In last month’s post, “Working Big – Part 1”, I shared a selection of large figure drawings done at or near life-size. Over the last decade I’ve also been doing large-scale drawings with multiple overlapping figures.
In the Drawing Life post “Time and Line”, I wrote about how I arrived at this approach, and how it relates to my earliest creative impulses. I wrote:
The cubists were trying to move beyond the limitations of the pictorial or photographic view by showing their subject from multiple angles simultaneously, suggesting the third spatial dimension not by the traditional way of projection or perspective, but by fragmentation. In these drawings, I’m fragmenting the fourth dimension, time, to bring it onto the plane and into the frame.
On my portfolio site I describe these drawings as “chaos compositions”, and briefly describe the process as follows:
Chaos Compositions emerge from a two-phase process: first generating a chaotic field through a response to movement, followed by working to reveal order hidden within this chaos.
I work on the floor, crawling over the large sheet and covering it with overlapping sketches of movement or quick poses taken by a model-collaborator. Once the drawing reaches a certain density, like a tangle of threads, I begin to work on carving a structure out of this undifferentiated energy field. I bring some of the layers of drawing forward by adding depth and weight to the forms, and push others into the background or into abstraction. I alternate between crawling on the drawing, where individual lines can be followed like paths, and standing back to get a sense of overall form and balance.
What is expressed in these works is not a concept or a personal feeling, but something unconceived, a spirit that emerges from the moment, from the interaction of artist and model and environment.
Several chaos compositions are included in the gallery “Time and Motion Drawings” on my portfolio site.
Still more posts about this process are linked in connection with some of the drawings below. As you can see, I’ve written fairly extensively about this way of working, and you can follow those links to read all about it if you wish. Here I’ll just share a selection of these pieces, with some unstructured thoughts about what these odd drawings mean to me.
Each model embodies a certain particular essence, a range of qualities that express the way his or her self and structure exist in the world.
The curves of the body in all its different attitudes become waves in a field of energy. My drawing surface becomes a sensitive membrane that receives these vibrations.
Each piece is a portrait of one model. These are not different bodies sharing a setting, but different moments exposed on the same emulsion.
To look at these drawings is not to look at a picture, but to fall into a vortex, a field of chaotic forces.
By finding and following the lines that define the overlapping bodies and faces, we find our way through the maze of the drawing. For me this experience is metaphorical, for in the field of forces that is the world, it is our own bodies and identities that ground us and give us continuity.
I want the viewer of these drawings to get some flavor of the experience I have when drawing them, an experience of surrendering to complexity but discovering clarity in the body and its life force.
The chaotic nature of the world is inherent to its beauty. Geological and biological forms, clouds and galaxies, grow out of the infinite complexity of interacting energies and interdependent beings.
To grasp the universe is to lose the self in the moment. It is an experience I seek again and again, with a crayon in my hand.
(The image above is deconstructed into its component figures in the post “Reverse Engineering a Drawing”)
I don’t tell my models how to move, but let them find their own poses. I am not concerned with realistic rendering, but with the qualities of the curves and the forms of energy they seem to call up from the potent void of negative space. I am attempting to see beyond the surface of things.
(The drawing above is included in the post “Finishing Touches”, where I explore the development of the negative spaces in several chaos compositions.)
When I am drawing, I am close to the large paper and cannot see the overall pattern. I am down in it, exploring whatever passage I have found for the moment. Later, looking at the drawing from a distance, I see it abstractly, as veins of color in a crystal, or as objects in a whirlwind. Then the eye discovers a face or part of a body, and that is an opening into the image, which can be traveled like a path through the woods, or like a strand of thought through the din of the chattering mind.
(The phases of development of the piece above are detailed in the post “Composing on the Fly”.)
These works, even more than my other drawings, are products of close collaboration with great models who share their own creative expression in the work. The models who posed for the large drawings in this post are Kuan, Pedro, Stephanie, Jillian, Madelyn, Neil, Milvia, Jeremiah, Kristin, and Jessi.