DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Reverse Engineering a Drawing

Twists, 2010 by Fred Hatt

Reverse engineering is taking something apart to find out how it was put together.  The term usually applies to technology or manufactured products, particularly in the case of competitors seeking to discover trade secrets or make knockoffs.  I’ve never heard the phrase applied to an artwork, but a drawing or painting does conceal stages of construction.  In my last post I wrote about artist William Kentridge.  His method of charcoal drawing animation reveals the drawings he exhibits as processes of exploration and development.

Over the last seven years I’ve been making large-scale drawings with multiple overlapping figures.  Each of these is created in close collaboration with a single model.  I call them “chaos compositions” because their process involves drawing over and over on the same page to create a field of chaos, and then working to find a dynamic structure within that chaos.  Many examples, and an explanation of the process, can be found in this gallery on my portfolio site, and others in the blog posts “Time and Line”.  The stages of development of a chaos composition are shown in the post “Composing on the Fly”.

“Twists”, pictured at the top of the post, is a recent chaos composition, 48″ x 60″, or 122 cm x 152 cm, aquarelle crayon on paper, created in collaboration with the great model Madelyn.  Figurative elements are clearly visible, but the overlapping is dense enough that much of it is essentially abstract.  Different colors are used in different figures, making it possible to discern connected parts of individual figures by following lines of certain colors.  I’m trying to create images that require a more active approach to viewing than the traditional straightforward pictorial composition, and finding the starting figures is one way of active looking at these pictures.  It’s a little easier to do this with the original drawings, in which the figures are close to life size, than with a small online reproduction, but here I’m going to do it for you, using cropping and selective digital erasure to separate the component figures.

Figure 1, from Twists, 2010, by Fred Hatt

The lower part of this figure is easy to see in the finished piece, but the upper part has been heavily overdrawn and is difficult to find.  On these re-separated figures, where you see many other colors crossing over some of the contour lines, as in the left arm above, that is an indication of great density in the final piece.  Below, two figures from the left side of the picture.

Figure 2, from Twists, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Figure 3, from Twists, 2010, by Fred Hatt

One of these figures serves to frame the lower left corner of the picture, while the other turns away, to reach out of the frame.  The line of the back has been sketched twice in the one just above, once in pink and then in a light blue, with a slightly altered repeat of the pose.  Toward the middle of the piece, there are several more dramatic poses.

Figure 4, from Twists, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Figure 5, from Twists, 2010, by Fred Hatt

The figure below is particularly hidden.  The hand, in white, really stands out, but the forward-bending figure with the crossed feet is difficult to distinguish in the dense mass of line and color.

Figure 6, from Twists, 2010, by Fred Hatt

The one below is a little easier to see, but it’s an unusual pose that may be hard to figure out, and the drawing is somewhat distorted.  The model was twisting and leaning to her left side, so the angle of view appears to be from below.

Figure 7, from Twists, 2010, by Fred Hatt

The figure below is in the upper right corner and has much less overlapping than the central figures.  This pose is a complex sculptural arrangement of counterbalanced curves.

Figure 8, from Twists, 2010, by Fred Hatt

In the middle of the composition is this standing figure, which is ghostly and hard to see.  Nearly every part of this figure is masked by something more dominant in its vicinity, including the yellow raised hand, which becomes an echo of the bolder white hand above it.

Figure 9, from Twists, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Now that you’ve seen the drawing deconstructed, look again at the final version.  There are things going on here that can’t be seen in the separated figures, juxtapositions like the multiple hands in the upper middle area, organic shapes that appear between or in the overlaps of other shapes.  It is a picture of energy, a sketch of a single figure moving in time and space, an attempt to see in four dimensions.  I hope that the total is more than the sum of its parts.

Twists, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Thanks again to Madelyn, the model for this piece, a fine model and a great creative collaborator.

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