DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


A Self Portrait for the New Year

Self Portrait, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Self Portrait, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Why wish my readers Happy New Year with a scowling picture of your humble blogger? This portrait was my good start to the year just ending. Randall Harris of Figureworks Gallery had invited me to submit a work for an exhibition of self portraits, the gallery’s first show of 2013. It was an opportunity to show alongside a wide variety of really good artists, some of them well-known.

In December 2012 I drew this portrait, with a camera set up to capture stages in the development of the picture. I pointed a video camera at myself and drew from the image on a monitor, to avoid the reversed face you get in a mirror and the frozen effect you can get from working from a photograph. The bluish colors you see under my eyebrows represent the cool glow of the computer monitor I could see on my face.

In the Figureworks exhibition, I showed the portrait as a multimedia piece, with the original 18″ x 24″ drawing hung alongside a digital screen playing an animation of the drawing as it built up, layer by layer. Here’s the video (email subscribers will need to click the link to see the video on Vimeo.

Self Portrait from Fred Hatt on Vimeo.

I really didn’t expect this work to sell. Who – besides maybe my mother – would want a giant picture of me? But a collector bought the piece (drawing and digital animation together), kicking off my 2013 with a red dot.

To all my readers, friends, and fans, best wishes for curiosity, creativity and joy in the coming year!



Invitation to an Exhibition

solstice-gradientThe winter solstice is the longest night of the year. Now, in the Northern hemisphere, the days will start to get longer. To all my readers, a Blessed Solstice, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

My dear friend Claudia, the art model and Museworthy blogger, has posted the 2013 Museworthy Art Show. Claudia invited her readers to submit artwork based on their choice among four of my photographs of her. Click the link and check it out. I’m a big part of this wonderful and diverse gathering of artwork, since I took the source photos and also submitted a drawing for the show. I think this show is a brilliant idea. A blog brings together a great diversity of people around some shared interests, people scattered across the globe, people with different sensibilities and different abilities. Normally it’s all sort of vague, anonymous lurkers and commenters you know little about. Claudia’s show creatively manifests the community she’s growing.


Holiday Greetings

Filed under: Season's Greetings — fred @ 19:29

Blessed Solstice, Happy Hanukkah, Io Saturnalia, Merry Christmas, Gladsome Yuletide, Happy Kwanzaa, Shabe Yalda, Pancha Ganapati, and a Festivus for the Rest of Us!


The Light Returns

Filed under: Season's Greetings — fred @ 23:46

Blessed Solstice, Happy Hanukkah, Io Saturnalia, Merry Christmas, Winter Greetings, Tolerable Festivus, New Moon, Epiphany, Kwanzaa, Yule!

To all my readers, a wish for the season:  As the longest night finally awakes in ultramarine glow, may the sun without and the sun within commence to wax!

(Digital illustration by Fred Hatt.  Tree silhouette from here.)


Dawn After the Longest Night

The Winter, 1563, by Giuseppe Arcimboldo


The year’s longest night falls around December 21st in the Northern hemisphere, and the return of the Sun symbolizes rebirth or renewal in cultures around the world.  Italian Renaissance painter Arcimboldo, who anthropomorphized the seasons and elements as grotesque heads composed of bits of flora and fauna, here reveals the face of Winter in gnarly roots and gray bark, with hair of ivy and lips of fungus, but includes a lemon, surely a sign of the sun.  This shows the promise of returning light and life, of which our understanding of the nature of cycles gives us faith.  In the famous “yin/yang”, the Asian emblem of cyclic nature, the yin contains a little seed of yang, and vice versa, telling us that all dualities are cyclic and each extreme contains the potential of its own reversal.The Winter Solstice is the scientific name for the moment of the Earth’s maximum axial tilt away from the Sun.  On Earth we experience it as the shortest daylight and longest night, and the Sun’s lowest path across the sky, the effect the more extreme the farther one is from the equator.  This photograph combines 43 exposures over the course of a day to show the low southern arc of the Winter Solstice sun looking over the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Mediterranean area between the Italian peninsula and the islands of Corsica and Sardinia.  (Of course the Southern Hemisphere’s Winter Solstice is the Northern Hemisphere’s Summer Solstice, and vice versa.) 

Tyrrhenian Sea and Solstice Sky, 2005, photo by Danilo Pivato


The cycles of the heavenly bodies were among the first natural phenomena to be understood with scientific precision.  Artifacts like the Mayan Calendar or the Antikythera Mechanism show that these celestial cycles engaged the most sophisticated minds of ancient times.  While theories of the function of Stonehenge and other megalithic monuments as astronomical observatories are disputed by scholars, new evidence shows that prehistoric peoples conducted ritual sacrifices at these sites around the time of the Winter Solstice. 

Stonehenge Winter Solstice, photographer unknown


Walking a Labyrinth is another ancient ritual that has seen revival in our time.  In walking meditation, the convolutions of the labyrinth provide a physical experience of cycles, of gradual penetration to the depths and re-emergence.  Below is a labyrinth made out of candles, which are themselves symbols of the survival of light through the darkness, set up for a contemporary Winter Solstice festival

Labyrinth of Light, Secret Lantern Society Winter Solstice Lantern Festival, Vancouver, photographer unknown


The most popular holiday of classical Rome was the Saturnalia, a seven-day period around the Winter Solstice when king of the gods Jupiter ceded his throne to Saturn, god of harvest.  It was a time for the reversal of social roles, when servants played at bossing the masters and feasting and revelry replaced work.  We still keep a bit of this spirit alive in Saturn’s day, Saturday, the day to play. 

Saturnus, 1592, by Polidoro Caldara da Caravaggio


In a work of satirist Lucian of Samosata, Saturn says, “Mine is a limited monarchy, you see. To begin with, it only lasts a week; that over, I am a private person, just a man in the street. Secondly, during my week the serious is barred; no business allowed. Drinking and being drunk, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of tremulous hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water,–such are the functions over which I preside. But the great things, wealth and gold and such, Zeus [Jupiter] distributes as he will.”  (source of quote) 

In the fourth century, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, authorities knew it was hopeless to stop people celebrating Saturnalia, so they simply changed the name of the holiday – to Christmas

Saturnalia, 1909, by Ernesto Biondi, Jardín Botánico de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, photo by Daniel Smiriglio


In the Christian era, the central image of the coming of light into the darkness became the Holy Nativity, or birth of Jesus, God made flesh, in a stable for livestock.  Thousands of paintings depict the scene. Giotto’s fresco of the event is stark and simple. 

Nativity, 1304-06, by Giotto di Bondone, Cappella Scrovegni, Padua


Botticelli’s visionary manger scene combines celestial beauty with apocalyptic elements, a version in which the light is on the surface and something darker emerges only on closer inspection. 

Mystic Nativity, 1500, by Sandro Botticelli


By the 17th century, an aesthetic of realism is emerging.  Georges de la Tour, the master of candlelight effects, gives us this intimate grouping around the peaceful sleeping infant. 

Adoration of the Shepherds, 1644, by Georges de la Tour


Proto-psychedelic painter Abdul Mati Klarwein painted this 1960’s “Nativity”, a post-nuclear, pop art, new age vision of a birth of new consciousness.  The yin-yang symbol is there, beneath the legs of the central figure.  (Note that the de la Tour painting is roughly right in the middle between the Giotto and the Klarwein on the art history timeline.) 

Nativity, 1961, by Mati Klarwein


In contemporary American culture, Christmas is a complex and contested amalgam of Christian, pagan, and commercial elements.  The central figure is no longer the baby Jesus but the jolly old Santa Claus.  Santa Claus is himself derived from multiple cultural traditions, some surprisingly devilish.  The very name “Santa”, of course, is an anagram for the name of the Prince of Darkness.  David Sedaris has written hilariously about European Christmas legends that may be surprising to Americans. 

Our contemporary image of the jolly old elf can be traced back to Clement Clarke Moore‘s “The Night Before Christmas”, and to the illustrations of the great political cartoonist Thomas Nast, originator of the Republican Elephant and Democratic Donkey. 

Santa Claus, 1881, by Thomas Nast, published in Harper's Weekly


Another icon of the Winter Solstice holiday season is the New Years Baby, popularized by the great illustrator J. C. Leyendecker in annual Saturday Evening Post covers.  For an image of rebirth, I’ll leave you with this awakening infant from an earlier era, troubled like our own.  May you and the 2011 baby face the coming year with innocence and the power of growth!  Blessed Solstice, Io Saturnalia, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all! 

New Year's Baby, 1938, by J. C. Leyendecker for the New York Post


All illustrations in this post were found on the web.  Clicking on the images links to their source.

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