I like to mix it up, combine drawing with physical movement, and try to capture the feeling of movement with my lines. Valerie Green’s Green Space Studio in the Long Island City section of Queens hosts a monthly event called “Cross Pollination“, where the studio is opened up for artists, musicians and movers to do their own thing, do one of the other things, and generally draw inspiration and energy from each other. All the drawings in this post were made at that event.
When I first started posting “Cross Pollination” drawings on the blog, I just titled them with numbers. They were, after all, just fragments of an ongoing practice, little bits of my own restless variations on the theme, passing moments in the ebb and flow of energy at the actual event. In later posts, it occurred to me that giving these spontaneous sketches titles might make them more interesting, might make people look at them a little differently, or at least notice how remarkably different one piece was from another. When a piece of drawing is pretty abstract, the mind, which is oriented to clear imagery and narrative understanding, has a hard time getting to grips with it. A title gives just a smidgen of narrative or description or association, but it makes a difference in our ability to see what’s in the drawing. Generally, the titles I have bestowed on these drawings have nothing to do with what I was thinking at the time the drawings were made. They are phrases that came to me when looking at the drawings later.
The picture at the top of this post, for instance, could be seen as a pure abstraction of squiggly and curvy lines. But the drawing was inspired by watching dancers in motion, so the lines can be seen as human figures. The figure on the left seems to be furiously dancing with a sword in swirly robes, while the figure to the right displays curvaceous feminine charms. So why not evoke orientalist fantasies?
I try to keep a very loose and responsive hand on the brush, feeling contact with the paper through the delicate tension of the bending bristles, and letting the movement of the hand and brush, and the flowing of the ink, capture the variety of stances and qualities of energy projected by the dancers in the room.
All the figures in the drawing above were made while observing Valerie, Green Studio’s proprietor and director. Her striped shirt and voluminous ponytail are unifying patterns.
The sketch above could easily be read as pure abstraction, but you can see that there are three figures along the bottom, sitting on the ground at the right, crawling at center, and walking hunched over at the left. Around those figures you can see several taller figures, more energetic, more blurred. I don’t recall the scenes I was observing while drawing this, but looking at it now I see the lower figures as the tortured movement of a defeated or injured person, while the other figures represent the people that rush past, paying no attention. It’s a scene you can see nearly any day on the streets of New York.
When the dancers are cooling down, they’re a lot easier to draw than when they’re leaping about. Sometimes, as in the above sketch, I see them as the contours of a landscape. The one below is much more of a literal figure drawing, a study of dancers’ stretches.
At other times, as in the drawing below, I forget about representation and just get into the movement of the hand over the paper. This is treating drawing as dance, an art in motion. As this piece developed, certain parts of it suggested images to me, watery and sleek and sexual. That influenced me to bring out those aspects, but I was also trying to keep everything ambiguous, to keep the images from taking over from the energy.
When the dancers get going, there’s no way to draw the body in the ways we learn in life drawing practice, carefully tracking contours and analyzing weight and observing the angular relationships between points. But sometimes I try to see how efficiently the calligraphic manipulation of the brush can suggest the momentary bodies I capture in memory. Some of the figures in the drawing below remind me of the shapes you see when watching a fire, shapes that often resemble dancers and leapers and writhers.
In the drawing below, two standing figures at the center demonstrate attitudes of power and confidence, while figures around them show ways of bodily experiencing our connection to the Earth.
Here’s a rough sketch of the studio, with an artist sketching in a notebook at left and a flutist playing at right.
Here are more down-to-the-ground figures, squatting, crouching, scuttling, or lying on the back letting the limbs strive upwards.
The next drawing was the last one of a session, and it seems to show the dancers solidified into various sculptural attitudes, stony remnants of life.
All of these drawings are on 18″ x 24″ paper. Most are drawn with ink and brush, but the sixth, seventh, and tenth drawings were made with marker.