DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Partners in Art

Andrea, 2012, by Fred Hatt

I try to put up at least one post a month based around my ongoing practice of drawing the human figure from life, and this is one of those posts.  But instead of discussing drawing techniques or formal concerns, or relevant knowledge about anatomy or visual perception, I want to speak, as an artist, about our often unsung partners in this practice, the models.  Beyond a statement of appreciation, I want to raise some questions that I hope will start a discussion, and I urge both models and artists to offer their thoughts.  (The pictures are in random order and not directly related to the adjacent discussions.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.)

Kneeling Over, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Drawing the human figure from observation of the live nude model has been a staple of art schooling for centuries, and today open life drawing sessions are available in many places, so that a sort of subculture of the art world has arisen among artists who make a study of the human body the focus of their relaxation or their struggle.   It’s a world beautifully described by naturalist and author Peter Steinhart in “The Undressed Art“, and it’s the world I fell into back in the mid-1990’s when I decided my creativity needed to be anchored to a regular discipline – a discipline I found at New York’s Spring Studio, which offered twenty open figure drawing sessions a week.

The human body and face contain as much depth as any creative subject one could choose.  Studying the human animal, we are seeing ourselves, and all the wonderful variations Nature can work on a form.  We are seeing energy and structure, power and vulnerability, character and emotion.  In trying to depict what we see, we can challenge ourselves in the direction of spontaneity or refinement, speed or endurance, realism or abstraction, knowledge or pure impulse.

Bench, 2012, by Fred Hatt

While some artists think of the model as an object of study, fundamentally no different than a plaster cast or a bowl of fruit, I think most artists that devote themselves to the life drawing practice value it as an interactive experience.  The model offers not only their body, but their attitude and their aliveness.

Pedro, 2012, by Fred Hatt

An artist’s style reflects her experience.  The understanding of things like light and anatomy show her knowledge and her innate way of seeing.  The quality of the marks show her energy and the particular quality of her movement.  The model also shows his life experience.  His body may be trained by dance or athletics, or it may show the marks of age or experience.  His face and the poses he choose reveal something about his attitude and adaptation to the world.

Anguish, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Many of the professional artist’s models that work in the studios of New York are creative people in their own right.  Some are dancers or actors, and they may approach the task of modeling as a performance.  Others are writers or musicians, people with a rich interior life who appreciate a job where they can be still and quiet, composing in the mind.  Others are lovers of art who find their own creative spark manifests most strongly in inspiring others with their presence and openness.

Double Back, 2012, by Fred Hatt

When I work with models privately in my own studio, I think of it as a kind of collaboration.  I choose models that have an energy or style that I find exciting, and I try to allow them to manifest that style in a way that enters into my artwork.  But even when drawing models in an open session with multiple artists, where the model chooses her own poses without any input from me (as is the case for all of the works pictured in this post), my drawings clearly draw a great deal from the model’s contribution to the experience.

Lie Down on Black, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Historically, artists have usually been of a relatively privileged class, while models were often prostitutes or laborers, exploited or objectified by the artists, and certainly never accorded any respect or credit by the art world arbiters who could elevate the artists to positions of fame and honor.  The great model and writer Claudia (pictured below) has written many stories of historical artist/model relationships on her blog, Museworthy, and most of them are tragic tales.

Claudia, 2012, by Fred Hatt

I truly respect the models I work with.  My work depends upon them completely.  I have only been able to do what I do because these men and women have offered me the opportunity to “draw from” their bodies and their spirits.  All of them have fed me, and the greatest of them have inspired me and prodded me to exceed my own limitations.  In the best moments, I have gazed upon some of these models and felt what I can only describe as love, a rapture of being connected to another through the gaze.

Conversation, 2012, by Fred Hatt

In my intellectually formative years, feminists and cultural critics were offering a strong critique of the “male gaze” of figurative art, particularly the art of “the nude” as an act of objectification, an attempt by the male ruling class to claim ownership of the female, the cultural “other”, the working class.  The sad history of the way so many artists treated their models certainly makes this more than just an abstract theoretical argument.

Vassilea, 2012, by Fred Hatt

I always felt, though, that there was something prudish in the condemnation of nude art.  I loved the body and the tradition of the nude in art, which often expressed both eroticism and spirituality – a combination I found particularly compelling.  So I was drawn to devote myself to the art of the nude.  But as a white male, I felt I could not just ignore the critique of the “male gaze”.  My solution was to attempt to depict the body not as an object, but as a pattern of living energy, and to treat my subjects not as ideals, but as individuals, with unique characters and authentic personhood.  I would not look down upon my models from a position of power, I would look up at them with an attitude of adoration and wonder.

Sidewise, 2012, by Fred Hatt

When I work with models, privately or as the monitor (supervisor) of public sessions at Spring Studio, I try to treat them with respect and compassion.  I’ve worked as an art model myself, so I know the pain and discomfort it can often involve, and the vulnerability that is inherent to getting naked before others and keeping still.

Head on Hand, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Many of the models I have drawn love to see my depictions of them, and I”ve always been willing to send images and even sometimes give drawings to models.  I feel the models are my greatest fans – I’ve certainly received more praise and appreciation from models than I ever have from art world figures like dealers and critics.  There is nothing sentimental or idealizing in my approach to drawing them.  People who specialize in portrait commissions will complain of the vanity of their clients, but artists’ models don’t seem to have that kind of insecurity.  The nature of the job pretty much requires you to give that up.  Sometimes I feel I am doing the work for the models.  I so appreciate the opportunity to look at them that I want to show them all the wonderfulness that I see in them.

Plans, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Still, they remain mostly anonymous.  When I have a show, or even when I put drawings up here on the blog, I don’t individually credit the model for each work.  Sometimes I talk about individual models, but often I don’t.  I keep the models all mixed up, which keeps the focus on the artist.  I’ve done that even in this post.  I write the model’s name on the back of every drawing, but if it’s framed, no one sees it.  Since I see work with models as essentially collaborative work, should I credit the models individually?

I also work as a photographer and have often attended the Photo Plus Expo, a trade show at the Javits Center in NYC, so I can check out all the amazing gear I can’t afford.  The booths for major manufacturers like Fuji, Canon and Epson always feature big beautiful photographic prints, and I recall once, maybe a decade ago, seeing there a huge shot of my friend, performance artist Amy Shapiro.  In the photo, Amy was wearing a fantastic costume she created, including a hat with live grass growing on it, and her face was decorated with a grassy paint motif by me.  The picture was taken at one of the Earth Celebrations pageants, public celebrations with revelers costumed as nature spirits, that sought to save the endangered community gardens of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.  The label of the photograph proudly credited the photographer, but there was no mention of Amy, me, Earth Celebrations, Felicia Young (Earth Celebrations’ director) or anything else.  This photographer had just attended an event (one that attracted lots of photographers) and took a shot.  Everything that made the shot interesting depended on others’ creativity, but they weren’t given their due.  Seeing that made me conscious of how much photography really is about “taking”.  There’s a bit of that in drawing, too.

Side Curve, 2012, by Fred Hatt

My friend Kristin, a dancer/choreographer, who has also been a creative collaborator of mine on video projects and has worked with me as an art model, recently sent me a link to this very interesting blog post (by Sarah Maxfield) with extensive discussion in the comments section.  The beginning of the discussion here is about choreographers and photographers failing to credit dancers, but questions about artists’ models also arise in the discussion, as many dancers have done such work.  The author and commenters really raise a lot of issues that are important, and rarely considered, and the level of the conversation will surely disabuse you of any notion that dancers are airhead bunheads.

James, 2012, by Fred Hatt

The currently prevailing convention in the subculture of life drawing sessions and classes, at least here in New York, seems to be that artists’ models go by first names only.  They are generally listed that way on the model schedules, and if you ask a model’s name, you’re generally given just a first name.  Many artists make recognizable portraits of professional artists’ models, and often title them with the model’s (first) name.  I usually do that myself when the works are basically portraits – calling a portrait something else would seem an unwarranted judgment or definition of the person.  But Minerva Durham, the director of Spring Studio, once criticized that practice.  As I recall, her point was that the model is paid to let you use their body, not their identity.

Undresser, 2012, by Fred Hatt

I once worked with a female model who had been born in modesty-obsessed Afghanistan but grew up in body-positive Western Europe, who was upset that another artist from Spring Studio had posted online a portrait (not nude) of her tagged with her real name.  She was afraid her Afghan relatives would find it and be upset.  I suggested she should come up with a “nom de muse”.  I suppose there are many reasons nude artists’ models (who often also have other careers) might want to remain anonymous, and if I don’t know, I hesitate to credit them all with full names.

A few years ago when I put up my current portfolio website, I emailed all the models I could to let them know I was putting drawings of them on my site, to thank them, and to ask them if they wished to be credited as model.  I think only one model actually asked to be credited.

Lying Awake, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Here on Drawing Life, my usual practice has been to title drawings with the model’s professional first name when it’s a portrait, and to give drawings that are less specifically portraits descriptive or poetic titles.  In this post, I’m crediting all the models with first names at the foot of the post.

I want to honor and thank the models that contribute so much to my work.  I’m not sure how best to do that.  I would love to get comments from artists or models about this issue.  Let me know what you think and how you feel!

All the drawings above were done at open figure drawing sessions at Spring Studio in Manhattan or Figureworks Gallery in Brooklyn (where there is a current show drawn from 12 years of life drawing classes there, with two of my drawings included).  All are in the size range between 18″ x 24″ and 19.5″ x 27.5″.  Models and media for the above drawings are as follows.  “Crayon” means Caran d’Ache aquarelle crayons.  In case of mixed media, first listed is predominant.

Andrea,  crayon and watercolor/gouache

Kneeling Over (Eric), crayon

Bench (Claudia), watercolor/gouache

Pedro, watercolor/gouache and crayon

Anguish (Eric), crayon

Double Back (Claire), watercolor

Lie Down (Amy), crayon

Claudia, watercolor

Conversation (Eric), watercolor/gouache

Vassilea, watercolor/gouache

Sidewise (Adam), watercolor/gouache

Head on Hand (Amy), watercolor

Plans (Adam), crayon

Side Curve (Amy), crayon

James, watercolor/gouache and crayon

Undresser (Adam), watercolor

Lying Awake (Claudia), crayon



Mastering Life: Zhuangzi’s Parables of Craft

Zhuangzi is a collection of parables and philosophical dialogues on Daoist themes, dating to the third or fourth century BCE, and attributed to a writer named Zhuang or Zhuangzi or Chuang Tzu.  Much of the material is satirical or fantastical, using wild imagery, odd turns of phrase, and absurdity to crack conventional and complacent ways of thinking.  It mocks the Confucian impulse to reform the world as well as the logician’s claims to pure reason (even though it often puts its arguments in the mouth of Confucius and other traditional sages).  It argues for radical acceptance of the world, suggesting that we should give up complaining and striving, and instead seek to discover our oneness with the mysterious forces that make and move the world.

Zhuangzi likes to find transcendent principles in humble places, and many of the stories talk about the special skills of servants and artisans.  I find these passages particularly relevant to the creative practice, though of course they are metaphors that can lend their meaning to many aspects of life.  In this post, I’ve selected four parables of craft from the Zhuangzi.  These excerpts are from Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, Columbia University Press, 1964, translated by Burton Watson, a version both scholarly and literary, rollicking and lucid.

Bell Stand, 2012, by Fred Hatt


Woodworker Ch’ing carved a piece of wood and made a bell stand, and when it was finished, everyone who saw it marveled, for it seemed to be the work of gods or spirits.  When the marquis of Lu saw it, he asked, “What art is it you have?”

Ch’ing replied, “I am only a craftsman – how would I have any art?  There is one thing, however.  When I am going to make a bell stand, I never let it wear out my energy.  I always fast in order to still my mind.  When I have fasted for three days, I no longer have any thought of congratulations or rewards, of titles or stipends.  When I have fasted for five days, I no longer have any thought of praise or blame, of skill or clumsiness.  And when I have fasted for seven days, I am so still that I forget I have four limbs and a form and body.  By that time, the ruler and his court no longer exist for me.  My skill is concentrated and all outside distractions fade away.  After that, I go into the mountain forest and examine the Heavenly nature of the trees.  If I find one of superlative form, and I can see a bell stand there, I put my hand to the job of carving; if not, I let it go.  This way I am simply matching up ‘Heaven’ with ‘Heaven.’  That’s probably the reason that people wonder if the results were not made by spirits.”

Ferryman, 2012, by Fred Hatt


Yen Yüan said to Confucius, “I once crossed the gulf at Goblet Deeps and the ferryman handled the boat with supernatural skill.  I asked him, ‘Can a person learn how to handle a boat?’ and he replied, ‘Certainly.  A good swimmer has acquired his ability through repeated practice.  And, if a man can swim under water, he may never have seen a boat before and still he’ll know how to handle it!’  I asked him what he meant by that, but he wouldn’t tell me.  May I venture to ask you what it means?”

Confucius said, “A good swimmer has acquired his ability through repeated practice – that means he’s forgotten the water.  If a man can swim under water, he may never have seen a boat before and still he’ll know how to handle it – that’s because he sees the water as so much dry land, and regards the capsizing of a boat as he would the overturning of a cart.  The ten thousand things may all be capsizing and turning over at the same time right in front of him and it can’t get at him and affect what’s inside – so where could he go and not be at ease?

“When you’re betting for tiles in an archery contest, you shoot with skill.  When you’re betting for fancy belt buckles, you worry about your aim.  And when you’re betting for real gold, you’re a nervous wreck.  Your skill is the same in all three cases – but because one prize means more to you than another, you let outside considerations weigh on your mind.  He who looks too hard at the outside gets clumsy on the inside.”

Herder of Sheep, 2012, by Fred Hatt


T’ien K’ai-chih said, “I have heard the Master say, ‘He who is good at nourishing life is like a herder of sheep – he watches for stragglers and whips them up.’ ”

“What does that mean?” asked Duke Wei.

T’ien K’ai-chih said, “In Lu there was Shan Pao – he lived among the cliffs, drank only water, and didn’t go after gain like other people.  He went along like that for seventy years and still had the complexion of a little child.  Unfortunately, he met a hungry tiger who killed him and ate him up.  Then there was Chang Yi – there wasn’t one of the great families and fancy mansions that he didn’t rush off to visit.  He went along like that for forty years, and then he developed an internal fever, fell ill, and died.  Shan Pao looked after what was on the inside and the tiger ate up his outside.  Chang Yi looked after what was on the outside and the sickness attacked him from the inside.  Both these men failed to give a lash to the stragglers.”

Confucius has said, “Don’t go in and hide; don’t come out and shine; stand stock-still in the middle.”  He who can follow these three rules is sure to be called the finest.  When people are worried about the safety of the roads, if they hear that one traveler in a party of ten has been murdered, then fathers and sons, elder and younger brothers will warn each other to be careful and will not venture out until they have a large escort of armed men. That’s wise of them, isn’t it?  But when it comes to what people really ought to be worried about – the time when they are lying in bed or sitting around eating and drinking – then they don’t have sense enough to take warning.  That’s a mistake!”

An Ox, 2012, by Fred Hatt


Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui.  At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee – zip! zoop!  He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music.

“Ah, this is marvelous!” said Lord Wen-hui.  “Imagine skill reaching such heights!”

Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill.  When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself.  After three years I no longer saw the whole ox.  And now – now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes.  Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants.  I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are.  So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.

“A good cook changes his knife once a year – because he cuts.  A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month – because he hacks.  I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone.  There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife really has no thickness.  If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room – more than enough for the blade to play about in.  That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.

“However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I’m doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until – flop! the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground.  I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.”

“Excellent!” said Lord Wen-hui.  “I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to care for life!”


Illustrations for this post are all ink brush on paper, 18” x 24” (46 x 61 cm).

An earlier Drawing Life post, “A Useless Tree”, is based on another tale from Zhuangzi.

Note:  There are several editions of Burton Watson’s Complete Works of Chuang Tzu and Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings.  The latter is basically a selection of chapters from the former.  A newer edition of Basic Writings has been amended to use the pinyin transliteration of the Chinese names (i.e. Zhuangzi replaces Chuang Tzu) in the title as well as in the text.  Zhuang has inspired many writers, and besides the various academic translations there are selections of his stories retold by Christian mystic Thomas Merton and Jewish philosopher Martin Buber.


Opening this Friday

Sleeping Weightlifter, 2012, by Fred Hatt. The original drawing is included in the new group show at Figureworks.

New  post coming soon!  In the meantime, there are several current and upcoming events on the Events Calendar.  If you’re in NYC you’re invited to this Friday’s opening reception for a group exhibition celebrating twelve years of regular weekly life drawing sessions at Randall Harris’ Figureworks in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  I’ve been attending those sessions regularly almost since the beginning, and two of my drawings are on exhibit, one from 2002 and one from this year.  The opening is Friday June 8 from 6-9 pm, and the work will be on view in the gallery until July 29.  Other artists in the show include Raina Bajpai, Susan Berkowitz, Rodney Dickson, Howard Eisman, Susan Hamburger, Randall Harris, Elliot Lloyd, Karen Miles, Doug Safranek, K. Saito, and Samantha Smith, all my fellow regulars and semi-regulars from the Figureworks sessions – a really interesting and diverse community of artists!

A week later, on Saturday, July 16th, action painter Rie Nishimura is having an opening of her work at CRS, 123 Fourth Avenue in Manhattan.  She’s doing a performance in collaboration with Chaz Ganster, and they’ve enlisted me to do body painting and light effects for it.  The opening will be from 7:30-9:00 and the performance around 8 pm.

One of my drawings is also included in Naked, a group show at the Fuller Lodge Art Center in Los Alamos, New Mexico.  And I’ll be teaching several workshops at this year’s Sirius Rising festival at the Brushwood Folklore Center in Sherman, New York, next month.


Ritual of Enchantment: Human Clay

Claire Elizabeth Barratt in Human Clay, a motion sculpture movement installation by Cilla Vee Life Arts, presented by Chashama, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

One of the most venerable functions of art is to transform the environment, to create a sacred space or a magical moment, to inspire the imagination or to open the mind to contemplate mysteries.  This may be the impulse behind the painted caves of the Ice Age, and it is why places to pray and places to play are often designed as majestic spaces, or filled with images or music, beautiful light, fine materials, costumed performers, ritualized actions, and sensual delights such as incense and candles.

It is a common conceit of modern society to think we’re past all that, or to segregate such things to churches and carnivals and festivals, to dismiss them as kid stuff or god stuff, therefore not real.  The paradigm for the contemporary art gallery is the industrial space with plain white walls and bright track lighting, the better to display work that is formally reductionist, coldly conceptual, or ironic, and of course, always very, very expensive.

Naturally  there’s a counter-movement.  I’ve always been drawn to alternatives to the white box gallery, and have mostly shown work in unusual venues or as part of collaborative multimedia happenings.  One of the organizers of such events is Claire Elizabeth Barratt.  She’s a dancer, performance artist, and installation artist, but I’d say her real art form is to bring diverse artists together in loose collaborative events that aim to create enchanted spaces.  Under the banner of Cilla Vee – Life Arts, she’s produced countless events in a wide variety of environments.

In June, 2004 and again in August, 2005, I created live ink drawings as part of Human Clay, a production Claire calls a “Motion Sculpture Movement Installation”, melding elements of visual art, dance, and live music, all improvised in the moment.  It was what some people call an “ambient performance.”  A variant on “ambient music“, this term generally describes an event with a designated run time but no beginning, middle or end, so the audience can come and go at will, taking a momentary taste or settling into the experience for as long as they wish.

Human Clay was done in one of the 42nd Street storefront window spaces hosted by the NYC arts organization Chashama.  (I’ve written previously about solo drawing performances I did in Chashama’s windows.)  In this space, people could see the performance through the window from the public sidewalk, or they could come in and sit down on the opposite side of the stage, with the city street as backdrop.  I believe the performance went on for four or five hours each time it was done.

In this post I’m presenting pictures of all the drawings I made during the 2004 and 2005 performances of Human Clay, interspersed with photos of the 2004 performance that I took during breaks from drawing.

Hisayasu Takashio, sculptor, in Human Clay, a motion sculpture movement installation by Cilla Vee Life Arts, presented by Chashama, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

Claire’s description of Human Clay calls it “a constant shifting of landscapes composed of human, rope and twisted tree branch sculptures. The sculptor fervently constructs, molds and forms these elements in a race against time before they give in to gravity and gradually melt towards the ground.”  The sculptor, shown above, is Brooklyn-based Hisayasu Takashio.

Fred Hatt drawing in Human Clay, a motion sculpture movement installation by Cilla Vee Life Arts, presented by Chashama, 2005, photo by Marc Dale

While the sculptor was moving his dancers and objects into ever-shifting arrangements, I was using them as models for brush sketches.  I had hung long strips of white paper throughout the interior of the space, and over the few hours that the performance went on, I recorded my impressions of the fleeting tableaux with my dancing brush.  As each pose was set, it would only hold for a few seconds before heaviness or the impulse to move caused the fragile structure to collapse, so I had to use my quick-drawing skills.  There’s a shot of me drawing, above, and the finished panel below.  As you can see, the drawings are quite large, so I could move the brush freely, and didn’t have to worry about crowding the paper too quickly.

Drama, left panel, ink drawing by Fred Hatt from Human Clay performance, 2005

Normally, a sculptor’s work is long-lasting, but this sculptor was working with living bodies and transient arrangements.  It was up to me to capture what I could, covering the walls with my linear impressions of the slow, shifting sands of the dance.

Image from Human Clay, a motion sculpture movement installation by Cilla Vee Life Arts, presented by Chashama, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

The ritual of continuous, slow-paced resculpting was sustained by quiet, trancy music.  Marianne Giosa, a soulful trumpeter, multi-instrumentalist and dancer was performing for the 2004 version.

Drama, right panel, ink drawing by Fred Hatt from Human Clay performance, 2005

The elements the sculptor had to work with were ropes: tough but limp, branches: stiff and serpentine, and living human bodies that could combine all those qualities.

Image from Human Clay, a motion sculpture movement installation by Cilla Vee Life Arts, presented by Chashama, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

The performances maintained the same pace and substance for the full duration – no development, no narrative.  But when I look at the drawings, I can’t help but see dramatic events.  There’s no clear plotline you can read.  It’s like looking at the illustrations to a story book in a language you don’t understand.  The imagination is stimulated to fill in the blanks.

Youth, 2 panels, ink drawing by Fred Hatt from Human Clay performance, 2004

The dancers were smeared with clay, which gave them a crusty patina like cracked plaster.  Some of Claire’s other Motion Sculpture events are wildly colorful.  This one is austere, but with a strong dose of nature’s chaotic textures.

Image from Human Clay, a motion sculpture movement installation by Cilla Vee Life Arts, presented by Chashama, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

The sticks and ropes added simple but powerful recurring visual motifs to the ever-changing compositions.  Look at the crossed twisty branches above, and in the drawing below, and in the photo below that.

Altar, ink drawing by Fred Hatt from Human Clay performance, 2005

To me the branches evoke the writhing life force, and when the dancers are crossed and suspended and tangled up, my imagination sees sacrifice and struggle.

Image from Human Clay, a motion sculpture movement installation by Cilla Vee Life Arts, presented by Chashama, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

I had never met the sculptor before these performances, but Claire must have known his wriggly lines and mine would work in harmony!

Fire, ink drawing by Fred Hatt from Human Clay performance, 2005

Always slow, as if in a trance, there is constant change.  A journey through a forest.

Image from Human Clay, a motion sculpture movement installation by Cilla Vee Life Arts, presented by Chashama, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

Gestures and attitudes, all the expressions of the human body.

Gesticulate, ink drawing by Fred Hatt from Human Clay performance, 2005

Contact, sensuality, struggle.

Image from Human Clay, a motion sculpture movement installation by Cilla Vee Life Arts, presented by Chashama, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

Spreading out, rising up, sinking down, curling inward.

Relation, 3 panels, ink drawing by Fred Hatt from Human Clay performance, 2004

Pose of a hero, a warrior.

Image from Human Clay, a motion sculpture movement installation by Cilla Vee Life Arts, presented by Chashama, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

Strife, stress, conflict.

Hitting, ink drawing by Fred Hatt from Human Clay performance, 2005

Pulling apart and holding together.

Image from Human Clay, a motion sculpture movement installation by Cilla Vee Life Arts, presented by Chashama, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

Stride, strive, strike.

Arise, ink drawing by Fred Hatt from Human Clay performance, 2005

Angle, angel, anger, danger.

Image from Human Clay, a motion sculpture movement installation by Cilla Vee Life Arts, presented by Chashama, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

Arise, arouse, arrows, errors.

Victory, 3 panels, ink drawing by Fred Hatt from Human Clay performance, 2004

Breathe, bathe, incline, align.

Image from Human Clay, a motion sculpture movement installation by Cilla Vee Life Arts, presented by Chashama, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

Allay, ally, alloy.

Dance, ink drawing by Fred Hatt from Human Clay performance, 2005

In balance, imbalance.

Image from Human Clay, a motion sculpture movement installation by Cilla Vee Life Arts, presented by Chashama, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

Every character finds its extreme expression, and its norm.

Individuation, left panel, ink drawing by Fred Hatt from Human Clay performance, 2005

Keep the clay wet, to keep it supple.

Image from Human Clay, a motion sculpture movement installation by Cilla Vee Life Arts, presented by Chashama, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

Curl, curve, curse, cure.

Individuation, right panel, ink drawing by Fred Hatt from Human Clay performance, 2005

Everything tends to come to rest.

Image from Human Clay, a motion sculpture movement installation by Cilla Vee Life Arts, presented by Chashama, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

Every body plays many roles as the endless dance goes on.

Fold, 2 panels, ink drawing by Fred Hatt from Human Clay performance, 2004

We are the stuff of stars and of earth.  We shine and we sink down, and new life is always emerging from death.

Image from Human Clay, a motion sculpture movement installation by Cilla Vee Life Arts, presented by Chashama, 2004, photo by Fred Hatto

This ritual has no story, no structure, no destination.  It goes on and on, and when the time comes, it ends.  In the meantime, it evokes every quality of life, but there is no definitive meaning.  This is my experience of this piece, from my viewpoint as a person who looks and loves and draws.  I’m sure Claire, the sculptor, the dancers, and the musicians all have their own rich and very personal experience of the piece.

Encounter, 2 horizontal panels joined, ink drawing by Fred Hatt from Human Clay performance, 2004

I wonder how the audience experienced it.  I imagine there was quite a range, from the passerby who thinks “Look at the weirdos” to the person who gets sucked into the trance and comes in to sit rapt for an hour or more.  As for me, I want to do more things like this.

Audience on the street watching Human Clay, a motion sculpture movement installation by Cilla Vee Life Arts, presented by Chashama, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

Here are the credits for the performance:  Human Clay with sculptor Hisayasu Takashio, action gesture drawing by Fred Hatt, sound by Marianne Giosa, Judith Berkson and/or Sabine Arnaud, presented at Chashama 42nd Street Storefront, NYC, June 2004 & August 2005.  Dancers in 2004 (those pictured in these photos) were Claire Elizabeth Barratt, Pedro Jimenez, Jill Frere, and Kazu Kulken.  Dancers in 2005 were Claire Elizabeth Barratt, Maria Pirone, Jill Frere, and Judy Canestrelli.

The drawings from 2004 are sumi ink on paper 36″ wide, varying lengths.  The 2005 drawings are sumi ink on paper 48″ wide, also varying lengths.

See video excerpts from these performances here.


In the Flow

Art Seeds performance drawing #4,  30 seconds, 2012, by Fred Hatt

A drawing or painting is an object, an arrangement of marks on a surface, inert and mute.  So what do we mean when we speak of a picture having dynamism or tension, energy or lyricism?  There could be multiple factors.  Movement may be pictorially implied.  Shapes and colors may be arranged in ways that suggest rhythmic repetition or create tensions of weight or light that, like certain chords in music, predict a resolving change.

For me, the most direct path to capturing energy in pictorial visual art is simply to approach drawing or painting as an art of movement.  The brush strokes or pencil marks are tracings of the movement of the artist’s hand.  The hand dances what the eyes see or what the spirit feels.  Movement is the most direct way of expressing grace or violence, serenity or frolic.  A drawing doesn’t move, but it is a product of movement.  The kinetics of its making affect the quality of its marks in a way that viewers can feel.

Direct gestural expression is something drawing and painting have that still photography generally lacks.  For me, that’s a compelling reason to focus on that aspect of art, in this age glutted with mechanically reproduced images.

A longstanding exercise for me is sketching dancers as they move.  It’s one of those things that’s almost impossible to do, like getting a sweet sound out of a violin, and for that reason a great thing to practice, practice, practice.  In this post I’ll share a few recent examples of the rough and spontaneous results of this pursuit.

The thirty-second ink-brush drawing that heads this post was made during a recent performance organized by my friend the dancer Kayoko Nakajima.  She and Carly Czach performed improvised dance in timed intervals, interspersed with similarly timed intervals in which several artists made drawings in response to the movement they’d just witnessed.  Kayoko’s blog for the project shows the resulting drawings of four artists (including me), and the following video by Charles Dennis shows excerpts from the performance, so you can get an idea what the dance was like and how the audiences watched the drawing as well as the dance.

The form of dance that Carly and Kayoko are doing here is called Contact Improvisation.  Notice how the dancers pull or push each other.  Each dancer is feeling her weight in dynamic relation to the other.  The principles of Contact Improv are closely related to the martial art Aikido.  One dancer may push into the other, and the other may respond by redirecting a straight move into a curved one.  One may feel the other’s weight and roll under or push upward.  There’s a constant give-and-take, a shifting flow in which every movement is a transformation of the movement that feeds into it.  Although my drawing hand is dancing solo, not pushing against another hand, I try to capture this feeling of each movement of the brush arising out of the preceding movement.

Art Seeds performance drawing #6, 8 minutes, 2012, by Fred Hatt

In this performance, periods of drawing alternated with periods of dancing, so the drawings are not made during direct observation of the movement.  Thus they capture a memory of motion, not a response in the moment.  The figurative elements in the drawing above also reflect memories rather than direct perceptions.  The brush flows following the aftertaste of a spinal curve, and that curve shifts into the helical analogue of a remembered rotation.

Kayoko’s post features several drawings each by Felipe Galindo, Ivana Basic, Michael Imlay, and myself.  It’s interesting to compare the different ways each of us instinctively channeled the dance into our drawings.  Felipe, an illustrator, focuses on relationships and indicates the directions of movement with arrows and arcs.  In Ivana‘s drawings, the contours of bodies merge with the contours of looping movement, and the bodies don’t just contact, but merge and interpenetrate.  Michael takes the sinuous quality of the dance and projects it imaginatively in biomorphic shapes and suggestions of musical structure.

The night before Kayoko’s performance, I got myself warmed up for it at Cross Pollination, an occasional event at Green Space Studio in Queens where artists draw, dancers move, and musicians play in a freeform interactive space.  These drawings are made in direct observation of dancers, not by memory, though the movement is generally quick enough that once an impression travels from eye to hand to paper it’s a memory anyway.  The next two watercolor sketches are from Cross Pollination.

Tensegrity, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Expressing energy with brush or pencil is not so much about putting the maximum amount of energy into the effort.  In a recent life drawing class I noticed one of the artists scratching away madly, his face screwed up with tension.  But when I looked at his drawing it was scribbly and diffuse.  It expressed something of the physical effort of the artist, but nothing of the quality or presence of the model.  The key to capturing that more subtle energy is the clear focus of the artist’s movement in the work.  It’s like the difference between the flailing of a drunkard and the efficient punch of a martial artist.  The first may expend more raw frenzy, but it’s the second that will knock you out.

Stances of Rest, 2012, by Fred Hatt

I try to be immersed in the experience of perceiving the bodies, feeling the flow of movement and of form.  The way a muscle curls around from the shoulder blade to the top of the arm bone is not so different, when you follow it smoothly, from the way one person reaches out and draws another into an embrace.  Because my brush is moving in a state of grace, I experience everything as a unified current.  It’s obvious that movement is something that flows, but when my mind and hand are dancing, I understand that form is also something that flows.

I try to bring that kind of perception to my practice of life drawing.  The body is a dynamic structure, not a static one.  Every part exists in a relationship of tension or balance with other parts of the body and of its environment.  When the drawing brush freely explores how one part connects with another through movement, the drawings capture some of the sense of the life force that we perceive in a living being.

Chuck, eight quick poses, grid of four watercolor sketches, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Chuck, above, and Kuan, below, are models that give their all in the quick (1-2 minute) poses.  Chuck is an artist whose own paintings show a wonderful sense of movement, sometimes soaring, sometimes tangled.  Kuan is a dancer and choreographer.  She moves with great clarity and takes still poses that look like frozen instants of explosive action.  Their quick poses are wondrous things to see.  But they are so fleeting!  Only by following the flow of the form with the movement of my brush can I capture some impression of the energy they share with us.

Kuan, sixteen quick poses, grid of watercolor sketches, 2012, by Fred Hatt

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