DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Faces of the People

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

New York City is a magnificent environment for people watching.  On the streets, manual laborers mingle with capitalist big shots, celebrities blend in with the masses, and economic refugees share the sidewalks with tourists on spending sprees.  I know of no other city that compares with New York for ethnic and cultural diversity.  If you love humanity for its endless variations, New York is a sumptuous banquet.

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, performance photo by April Panzer

Of course, once you leave the street or Subway and step into a culturally specific environment, most of that diversity disappears.  Unfortunately, that is true in the galleries and performance venues of the art world.  The art world in New York is not all white or all American, but it is almost entirely populated by people with a certain kind of education and upbringing, with certain well-defined ways of speaking and acting and dressing.

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, performance photo by April Panzer

Those who work in arts administration are united in proclaiming the value of diversity and have been trying for years to reach out to “underserved audiences” and “underrepresented populations”.  Their efforts have been somewhat successful – I think art audiences in New York, especially for large, well-publicized events, are clearly more diverse now than when I moved here two decades ago.  Still, it doesn’t begin to compare with the diversity on the streets.  Art galleries in New York are all free to enter, but the vast majority of people never do.  Unfortunately a lot of art is pretentious and unfriendly to the uninitiated.  This attracts an audience of initiates, whose aura of exclusivity tends to deter those who do not see themselves as art world insiders.

“The Active Mirror”,2003, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

A few years ago I took advantage of an opportunity to use my art to connect with people on the street.  Chashama is an arts organization that has special access to the asset that is most problematic in the dense and expensive city – space.  Chashama’s founder and artistic director, Anita Durst, is a member of a legendary real estate dynasty family.  The Durst Organization develops skyscrapers in Manhattan.  Properties that are condemned or transitional are made available for the arts through Chashama.  I’ve been involved with Chashama events since the mid-1990’s.  They have a great track record of supporting all kinds of artists, including some that most of the institutions would consider too underground or outsider or offbeat to present.

“The Active Mirror”,  2002, by Fred Hatt, performance photo by April Panzer

During the early 2000’s, Chashama had a whole block of storefronts on 42nd Street between Sixth Avenue and Broadway, while the Durst Organization was constructing the Conde Nast Building at the corner of Broadway and 42nd, the southern end of Times Square and the Theater District.  They hosted a huge festival of theater and dance, performance art, visual art and installations called “Windows on 42nd Street“.  In April, 2002, and again in July, 2003, I presented a drawing performance called “The Active Mirror.”

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, performance photo by April Panzer

A sign on the window read: “A reflection is the view of a virtual eye behind the glass.  Look at your reflection in a storefront window, and you see yourself and your surroundings, superimposed over the merchandise on display.  But in this window, on this day, the view you see in the window is that of another subjective eye, an artist who sketches what he sees through the window, on the window.  Stop to watch, and your portrait may appear there on the window.”

“The Active Mirror”, 2003, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

I lined the inside of the window space with white fabric and the inside of the plate glass with clear acetate.  I hung some of my portraits in the window space, to prove, I suppose, that I was a qualified portrait artist.  I stood at the window with my black Sharpie and sketched the urban landscape until I could attract passersby to stop for me.  If anyone paused to watch, I quickly began sketching a likeness, starting with a recognizable detail of attire or hairstyle so the subject would know that I was drawing him or her.  I had to work quickly, as I couldn’t expect anyone to have the patience to give me a prolonged pose.  Other passersby would stop to watch the action, and I would quickly move on to the next subject, since if my audience would disperse I would face the difficult challenge of gathering a new cluster.

“The Active Mirror”, 2003, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

Visual art is usually considered an indirect form of communication.  You make a painting or whatever, and later, people look at it and try to imagine what you were thinking or feeling in the act of creating it.  For a long time I’ve had an interest in the potential of visual art as a more direct way of relating to another person.  This interest has been explored through a highly collaborative way of working with models, through the idea of art as a ritual or experience (such as body painting), and through treating the act of drawing or painting as a dance or performance, for an audience.

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, performance photo by April Panzer

In “The Active Mirror”, my offer to strangers was to share with them my way of seeing them.   I could not speak to my subjects, nor they to me, through the thick plate glass.  My sharpie sketches were my only way of relating to people.  Around the corner in Times Square, there are portrait and caricature artists who make a living sketching the tourists.  My sketches were not for sale, just for public display, and I think many of the people who stopped for me were not tourists, but New Yorkers who would never think of sitting for a street caricaturist.

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

Everyone is comfortable looking at something in a store window, even people who would never enter an art gallery or performance space, so by the end of five hours of sketching, the windows were covered with images reflecting the wondrous diversity of the New York street.

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, view from inside the window, drawings and photo by Fred Hatt

Here are some more details:

“The Active Mirror”, 2003, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

“The Active Mirror”, 2003, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

“The Active Mirror”, 2003, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

“The Active Mirror”, 2003, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

“The Active Mirror”, 2003, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

“The Active Mirror”, 2002, by Fred Hatt, view from inside window, drawings and photo by Fred Hatt


Movement Multiples

Space Between (Anna), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

In the late 1990’s, an important focus of my drawing practice was capturing the energy of moving figures through expressive line.  This week’s post is a selection of drawings from 1997 through 1999.  All of these feature multiple renderings of the same pose in different positions.  It was my attempt to introduce the dimension of time into the two-dimensional world of the sketch.

Nested (Ignacio), c.1998, by Fred Hatt

In the drawing above, the transition of the figure from upright to fetal forms a natural nested composition, with different colored lines used to keep the phases of the movement separate.  The drawing below is more like a stroboscopic sequence moving across the frame, reminiscent of this kind of photograph I remembered seeing as a kid.

Stage Cross (Arthur), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

Here’s a beautifully simple study of the movement of the spine:

Spinal Movement (Francisca), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

In drawing from a model in motion, it is often impossible to capture the entire figure.  The composition below arises from the bony contours of ribs and arms, shoulderblades and collarbones:

Bony (Francisco), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

A model who is an expressive dancer can convey feeling even in quick movement sketches:

Emotion (Anna), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

Here are two figures, with two phases each:

Turns (Heather), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

Here, the arm of the forward bending figure becomes the leg of the standing figure:

Unfolding (Caitlin), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

Ink drawing with a brush has the spontaneity of dance:

Motion 4, c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

Here, the soft colors seem to be separating from the hard colors:

Stepping Out of Oneself (Miha), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

There are five fragmentary figures here, two drawn softly, in white, using the edge of the crayon, and three drawn crisply, in dark blue, using the point.  The differing techniques make the white and the blue drawings appear to be on different planes:

Circularity (Corinna), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

The cool softness above is contrasted by the hot energy below:

Lunge (Claudia), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

At times, the overlapping lines of the figures cease being figures and become abstract patterns:

Grass (Anna), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

In drawing from moving models, I often focused on one part of the body.  Here, it is the movement of the legs:

Legwork (Joe), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

The simplicity of the ink drawing below makes it possible to see many forms, not just figures, suggested in the flowing brushstrokes.

Motion 3, c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

When the models movements suggest power and vigor, those qualities come through in the drawing:

Explode (Toby), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

A softer style of movement makes a softer drawing:

Shimmy (Nyonnoweh), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

The model for the next two drawings was a dancer whose movements all seemed to flow from a supple spine:

Spinal Flexure (Donna), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

Leap & Turn (Donna), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

In the one below, the model must have been holding the poses for at least a minute, as there are relatively complete figures, kept mostly separated on the page:

Angst (Joe), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

Here two phases of the model’s changing states find expression in the drawing.  The face, like a placid moon, looks down upon the thrusting figures below it:

Serene Vigor (Julie), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

I believe the drawing below arose from a model moving very slowly.  As the upper body gradually changed position, I kept sketching the contours.  In this case slow movement produced a sketch with a lot of energy:

Twist and Reach (Lea), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

Many of these drawings look like they should be painted on the walls of a cave.  They have the roughness and vitality of stone age painting.

Stone (Claudia), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

All of these drawings were done between the years, 1997 and 1999, mostly at the movement drawing sessions I used to run at Spring Studio in New York.  The color drawings are done with aquarelle crayons and sometimes ink, and are about 18″ x 24″.  Some of the ink drawings here may be as small as 10″ x 10″.  The digital images used in this post were made in the same era as the drawings, by photographing the drawings on 35mm film and scanning the prints, so they’re not quite up to the artwork photography standards I try to maintain today.

Note:  The “Claudia” that is credited as the model in two of the drawings in this post is not the same Claudia that many of my readers know as the blogger of Museworthy.

My portfolio site from this era is still online, and features a selection of movement drawings.

This week I’ll be teaching workshops and doing body painting and other fun things at the Brushwood Folklore Center in Sherman, NY.  I won’t have access to a computer, so forgive me if I don’t reply to your comments right away, or if the next post takes a little more than a week to appear here.


Time and Line

Plantar, 2008, by Fred Hatt

Plantar, 2008, by Fred Hatt

In an essay I wrote in 1999 I said “Drawing records something photography does not – the movement of perception in time.”  Every mark made in drawing represents a moment of seeing or of imagination.  The energy of the artist’s strokes convey to a viewer something of the energy of the creative act.  I want to preserve this quality of line, and for this reason have chosen to work primarily with media in which the line does not become blended or smudged.

Since the time I came to understand the time-based aspect of drawing, it has been an important basis of my creative process.  I had first experienced drawing or painting as a record of the movement of consciousness in making abstract work, but I eventually discovered that my focus benefited greatly from working with models.  In In order to practice working from models in motion, I organized “Movement Drawing” sessions, life drawing sessions in which the models were dancers and other kinds of trained movers.

Movement Drawing Flyer, 1997, by Fred Hatt

Movement Drawing Flyer, 1997, by Fred Hatt

In order to make it possible to see and capture something of the movement, we asked the models to perform extremely slow movement, stop-and-go movement, and repeated movement (same gesture or movement phrase repeated for five minutes at a time).  These sessions were challenging and exhausting practice.  It was possible to fill an entire fat sketchbook in a single session.  I was spending a lot on paper, and the piles of drawings in my apartment were growing quickly.  One of my solutions was to draw many overlapping figures on the same page, using different colored crayons selected randomly so that the individual figures could be distinguished in the mesh.  Here’s a typical example from that time:

Patrick movement sketch, 2000, by Fred Hatt

Patrick movement sketch, 2000, by Fred Hatt

Another adaptation was drawing with ink on long scrolls, as seen in this previous post.

Around the time I was most intensely involved in movement drawing, I visited my family in Oklahoma, where I grew up.  Looking through the artwork I had done as a child, the earliest sketch I found was a crayon drawing made when I was three years old or so.  My mother had labeled this drawing as I had described it to her, “José Greco Dancing in Purple Boots”.   José Greco was a famous flamenco dancer and choreographer who made a great impression on me as a child.  Here’s a clip of Greco’s dance, followed by my childhood interpretation:

José Greco Dancing in Purple Boots, 1961, by Fred Hatt

José Greco Dancing in Purple Boots, 1961, by Fred Hatt

Finding this drawing showed me that I had known my mission from the start.  Already at age three I was inspired by dance, trying to capture the energy of movement through scribbly crayon drawings.  I just lost my way in life and it took me nearly forty years to find my way back to the path!

Starting around 2003 I began using the technique of overlapping figures in different colors to make much larger, almost mural scale drawings, and developed a way of working in which I allowed a sort of chaotic buildup of figurative lines, followed by a phase of finding dynamic form in the mess.  An earlier blog post describes the process and shows phases of development of one piece.  A number of large drawings made in this way can be seen in this gallery on my portfolio site.

The remainder of images in this post are of several of these large drawings made in the past year.  All are 48″ x 60″ (122 cm x 152 cm), aquarelle crayon (sometimes combined with oil pastel) on black paper.  These are selected not necessarily as the best of my drawings of this type, but to show variations on the style.  Each one is made working with a single model who takes multiple quick poses, mainly of their own choosing.  Work with the model is completed in a single session, followed by further work on my own to develop and clarify the compositions.

The model for this one is a dancer of great intensity:

Tropic, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Tropic, 2009, by Fred Hatt

On this one I kept changing the orientation of the paper as I added new figures.  It makes it a little difficult to read.  I imagine it being displayed on a ceiling, or with a slowly rotating motor so different figures might dominate the composition at different times:

Edges, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Edges, 2009, by Fred Hatt

In the next drawing, the overlapping figures become a kind of complex landscape, a mysterious cave:

Range, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Range, 2009, by Fred Hatt

On the drawing below, when I was finished working with the model I was afraid the mass of figures was a hopeless jumble, but bringing color into the in-between spaces caused the whole thing to crystalize beautifully:

Seer, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Seer, 2009, by Fred Hatt

In these drawings, not only do the lines express the movement of my perceptions in time, but the multiple overlapping figures show the movement of the model over a period of time.  Aspects of the bodily form, the quality of movement, the energy and feeling expression of the model become part of the resulting image.

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.

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