DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt



Barefoot, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Barefoot, 2013, by Fred Hatt

This post is an experiment. Some of my recent abstract watercolors, landscape sketches, and doodles have been randomly interspersed between the lines of Arthur Rimbaud’s synesthetic 1872 sonnet “Voyelles”. The original French poem and English translation by Oliver Bernard were copied from this site (where the fourteen-line sonnet is followed by a four-line “envoi” which is not included here below or in most versions of this poem I could find online). Oliver Bernard’s version is a prose translation, striving for the clearest expression of the sense of the original while sacrificing meter and musicality. If this version is too flat for you, check out Canadian poet Christian Bök’s fascinating version of “Voyelles”, translated five different ways.

These paintings were not inspired by this poem, and they have been sequenced randomly to avoid any specific reference to the colors or images mentioned in Rimbaud’s verses. When I draw or paint abstractly, I disengage my mind as much as possible from discursive thought and allow subconscious impulses to express themselves in the movement of the brush and the liquid medium. Imagery never drives the painting – any images are projections of the imagination, like the forms seen in Rorschach blots. I am trying to allow impulses of movement to arise from below the surface of awareness, as in my practice of Authentic Movement, described in this post. Perhaps this way of going fishing in the unconscious has something in common with the methods of a proto-surrealist poet like Rimbaud. Perhaps some accidental resonances may arise from the interleaving of sketches and lines of verse.  If not, please enjoy my humble doodles and Rimbaud’s delirious words separately!

Extinct Animals, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Extinct Animals, 2013, by Fred Hatt

A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu: voyelles,

A Black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels,

Pastries, 201e, by Fred Hatt

Pastries, 201e, by Fred Hatt

Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes:

I shall tell, one day, of your mysterious origins:

Ego,m 2013, by Fred Hatt

Ego,m 2013, by Fred Hatt

A, noir corset velu des mouches éclatantes

A, black velvety jacket of brilliant flies


Autumn Wind, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Qui bombinent autour des puanteurs cruelles,

Which buzz around cruel smells,

Plant Spirit, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Plant Spirit, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Golfes d’ombre ; E, candeur des vapeurs et des tentes,

Gulfs of shadow; E, whiteness of vapours and of tents,

Path of Light, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Path of Light, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Lances des glaciers fiers, rois blancs, frissons d’ombelles;

Lances of proud glaciers, white kings, shivers of cow-parsley;

Pink Flowering Tree, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Pink Flowering Tree, 2013, by Fred Hatt

I, pourpres, sang craché, rire des lèvres belles

I, purples, spat blood, smile of beautiful lips

Electrical Storm, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Electrical Storm, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Dans la colère ou les ivresses pénitentes;

In anger or in the raptures of penitence;

Land Forms, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Land Forms, 2013, by Fred Hatt

U, cycles, vibrements divins des mers virides,

U, waves, divine shudderings of viridian seas,

Aromatic Tree, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Aromatic Tree, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Paix des pâtis semés d’animaux, paix des rides

The peace of pastures dotted with animals, the peace of the furrows

Mane, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Mane, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Que l’alchimie imprime aux grands fronts studieux;

Which alchemy prints on broad studious foreheads;

Green and Blue, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Green and Blue, 2013, by Fred Hatt

O, suprême Clairon plein des strideurs étranges,

O, sublime Trumpet full of strange piercing sounds,

Coral, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Coral, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Silence traversés des Mondes et des Anges:

Silences crossed by Worlds and by Angels:

Bosom, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Bosom, 2013, by Fred Hatt

— O l’Oméga, rayon violet de Ses Yeux!

O the Omega, the violet ray of Her Eyes!

Tracks, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Tracks, 2013, by Fred Hatt

I recently discovered the work of the comics artist Julian Peters. One of his specialites is illustrating poetry, including work by Poe, Keats and Eliot. He has a really beautiful comic of Rimbaud’s “Le Bateau Ivre”/”The Drunken Boat” – click on the appropriate title to see it in either English or French.

Color pieces in my post are watercolor paintings except “Green and Blue”, which is drawn with aquarelle crayons and blended with water. Black and white pieces are drawn with Tombow brush markers. “Mane” and “Tracks” are 11″ x 14″ (28 x 35.6 cm), “Ego” is 8.5″ x 11″ (21.6 x 28 cm), and all others are 5.5″ x 8.5″ (14 x 21.6 cm).


The Doodle Abides

Nature Boy, 2012, by Fred Hatt

I drew this this morning after a session of Authentic Movement.  It’s a kind of moving meditation, a group practice of discovering the impulses to movement within your body, following them wherever they lead you, and responding in the moment.  The practice called Authentic Movement was developed in the 1950’s by Mary Starks Whitehouse, a student of choreographers Mary Wigman and Martha Graham, and developed in later decades by Janet Adler, Joan Chodorow, and others.  My friend Peter Honchaurk, who studied the form with Adler,  introduced me to it twenty years ago, and ever since then it’s been one of my essential practices.  Nowadays I’m part of a peer group of Authentic Movers, and we meet once a month in Prospect Park in Brooklyn to move and witness together.  Many people treat the practice as a form of somatic therapy, but for me it’s always been most essentially a way to stay in touch with the creative spirit that resides in the body and in the relationship between the inner world and the world outside.

The drawing above is an expression of the connection with elemental energies that I felt moving in the park.  The remainder of the pictures in this post will consist of a collection of my doodles, most of which are done while at work, riding transportation, or talking on the phone, not in connection with Authentic Movement practice.  Illustrations are in random order, so the relation of text to images is mostly coincidental.  (Earlier posts on the art of doodling are here and here.)

Score for Solo Dance, 2011, by Fred Hatt

In Authentic Movement we usually move with eyes closed.  For a person like me, extremely visually oriented and, if not quite intellectual, at least mental, consciousness tends to reside mainly in the head, with the body serving as the vehicle to move the head around in the world.  When the eyes are closed, awareness naturally shifts downward into the body.  Eyes-closed orientation relies not on visual cues, but on contact with the ground or floor.   Proprioception and tactility supplant visual/intentional navigation.

Analysis, 2011. by Fred Hatt

If you’ve followed this blog for a while you may have gleaned a central theme, that I treat visual art as an art of movement, like music or dance.

Curandero, 2011, by Fred Hatt

All organic forms, the bodies of plants, animals, and people, the shapes of clouds and of the land, emerge from dynamic processes of movement and growth.

Generative S;iral, 2012, by Fred Hatt

To draw is to feel form back into the movement from which it arises.

Forest Runner, 2011, by Fred Hatt

You can get to know a landscape by roaming about it, feeling its texture with the soles of your feet and its contours as gravity reveals them to you.

Floor Plan for a Happy Drunk, 2012, by Fred Hatt

A blank piece of paper is a fairly homogenous landscape, so roaming about it with a brush or pen or pencil is an exploration of the hills and valleys of your mind more than of the paper.

Cogitation/Constipation, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Authentic Movement takes place within a space defined by the “witnesses” who observe the “movers”, and with their attention create a protected circle where the magic can happen.  A doodle happens in a space defined by the edges of the paper provided for it.

Mountain Mouth, 2012, by Fred Hatt

The doodle grows into the two-dimensional space of the paper as a growing houseplant expands within the space contained by its pot.

Bacterium, 2011, by Fred Hatt

If you’re dancing in a space, of course you can keep going back and forth over the same little patch.  When you’re making marks, you have to keep moving into territory that hasn’t been marked yet, as a plant’s roots must penetrate the as-yet unoccupied dirt.

Wreckage, 2011, by Fred Hatt

In movement or in drawing or doodling, you are always responsive to sensory input.  Marks or gestures may arise from internal impulses of nerves or emotions or imagination, or they may come from hearing a bird or feeling the wind.

French Curves, 2012, by Fred Hatt

This approach eschews concepts and plans.  There is no preconceived idea one is trying to portray.  There is simply a flow of moments, shapes that flow into other shapes, images and impulses arising in the mind, in the body, or in the world.

Treasure Map, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Of course, shapes are seen as things, and the imagination picks up images and runs with them, so free improvisatory doodling or moving is not necessarily strictly nonobjective, but I try to keep representational elements ambiguous, so that I retain the freedom to reinterpret them.

Old King Lear, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Most of these doodles are made without any particular idea in mind, but once they’re done it is much easier to come up with descriptive titles than it is for my figurative drawings.  There is nothing like mindless abstract movement to inspire the imagination!

Stiff Salute, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Organic movement is all about curves and spirals, meanders and branches, echoes and fractals.

Fleurs du Mal, 2012, by Fred Hatt

How does electricity move?  How does blood flow?

Tesla, 2012, by Fred Hatt

How do a flower’s petals unfold?  How do a tree’s limbs reach out and out, penetrating a space of air?

Pagoda of the Hairy Eyeball, 2011, by Fred Hatt

How do you slip on the ice?  How does water carve a canyon?

Man on Wire, 2011, by Fred Hatt

How does the wind wriggle through a gap?  How does a weed expand a crack in concrete?

Bird Lizard Blizzard, 2011, by Fred Hatt

How do dividing cells accrete into a spine?  How does heat make light ripple in air?

Water Cycle, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Why do arteries look like trees?  Why do trees look like lightning?  Why does a river delta look like a tree?

Jazz Hands, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Why does the large scale structure of the universe look like neurons?

The Devil Toupée, 2012, by Fred Hatt

I want the movement of the hand to reflect the natural movement of  growing things.

Writhing T-square, 2012, by Fred Hatt

I want the movement of the hand to reflect the movement of the mind.

Cul-de-Sac Subdivision, 2012, by Fred Hatt

I want a drawing to grow like a plant grows.

Indomitable Weed, 2012, by Fred Hatt

I want random things to come into the drawing just as random things enter into any experience, any environment in the world.

Museum of Maladaptive Mutations, 2012, by Fred Hatt

I want to create not by fiat, but by adaptation.

Shaft, 2012, by Fred Hatt

The movement of the mind does not stand apart from the world.  Like the movement of the body, it happens only within a world that has forces and pressures and countercurrents and resistance.  To make is to engage.

Thorny Vessels and Tricky Steps, 2012, by Fred Hatt


Curiosity as Cure

Filed under: Abstract Art,Art and Philosophy — Tags: , , , , — fred @ 15:29

Sound Suit, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Sometimes there’s something I’d like to write about, but I don’t have good visuals to accompany it.  And sometimes I have images I’d like to share, but can’t think of much to say about them.  I’ve always considered the combination of words and pictures to be the essence of Drawing Life as a blog.  Here I’m going to talk about some ideas that are close to the heart of my artist’s philosophy, my intuitive sense of the moment we humans find ourselves in.  I’ll intersperse these ideas with some of my recent doodles.  There’s no direct correspondence between the pictures and the words, except of course that doodling is what I often do while listening to someone drone on and on, and if I’m going to drone on in text, I may as well break up the words with some of my wiggly, loopy lines.

Multitask, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

In 1999-2000, the American Museum of Natural History in New York hosted a temporary exhibit called “Body Art:  Marks of Identity”.  It was a survey of tattooing, piercing, scarification, body painting and other kinds of body modification across many cultures and through history.  My friend Matty Jankowski, a tattoo artist and a collector and scholar of materials and artifacts related to the history of body arts, was one of the consultants to the curators of the exhibit.  Thanks to Matty, a few of my own body painting images were included in a portion of the show devoted to contemporary body art.

Herald Angel, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Matty also worked with the education department of the museum to present some special programs.  One day there was a kind of open house for the public to learn about body art from artists.  There was a henna artist, a tattooist, a piercer, and I was there as a body painter.  There was a slide show, and all of the artists gave brief presentations on their particular crafts.  People attending the workshop were given the opportunity to try out an electric tattoo needle on a honeydew melon.  The henna artist and I had our materials on hand to give temporary body art to anyone who wanted it.

Bug & Oak, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

There were a lot of parents with young kids at the event, and many of them formed an orderly queue at my body painting table.  Most of my previous experience of body painting was with adults, in my own studio or in art galleries or performance settings, but that day I had a long line of little kids, with their parents, waiting their turn.  As I was painting, I heard the parents talking to their kids:  “What do you want?  Just think about what you want and tell the man what you want?  You can get whatever you want.  Do you want a butterfly?  Do you want a dragon?  Decide what you want and the man will paint it for you.”  Kids were presenting their tiny arms and asking me to paint Furbys or Pokemon characters I’d never seen before.  A small minority, maybe one in ten, would show some curiosity, would ask questions about my paints or my experiences painting people, or would say, “Just paint whatever comes to you,” or “Go wild.”

Cornucopia, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Listening to the endless litany of “What do you want?”, I realized that indoctrination into the consumer mindset wasn’t just accomplished through TV commercials and mass marketing campaigns bankrolled by multinational megacorporations.  Parents were actively programming their kids to the idea that everything was about consumer choice and acquisition, about defining desires and having those desires satisfied.  Even such an odd experience as having a strange artist paint on your arm or hand or cheek was reduced to choosing a brand and displaying it.

Sole & Canopy, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Recall that the name of the exhibit was “Body Art:  Marks of Identity.”  The thesis of the curators was that body art was used to mark its wearer as a member of a tribe, to indicate a special cultural role such as warrior or bride.  These children, under the relentless prodding of their parents, were engaging in the modern form of this practice, something the commercial world calls “branding”.  (Of course the term derives from the practice of searing a mark of ownership into the hide of a livestock animal.)  We are encouraged to define ourselves by our choice of symbols, corporate logos, or popular culture.  It is no longer so much about our role in society, but about our status as consumers.

Cretan Goddess, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

The curious minority in my body painting queue hadn’t been steered to see every opportunity as a consumer choice or a branding of their identity.  They saw this as a chance to experience something fresh, to learn something new.

Coral, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

The consumer mindset says “The one who dies with the most toys wins.”  It’s a zero-sum game, a world of winners and losers.  The curious mindset says “We live in a world of inexhaustible wonders.  What will I experience today?”  It is a world of free play, a world of abundance for all.  It is not a zero-sum game because it’s oriented towards experience, not ownership.  One who collects experiences does not deny them to others.

Bicycle, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

We humans are now in the early stages of a great crisis.  The industrial revolution of the past three centuries has allowed the human population to increase tenfold (it has more than doubled just in my lifetime), and has provided to the common person comforts and luxuries once reserved for kings, even luxuries unimagined by kings.  All of this was made possible by fossil fuels – hundreds of millions of years worth of stored energy expended in an explosive orgy – and by an economic system in which constant increase is the only definition of wealth.  For a few centuries it worked, because there were always new natural resources to be discovered, always undeveloped places to develop and unexploited markets to expand into.

Beatrice, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Alas, we are now coming to that inevitable point where the exponential growth curve must become a bell curve, leveling off and sloping back down, if we are to survive.  The earth itself is beginning to assert its limits, to push back against unchecked growth.  Climate change and resource depletion are becoming costly problems that cannot be solved by ever more spending and extraction and ever more complicated technology.  Our economic system, based on lending at interest, needs constant growth, but facing the slowing of real expansion, it is now just blowing bubbles.  The owners of great wealth are trying to hold onto what they have by no longer sharing their bounty with the masses, but this strategy may ultimately fail too, as wealth defined as growth evaporates when growth stops.

Pipe Organ, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Everyone is in denial now, imagining that there is something that will make the material economy grow again.  But we don’t need more growth.  Human population increase needs to slow down.  Expansion in the per capita consumption of energy and natural resources needs to slow down and even begin to contract.  From the standpoint of the capitalist economy, the slowdown of growth is a dire crisis and even a disaster.  From the standpoint of planetary health, the slowdown of growth is an essential correction.

Eye Pop & Face Slap, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

A child’s body grows by leaps and bounds, but when maturity is reached, physical growth slows and stops.  Getting bigger is for childhood, but in adulthood it gives way to spiritual and mental development.  Wisdom, skill and knowledge, the immaterial aspects of the living being, can expand for a lifetime.  Unchecked growth of the organs and tissues in an adult is cancer.

Merkin Raygun, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

There is now widespread agreement that we need to find “sustainable” technologies and ways of life.  Many still seem reluctant to see that a sustainable economy must be a steady-state economy, not one based on constant growth, at least not as regards population and conversion of raw materials into stuff and stuff into trash.

Insect, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

The consumer/industrial economy says profits must get ever bigger.  Every generation must have more material wealth than the one before.  Our stores have become superstores, our houses mansions, our cars trucks, and our bodies obese.

Spaghetti Structure, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Marketing propaganda is so pervasive in our culture that we internalize it.  We base our sense of identity on our consumer choices, and raise our children to be good consumers above all.

Winehouse, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Our highest value is choice.  We associate choice with democracy and the modern way of life.  We have so many choices now we may feel paralyzed by indecision.  Constantly making choices gives us a limited kind of freedom, but it is constrained by the options that are offered to us:  Democrat or Republican, Wal-Mart or Target, paper or plastic.   The more we are focused on these choices the more we can be prevented from imagining what other possibilities are not being put before us.  The more we define ourselves by choices the more we box ourselves into categories the marketers can exploit.

Nutcracker, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

The curious mind is always wide open, finding interest and beauty in whatever it encounters.  It is always engaged with the unknown, asking questions, speculating, wondering.  The curious mind moves through the world on an exploratory path, following beauty and seeking knowledge.  The curious mind tries to maximize flexibility and avoid being boxed in.

Fruit Tree, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Our civilization faces a difficult period as natural limits awaken us from our dream of opulent consumption.  There will be a period of denial, recrimination, rage.  Those of us who have devoted our lives to curiosity and creativity already know there are pleasures deeper and more satisfying than those offered by consumerism.

Secret Language, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Even as we are forced to cut back, to use less energy and less materials, even as extravagant materialism slips out of the grasp of most people, opportunities for learning and experience will remain abundant.  Creative minds that can ask penetrating questions and imagine fresh solutions will be needed by all.  Curiosity and creativity will see us through stormy times.


Stealth, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

The doodles that illustrate this post were all made in the last few months.  All are made with Tombow brush markers on letter-sized printer paper.



Serious Doodling

Filed under: Abstract Art — Tags: , , , , — fred @ 22:03

Talisman, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

This is a defense of the practice of doodling.  Doodling has a reputation for being aimless, mindless, pointless and devoid of artistic merit.  As I am an incorrigible doodler, I might be seen as defending my own bad habits, although I would never write in defense of gluttony, bibulousness, lechery, or sloth, to all of which I would be obliged to cop, so clearly I am at least granting doodling an exalted tier among the vices.

Loops & Growers, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

The word apparently derives from the German dudeln, meaning to play the bagpipes.  The form dudelkopf was used to mean fool or idiot, and could I think be literally interpreted as “bagpipe-head”, perhaps an early form of our contemporary idiom “airhead”.  “Yankee doodle” was originally the British way of saying “American idiot”.  Doodle in this sense is probably the source of the word “dude“.  Even meaning idiot, the word seems to carry some subtle aura of transcendence.  Spoken with a certain intonation, the word “dude” is an expression of awe, and the indelible character of The Dude in The Big Lebowski has some of the same blessed qualities of the holy fool as Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.   “The Dude abides.”

Ship, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Pictorial marginalia and abstract designs made while other parts of the mind are otherwise engaged have probably always been a part of the human behavioral repertory, but the verb “to doodle” in its contemporary meaning may originate in the 1936 Frank Capra movie Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, staring Gary Cooper.  The screenplay is written by Robert Riskin in snappy American vernacular poetry.  In the film, Mr. Deeds defines doodling as an activity that facilitates thinking.

Incantation, 2010, doodle by Fred Hatt

When I was in high school the instruction usually seemed to be paced for the slowest students in the class, and I doodled because the activity soothed my boredom and frustration.  I went to a good university where the level and speed of the ideas being presented was considerably higher, enough to keep even my quicksilver mind thoroughly engaged, but by that time my habit of doodling in class was set, and so I generally doodled rather than, or in addition to, taking notes.  This habit did no apparent harm to my learning; in fact, I believe it enhanced it.

Predicament, 2010, doodle by Fred Hatt

New research backs up this conclusion.  Doodling seems to improve recall and help keep the mind focused.  I tend to doodle while doing things that involve sustained listening with minimal visual or kinesthetic involvement: long phone calls, for instance, or listening to “This American Life” on the radio.  Doodling isn’t the only activity that works this way.  Some people like knitting or whittling.  For me, distance driving is a nearly perfect accompaniment to listening.  But doodling adds a creative element that is more satisfying.  It engages the part of the mind that wants to move and see, while not distracting the part of the mind that listens, understands, and cogitates.

Terse, 2010, doodle by Fred Hatt

Texting and web-surfing are genuinely distracting, because they engage not the visual and kinesthetic mind, but the verbal and discursive mind, the part that needs to be kept present during a lecture or meeting or conversation.  Having done both, I can attest that doodling helps focus while Googling dissipates focus.  I think the transition from paper notebooks to electronic notebooks in the classroom is bound to diminish the school experience.

Splat, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Last year I saw a retrospective exhibit of Charles E. Burchfield, a painter close to my own spirit.  The exhibit featured a significant collection of Burchfield’s doodles, often made on telephone memo pads or the score sheets for card games.  I don’t recall seeing such casual doodles being featured in a major art exhibit before that, but they were a revealing part of the collection, showing the artist’s obsessive exploration of the visual motifs he used to express the intangible and ineffable aspects of Nature.

Upthrust, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Since seeing Burchfield’s show, I’ve found my own doodles have become more intense, actually interesting for me to look at after the occasion of their making has passed.  Doodles are a way of making patterns by allowing the hand to move freely in response to subtle impulses.  Thus, doodling is a practice of feeling the movements of the life force and manifesting them in line.

Arbre, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Life force may seem a mystical concept.  On a certain philosophical level, it is the Tao, the mover of all things.  But it can also be understood in its most direct bodily manifestations, as the movement of the breath, the flow of blood, the nerve impulses, the direction of growth, and the response of the organism to move towards certain things and away from others.  All of these are things we can directly feel and express through bodily movement.

Folia, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

A sensitivity to these different qualities of movement, thrusting and bending, rushing and meandering, the ever-changing weather of emotions and the slow and indomitable determination to grow, gives life to the lines.

Clown, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

You don’t need to dedicate your life to art, as I have, to benefit from doodling, or to take doodling more seriously.  Just doodle in your own way, but rather than thinking of it as a compulsive response to extreme boredom, as the pacing of the caged, view it as the movement of the mind making connections.  Sometimes the different parts of the mind are most unified when they are separately engaged.  Above all, choose doodling when it is appropriate.  If you are sitting in a meeting, or listening to a lecture or sermon, or letting someone tell you the story of their life, and if you feel your attention flagging, don’t check your weather widget or BoingBoing – Doodle instead!

Crown, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Most of the doodles shown in this post were made on regular letter-size paper, sometimes folded in half, using Tombow brush-markers.

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