like to draw on a darker surface, because I think I see the light first, then the shadows. If you draw on white paper you really have to start with the shadows.
YK: What’s the difference between your seeing movement and drawing it, and your doing movement yourself, very different ways of expression as an artist?
FH: My experience with movement and performance happened from just following my interests, because since I was self-taught I didn’t have any teacher telling me I need to go in a particular direction. I think most figurative artists are not interested in experimental performance art. At least, when I meet other figurative artists, and I tell them I’m interested in that sort of stuff, they’re like “Ugh.” But for me that experimental work was really interesting because the artists were treating the creative process as an experience, rather than as the production of an object. I think that’s a very interesting approach. Before the invention of photography, just the ability to create a realistic image was a form of magic. Images were rare and had power just in their illusion of reality. Nowadays, we live in a world where we’re bombarded with images constantly. There are screens and advertising everywhere you look. Images don’t, in themselves, have any magic at all any more. They’re just pollution. How do you get back to that feeling of it having magic and power? To me, these really experimental artists, the butoh artists, the people that were doing happenings and that kind of thing, were trying to approach that problem by giving people an experience that can transform your perception.
I needed to incorporate this approach into my own exploration. I studied butoh dance and I did a lot of work with performance. I had to eventually come back more to visual art and drawing because I felt like that’s where my talent was strongest, and it’s where I found that I had the ability to do a really disciplined practice. And I’m an introverted kind of person, so visual art is more natural for that. But I think that the experience of performing was about trying to find new states. To enter into a performing state is sort of shamanic. What I learned from that really does inform the way that I draw, because if I’m trying to capture someone’s movement or their inner states, my own experience of feeling movement informs it, at least intuitively.
Range, 2009, by Fred Hatt
YK: You were doing really interesting and crazy things in New York City with the performers, gathering in the early morning and doing really crazy things and naked things.
FH: I haven’t really done that kind of thing recently, but back in the 90’s, in the days before 9/11, when there was no security anywhere, you could get away with anything in New York City, and we did. I think the specific thing you’re talking about is a series of performances in the summer of ’97. It was a collaboration that I worked out with Julie Atlas Muz, who is a well known burlesque performer and also a really good postmodern choreographer who did a lot of really creative and unusual performances. In that summer, every day that was a new moon or a full moon day, we would go out before dawn, with whatever other performers we could get to come with us, to some location around the city, the Staten Island Ferry, or Central Park, or Coney Island, some interesting location where there were a lot of things to interact with, and we did these interactive, improvisational happenings. Usually the only audience was people that we invited to come along and take pictures or video, but sometimes there were other people around, especially on the Staten Island Ferry where we sort of had a captive audience. The people that were performing could pretty much do whatever they wanted, but at that time of day, five o’clock in the morning, there is this incredible, powerful thing happening, the transformation of night into day. It’s a lighting effect that you couldn’t get from a theater lighting designer. If you had millions of dollars you couldn’t make something that amazing, and each time it was different. The birds are the rulers of that time, and they’re so loud, and human beings are so quiet. It’s the time when everyone is asleep, everyone is dreaming, and so even though you’re awake, you can be in a dream in the real world, because it’s the time when everyone is dreaming, That’s the predominant energy. Really amazing things happened in those performances. It was a struggle to get up really early in the morning and trek out to some place to do this thing, but then when we got done, we had to kill several hours before going to work or whatever.
Video capture from "Early Morning Dances: Belvedere Castle", 1997, performance by Julie Atlas Muz and Fred Hatt
YK: Yeah, now there’s security, everything has changed, but you are still open to happening. And happening is the same as miracles. You cannot make up a happening, but you can keep your mind open to happening. But to do so, I believe you need discipline. So your mind is really based on the steady, long discipline, I believe. So what kind of discipline are you keeping?
FH: The regular life drawing classes I mentioned, I’m really devoted to that, and that’s a kind of a meditative practice, but it’s an active thing. I also have had a practice, not quite as disciplined I have to say, with movement. All of the practice is to get to that place where you are confident enough that you can just respond immediately without having to think about anything, without uncertainty.
YK: How many years have you been doing so?
FH: You know, that’s really hard to answer, because since I’m self-taught as an artist, people say, “How long have you been doing that, when did you start?” Well, I was drawing when I was a kid. It took me many years to kind of find my way in bits and pieces, and that’s just an impossible question to answer because there are so many different moments where you could say it started here, or it started there. The regular life drawing practice has been the most consistent thing, and that started in the mid-90’s, but before that I was also doing a lot of creative things, but I was just a little bit unfocused, I would be writing poetry for a while, and then I’d lose my inspiration, and I’d start to do painting, and then I’d do that until I just felt like I was doing the same thing all the time, and then I’d stop and I’d start making films or something. It took me a while to realize that I wasn’t going to get anywhere that way. I think my youthful idea was that art was about being in an inspired state, and over time I realized it’s really more about steady work and discipline. The inspired state is not so much about something that strikes you from the clouds, but more like really long work on changing the way that you experience the world, so that it’s experienced as magical.
Auricle, 2008, by Fred Hatt
YK: Do you know even Picasso tried to write a poem? He was struggling from painting and one day thought, writing looks much easier, and he wrote some poems and recited in front of friends, and Gertrude Stein said “Stop it! Go back to painting. At least your painting is better than your poems!”
FH: One thing I think I learned from deciding to be dedicated to practice is that when you feel frustrated, that’s not a bad thing, because usually when you feel frustrated, it’s not going very well, what that really means is somewhere on the inside you’ve already moved up to another level. You just aren’t able to do it yet. So if you just keep going, you will reach that level.
YK: So to say something as the artist is to go beyond perception. So beyond perception is to try to reach vision, and reaching vision is always a happy experience, but somehow we are scared at happiness itself. So that’s why you are training yourself to be happy, happy, to get used to the happy experience. That’s why we can’t stop joining you. Your art is like that for me.
But I can answer what you couldn’t answer by yourself, when you started drawing. It’s 1961. [Holds up copy of drawing] This is José Greco. Fred Hatt, three year old boy, just saw flamenco, and somehow, he drew it. This is his first – it’s amazing.
José Greco Dancing in Purple Boots, 1961, by Fred Hatt
FH: The story of that: I was a well-behaved little child, and I was the first child, and my parents were young, they were really interested in cultural events, and they could get away with bringing me, because I didn’t make noise, so they took me to all these things. They took me to see this famous flamenco dancer of the time, José Greco. I was so turned on by that, because it had stomping, and it was passionate, and I had never encountered anything like that before, so I drew that. I rediscovered that drawing when I was around 40 years old. I had finally come to the point I was really developing my visual art, and I was running these movement drawing classes where we had the models moving instead of standing still, and artists that were willing to try that would try to capture the feeling of movement, and I was working with a lot of dancers and performers. I went back and visited my parents and I decided to look for the old artwork that they saved, and that’s the earliest thing. I thought, wow, look at this: I was three and I already was inspired by movement and dance, and the way I was trying to capture it was scribbling with crayons! And it took me almost forty years to find my way back!