DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Gallery Opening on the Web

A sample from Fred Hatt's new photo/video website

A sample from Fred Hatt’s new photo/video website

For the last few weeks I’ve been working on a major redesign of my website highlighting the photography and video work I do for clients, many of whom are artists and performers. Today it went online: Fred Hatt Photo/Video. Please check it out and let me know your thoughts.

I worked with the great graphic designer Michael LaBash, who also designed my art portfolio site. I had some ideas about how I wanted it to look – dark colors, horizontal scrolling photo galleries – and he figured out how to make it all work and look beautiful. There are some images that were on the old version of the site, but there’s also a lot of new material and a gorgeous new look.

There are twelve different photography galleries and five galleries of video pieces, covering the work I do for visual artists, performing artists, and my landscape and urban photography. Many of the photos link to the websites of the client or subject.

If I’ve shot you or your art in recent years and you don’t see it here, I apologize. It was really hard to sift through all that work and find a good balance of samples to convey the range and quality of what I offer. But the process of choosing work made me feel very fortunate to have worked with so many amazing creative people. I’m not ambitious enough as a photographer and videographer to seek out big celebrities and supermodels and high-profile assignments – I just want to work with those that inspire me, help them show the world what they can do, and make a little money to be able to pay my bills and keep doing my own artwork without compromise. But there’s some beautiful stuff here!


Life Drawing at ADaPT


Sample works by visual artists participating in the ADaPT Festival Life Drawing Score, clockwise from left: Michael Alan, Jillian Bernstein, KIMCHIKIM, Masha Braslavsky, Fred Hatt, Susan M. Berkowitz, IURRO.

Sample works by visual artists participating in the ADaPT Festival Life Drawing Score, clockwise from left: Michael Alan, Jillian Bernstein, KIMCHIKIM, Masha Braslavsky, Fred Hatt, Susan M. Berkowitz, IURRO.

ADaPT (A Dance and Physical Theater) Festival, founded in 2011, hosts performances, master classes, and other events in its home base of Santa Barbara, California, and in locations around the world, including one on May 30, 2013 at CPR (Center for Performance Research) in Brooklyn. Festival director Misa Kelly is a dancer and choreographer with her company ArtBark International, and she’s also a life drawing artist and model – please click that last link to see some of Misa’s wonderful drawings.

Adapt Festival Program Orson, May 30 at CPR, features twelve performances by a diverse artists – the link has a full list and descriptions of the pieces. Misa’s a maximalist, surrounding her performance events with installations, projections and opportunities for audience members to express their own creativity. For this program, she asked me to recruit some visual artists and to act as monitor for a special “Life Drawing Score” in conjunction with the performance program.

Art modeling/life drawing is a form of performance, a creative interaction between models (many of whom are also performers in other contexts) and visual artists. This interaction is rarely seen outside of the small community of artists and models. Artwork may be exhibited, but the art audience may be unaware of the collaborative nature of artists’ work with models. Likewise, the dance and theater audience may not know that the performers’ experience modeling for artists is a vital part of their performance practice. Misa decided this special creative relationship deserved a place in a festival of dance and physical theater.

Misa Kelly, photo by Am Wu

Misa Kelly, photo by Am Wu

Here’s what will happen on May 30:

Invited visual artists will be having a private life drawing session in the performance space starting at 6 pm. I’ll be the session monitor. Our models will be Misa Kelly and one other dancer. (There will be no audience for this, until the last 20 minutes of it.)

At 7:15 the audience is invited to the Pre-Show in the lobby. There will be a video installation, sage smudging, and various activities intended to engage audience members to express their own creativity through writing, drawing, and moving.

At 7:35 the audience members will be allowed into the performance space to witness and/or participate in the last 20 minutes of the life drawing session.

At 8:05 there will be a full program of twelve dance and physical theater performances in the performance space. There are descriptions of all of these pieces here: ADaPT Festival Program Orson.

At the intermission (around 9:00) the audience will return to the lobby to see an informal exhibition of work created during the earlier private life drawing session.

Location: CPR (Center for Performance Research), 361 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NY. Tickets $10 in advance or $15 at the door.

Links for participating artists and models:


Jillian Bernstein


Masha Braslavsky

Michael Alan

Misa Kelly

Susan M. Berkowitz


Dancing/Drawing Performance

Kayoko Nakajima and Carly Czach, dancing Contact Improvisation, 2012, photo by Fred Hatt

On Saturday, February 18, I was drawing as part of this performance by one of my longtime collaborators, Kayoko Nakajima.  Kayoko is a dancer and a deep student of the anatomy of movement.  Here are all the details:

 “ARt Seeds to ARt Sprouts Project 2012”

Concept: Kayoko Nakajima

Improvisational/Contact Improvisational Dance: Kayoko Nakajima, Carly Czach
Improvising Drawing: Fred Hatt, Michael Imlay,Ivana Basic, Jennifer Giuglianotti
Costume: Aya Shibaraha
Video: Charles Dennis
February 18, Sat. 2012
Cumbe: Center for African and Diaspora Dance
558 Fulton Street, 2nd Floor (near Flatbush Ave.)
Brooklyn, NY 11217
This performance was a part of NYFA Bootstrap Festival 2012 A Celebration of Movement and Interdisciplinary Art
featuring Nicola Iervasi, Artistic Director, Mare Nostrum Elements, Kayoko Nakajima with Carly Czach, and Clark Jackson.


Dramatis Personæ

Bow, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Actor and writer Susan Merson invited me to make sketches at some of the sessions of New York Theatre Intensives, a six-week play development workshop and training program associated with New York’s Ensemble Studio Theatre.  Susan likes to get visual artists to respond in their own medium to the creative process of the actors, directors and writers.  The work is shared with the participants and may be used on the organization’s website and/or public presentations.

I attended two sessions there.  The first one was an acting workshop led by Janet Zarish.  I sat at the side of the room and sketched in white crayon on a 9″ x 12″ black pad.  The class began with warm-up exercises, including spine rolls, the game of tag, and slow-motion tag.  Since I’ve done a lot of movement drawing, this part of the class was a natural for me.

Tag, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Following the movement exercises, the acting students stood listening to the instructor.  Their postures show their energetic engagement.

Listen, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Next, various pairs of acting students performed their versions of little playlets.  The acting duos had been given a page or two of bare dialog, and they had to invent a context and back story and work it up into a scene.  They’d play the scene two or three times, with coaching and notes from the acting instructor.  I tried to make simplified personality sketches, essentially caricatures, of the actors playing their parts.  Fleeting expressions and attitudes are hard to catch in a drawing from life!

Copier, 2011, by Fred Hatt

In most of these, I tried to get more than one expression or position for at least one of the characters.  Without knowing the content of the scenes, you can see these as multiple-figure compositions.  Some kind of narrative content is implied in the drawings, but they’re highly ambiguous.  I don’t think anyone could guess much about the actors’ scenes from these sketches, but maybe the sketches could be imagination stimuli.  For instance, I could see the central figures in the one below as a couple’s public composure, while the faces on the edges represent hidden attitudes.

AA Meeting, 2011, by Fred Hatt

This exercise only increased my admiration for the great theatrical illustrator Al Hirschfeld, who spent eight decades at Broadway openings, sketching in a theater seat, and stylizing his impressions of the actors as elegant ink drawings that appeared alongside reviews in the New York Times.  Drawing actors in action is not easy, and I feel my attempts were pretty rough.

Afterlife, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The three sketches above are based on three acting duos’ interpretations of the same playlet, an encounter between two characters with diverging views of their relationship.  I’ve titled the sketches after context choices made by the actors.

The next three sketches are three different interpretations of a second playlet.  This one centers around one character trying to collect a long-overdue debt from the other character.  It was fascinating to observe how different choices and different actors’ personæ completely changed the feeling of the scene.

Hot Dog Park, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Naked Under Hoodie, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The actress below conveyed a particularly vivid sense of awkward nervousness toward her impassive debtor.

Wordvomit, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The acting class instructor, Janet Zarish, threw a lot of ideas at the actors, offering suggestions and modifications aimed at sharpening the characters and punching up the drama.  I was struck by her many crisp, incisive gestures.  I think they reflect her focus on performative clarity.

Instructor, 2011, by Fred Hatt

I sat in on another New York Theatre Intensives session, and will get to those sketches later in this post, but first, a sketch theater entr’acte.  American Independence Day, the fourth of July, fell between the two NYTI classes I attended.  Spring Studio, where I supervise one of the regular figure drawing sessions, hosted a July 4 special with models costumed as historical American characters, including a Revolutionary War era soldier, Buffalo Bill, Harriet Tubman, Pocahontas and Betsy Ross.  These sketches are in marker or pencil on white paper, 18″ x 24″, and all are based on poses held between two minutes and ten minutes.

American History Figures, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Noble Faces, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The models for this session were all what I would describe as character models.  Like character actors, they have distinctive faces, body types and ways of moving and looking that would stimulate the narrative imagination even without the costumes and props.  It’s impossible to draw these models in a generic way, because all of them are so distinctive.

Caretaker, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Small and Tall, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Barricade, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Later that week I went to a “rep class” session, led by Rod Menzies, at New York Theatre Intensives.  The actors did readings of new scenes by playwrights Crystal Skillman and Jason Holtham, with the playwrights present.  I believe part of the function of the session was for the writers to see how their work in progress was understood by the actors, and how it worked in front of an audience.  These drawings are 18″ x 24″ on white paper, in crayon and/or ink and brush.  Here’s the scene in the studio, with the instructor and playwright sitting at the left.

Studio Reading, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Crystal Skillman’s scene was for two actors, and a little longer than the playlets from the acting class, which gave me a better opportunity to study the actors.  The experience was a bit like what I imagine a courtroom artist does.

A Look, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Here’s my impression of the discussion, with the class instructor and the playwright at the left, and some of the students in discussion at the right.  They really did overlap like that, from my viewing position.  I chose to make them transparent.

Watching and Discussing, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Although the actors sitting to read stayed more still than they did in the acting class, where they had memorized their lines, it’s still hard to draw a reading, because the actors have their heads and eyes down at their scripts much of the time, and their facial expressions and energetic engagements with one another tend to be fleeting.  This remained so even after instructor Rod Menzies urged the actors to engage with each other even at the cost of missing lines in the scripts.

Cold Reading, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Model U. N., 2011, by Fred Hatt

Jason Holtham’s scene was about high school students at a Model United Nations simulation conference.  All the characters were named after the nations they were representing in the conference, which allowed the scene to be read on two levels.

Playwright, 2011, by Fred Hatt

I switched to ink and brush for a few sketches.  The brushed ink line is more expressive than the crayon line, but also much more difficult to control.

Characters, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The directions of eyes and eyebrows, and the set of the mouth, are the most immediately readable indicators of emotion and relational role, at least among those that can be captured in a quick sketch that lacks the sound of the voice, the movement of the body, and the narrative developments of the script.

Reactions, 2011, by Fred Hatt

For me, the experience of sketching at these theater classes drew on my long-term practice of drawing from movement.  I’m used to sketching from dance, with the attention given to large physical movement.  The actors didn’t move so much – most of the interesting changes going on were subtle facial cues.  In drawing faces, I’m accustomed to doing portraits, where I can take my time to study the structure and character of a face.  Trying to apply the quick-response, gestural interpretation of movement to facial expressions was a challenge I definitely haven’t yet mastered, but I love to keep finding fresh challenges!

I’d be interested to hear from actors or other participants in the classes about what you see in my sketches, and whether they reveal anything to you that you might not get by looking at a still photo or video of the classes.  Please feel free to comment here, and I’ll respond.  (Comments from first-time commenters are held for moderation, so may take a day or so to appear on the blog.)



Drawing as Theater / Presence as Provocation: Kentridge and Abramovic at MoMA

Rest Energy, photo of a 1980 performance by Marina Abramovic and Ulay, photo from Galleria Lia Rumma

The Museum of Modern Art in New York currently hosts retrospectives of two idiosyncratic and uncompromising living artists, Yugoslavian born Marina Abramovic and South African William Kentridge.  The two artists could hardly be more different from each other, but each has followed the path of art as something deeply personal and necessary.

Marina Abramovic emerged as a performance artist in the 1970’s.  Using her own body as her medium, she explored the power of living presence in ritual acts of vulnerability and endurance.  Her earliest works were so raw and risky they still shock – for example, in Rhythm 2 (1974), she took drugs that caused seizures, convulsions and catatonia.  But then in the 70’s everyone was experimenting with drugs – she just did it in front of an audience.

In 1976 she began a twelve year collaboration with Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen).  The work they did together achieved a kind of spiritual and aesthetic clarity that has not been surpassed, even as this kind of work has entered the mainstream with David Blaine‘s well-publicized acts of endurance.  In “Rest Energy”, pictured at the top of the post, Abramovic and Ulay lean apart, their weight suspended by the tension of a bowstring with an arrow aimed at Abramovic’s heart.

Abramovic and Ulay traveled continuously, living in an old Citroen van (the van is in the MoMA exhibit), fully devoting their lives to their artistic experiment.  A statement they wrote at the time (1975) reads:


no fixed living-place
permanent movement
direct contact
local relation
passing limitations
taking risks
mobile energy
no rehearsals
no predicted end
no repetition
extended vulnerability
exposure to chance
primary reactions

Abramovic and Ulay parted ways in 1988.  Much of Abramovic’s solo work from the 90’s looks to me more strident and more self-conscious about making “statements”, but in her most recent work she seems to be rediscovering the power of simplicity.

The Abramovic retrospective at MoMA includes documentation of a great many of these performances that tested the limits of the mind and body and the relationship between artist and audience.  It also includes living “reperformers”, re-enacting several of the most well-known actions.  The one that has been most widely discussed is Imponderabilia, originally performed by Abramovic and Ulay in 1977.  A naked male and female stand impassively facing each other in a narrow doorway, through which museumgoers may pass only by squeezing sideways between the pair.

Abramovic has long argued that performance art must be kept alive by reperformance, and in her 2005 show at the Guggenheim Museum she herself reperformed a number of seminal performance works originally done decades ago by such artists as Joseph Beuys and Valie Export.  It is undeniable that the MoMA show is more interesting with live bodies interspersed among the old documentation, but the change of context has surely altered the effect of the pieces.  It is not just that what were once radical experiments are now enshrined in the most institutional of museums.  The original pieces were radically minimalist – highly clarified simple happenings in isolation, usually presented in blank gallery spaces.  The MoMA exhibit is like a crowded menagerie of acts and images, with a steady flow of tourists trying to see it all before their feet give out or the kids start crying or they have to meet someone for dinner.

The title of the Abramovic show at MoMA is The Artist Is Present, and it is with her own simple presence that she makes the strongest statement and the deepest impression in this show.  In the great atrium of the Museum, throughout the public hours while her exhibit is open, the 63-year-old artist sits silently at a table, while museumgoers are invited to sit directly across from her.  She sits all day, and will do so for 77 days.  This is about as radically minimal as performance can get.  She is not doing anything sensational, really not doing anything at all.  But if you’ve tried to sit still for even an hour you know it becomes incredibly grueling.  You can often see the pain in her face as she holds steady eye contact with an endless stream of museum visitors, some of whom sit for moments, and some for hours.  It is an act of extreme endurance, but also, in a way, an act of extreme generosity, giving herself to her audience in direct human presence.  Observe for a while and you’ll see suffering, defiance, confrontation, resignation, engagement, boredom and bliss – the full range of the human condition living and breathing there before us.  Amazingly, her simple presence fills up the gigantic atrium space more than any of the monumental pieces of art I’ve seen there over the years.

On the opening day, her former collaborator, Ulay, showed up at the table for an unexpected tearful reunion:

Ulay and Marina Abramovic, March, 2010, photo by Scott Rudd for MoMA

Just off the Atrium is the entrance to another immersive exhibit, William Kentridge:  Five Themes.  Timed to coincide with Kentridge’s multimedia staging of Shostakovich’s opera The Nose (based on Nikolai Gogol’s short story) at the Metropolitan Opera, this retrospective shows Kentridge’s drawings, prints, animated films, theatrical designs, optical experiments and even animatronic puppets as a diverse but highly unified body of work that spans media and obliterates the traditional line dividing graphic art and theatrical storytelling.

Kentridge became widely known in the 1990’s for his 9 Drawings for Projection (1989-2003), a series of richly evocative short animated films, made by drawing, erasing and redrawing large charcoal sketches on paper.  Originally shown one at a time in galleries in conjuction with exhibits of the final-stage charcoal drawings, the series of films hangs loosely together as a single ongoing story.  They tell of an industrialist, Soho Eckstein, his wife, and her lover, the bohemian Felix Teitlebaum, who is always depicted naked.  Eckstein and Teitlebaum are opposites in a way, but both recognizably resemble Kentridge.  The story in 9 Drawings plays out across the backdrop of the upheavals of South Africa in the late apartheid and early post-apartheid eras, but the films aren’t straightforwardly political.  Instead they’re personal and poetic.  The erasures and redrawing of the filmmaking technique, the transformations of the elemental and mechanical imagery, the ebb and flow of the lives of the characters, and the shifting sands of cultural change are all of a piece, an era of life experience distilled into a cinematic dream.  I get the impression that the transformations of the drawings are not preconceived, but exploratory.

Drawing from “Felix in Exile”, 1994, one of “9 Drawings for Projection” by William Kentridge

The museum show is arranged not chronologically or by media, but thematically.  The 9 Drawings and other films are projected at monumental size, with the real drawings, also quite large, nearby, allowing one to experience the images in both their forms, as mutable projections and as the tactile reality of smudgy charcoal on heavily worked paper.

Kentridge is an obsessive drawer and mark-maker.  One room in the MoMA show surrounds us with multiple projections showing him drawing, tearing paper, pouring ink, etc., often in reverse.  Other rooms are filled with projections, drawings and objects based around designs for his recent operatic productions, Mozart’s Magic Flute and Shostakovich’s The Nose.  There is almost too much to take in, a barrage of images and ideas, nearly all in bold black and white, with a rough, handmade texture.  Throughout the exhibit there are many recurring images, including water and bathing, mechanically walking figures, birds and  rhinoceroses, the industrialized landscape, Alfred Jarry’s corrupt king Ubu, and especially Kentridge’s own heavyset self-image.

Kentridge’s work is not colorful, and while it is bold, it is not simplistic.  It is gray and ambiguous and conflicted.   It draws upon the angular dynamism of early-20th-century avant-garde design, but the boldness is more than anything else the magnified theatrical gesture of the human form.  This is the closest contemporary work I know to the great etchings of Goya, the Caprichos and the Disasters of War.  For Kentridge the act of drawing is theatrical, improvisational and demonstrative, and theater is a graphic art where shadows and lines convey ideas and feelings.

Drawing for II Sole 24 Ore (World Walking), 2007, by William Kentridge; Charcoal, gouache, pastel, and colored pencil on paper, Marion Goodman Gallery

I’ll close with a quote from the Phaidon Monograph, William Kentridge, by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev et al, that reveals something about his open-ended creative process:

“Drawing for me is about fluidity.  There may be a vague sense of what you’re going to draw but things occur during the process that may modify, consolidate or shed doubts on what you know.  So drawing is a testing of ideas; a slow-motion version of thought.  It does not arrive instantly like a photograph. The uncertain and imprecise way of constructing a drawing is sometimes a model of how to construct meaning.  What ends in clarity does not begin that way.”

Marina Abramovic:  The Artist Is Present, organized by Klaus Biesenbach, Chief Curator at Large, The Museum of Modern Art, and Director, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, is on view through May 31, 2010, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

William Kentridge:  Five Themes, originally organized for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Norton Museum of Art by Mark Rosenthal, is on view through May 17, 2010 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Images in this post link back to the sites where I found them.

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