DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Creating a Masterpiece: Frank Moore

Frank Moore, 2011 photo by Sasha Cagen, cropped

Frank Moore, 2011 photo by Michael LaBash, cropped

One of my mentors, the California-based writer and performance artist Frank Moore, died last October at the age of 67. Frank was born with cerebral palsy and was unable to walk or talk, but he was determined to break out of his own isolation. Once he had done that, he kept on going in that direction, which led him to create a kind of initiatory performance art aimed at dissolving the artificial barriers between people, and between individuals and their own creative power. (Frank tells his own story in the classic autobiography Art of a Shaman.) I first encountered Frank’s writings in the MIT-published journal of performance studies TDR: The Drama Review, and in 1989 was privileged to experience “Journey to Lila”, one of his all-night participatory shamanic erotic ritual performances at Franklin Furnace in New York.

Frank Moore and his Chero Company at Franklin Furnace, NYC, 1989, photo by Eric Kroll

Frank Moore and his Chero Company at Franklin Furnace, NYC, 1989, photo by Eric Kroll

“Journey to Lila” was an eight-hour series of experiences, by turns silly, sexy, disconcerting, frightening, ridiculous, liberating, playful, warm, and bonding. By the end of it most of the audience was undressed and playing with each other like naked children. While some moments of it could be challenging, I never felt that I or anyone was unsafe or coerced or being exploited or laughed at.

When the World Wide Web came along in the mid-1990’s, I discovered that Frank Moore was a pioneer in using that new communication medium, with his extensive “Web of All Possibilities“. I was able to reconnect with him and his tribal extended family, got to know Frank personally, and participated in several other Frank Moore performance events over the years (I’m in the left background in the photo below). The first artwork I ever put on the web was on the Featured Artists section of Frank’s website. I consider Frank a mentor and one of the few genuine geniuses I have been privileged to know.

Frank Moore's "Free Tribal Hot Skin Passion Music/Dance Jam",  Surf Reality, New York City, 2002, photo by Michael LaBash

Frank Moore’s “Free Tribal Hot Skin Passion Music/Dance Jam”,
Surf Reality, New York City, 2002, photo by Michael LaBash

I’ve seen a lot of great performances and experienced many immersive theatrical events, but nothing has had such an enduring transformative effect on me as Frank Moore’s “Journey to Lila”. It came along at a pivotal moment in my life, and it opened my mind. I had recently moved to New York and was trying to figure out how to live my life as an artist. I was fascinated by magic and was reading about things like Tantra and alchemy, but magic remained a sort of abstraction for me. I had thought of it more as a subject matter for art, as symbolism or as fantasy, only pointing towards mystical truth. Frank showed me that magic can be the operational technique of art, that it is a completely practical approach to transforming reality or creating freedom, and that its materials can be utterly humble (a cup of water, a roll of aluminum foil, a Sonny and Cher song) and its actions very simple.

Frank Moore and dancers in the "Outrageous Beauty Revue", 1987, photographer unknown

Frank Moore and dancers in the “Outrageous Beauty Revue”, Mabuhay Gardens, San Francisco, 1987, photographer unknown

Ever since, I have understood that people deeply desire freedom, that they want to live in a world of love and joy, and that if you invite people to play with you in such a world, many of them will. It has nothing to do with the harsh things our society uses to drive and motivate people – fear, envy, guilt, competition. The magical way is the way of a pure heart – which, in Frank’s case, provides the perfect complement to a dirty mind. Frank showed me a wild but gentle way of freedom, and I still try to follow it in my own artistic career and in my own life.

Americans always talk about Freedom and Liberty as our great values, but everybody has different ideas about what these words mean. I grew up in the American West, where the icon of freedom is the lone gunslinger, and where a common notion of personal liberty understands it as autonomy, or as having your own turf where no one else can meddle, protecting yourself and your family or community with fences and guns, and if you’re rich, with dollars and lawyers. Of course, everyone needs a place to feel at home, and fiercely defending that is important, but to really feel free, to have the kind of freedom you need to make art, to make love, to nurture people, requires trust and connection, not autonomy but interdependence. That is the kind of freedom Frank Moore wanted to foster.

For a disabled person like Frank, dependency is obvious and it’s impossible to believe in the delusion of autonomy. Frank had to gather helpers around him, and he would never have been able to do all he did without the support of his larger community and his intimate tribal group, which, at the end included Mikee, Linda, Erika, Alexi and Corey. Any tribute to Frank is also a tribute to Frank’s people.

Frank was a rebel of the underground, and his use of sexuality and messiness and a deliberately crude aesthetic helped to keep him in that place below the radar where magic can be safe. I am sure that many people were transformed by his work as I was, and that the seeds he sowed will be producing nourishing fruit far into the future.

Frank Moore communicating with his head pointer, U. C. Berkeley, 1984, photo by Mary Sullivan

Frank Moore communicating with his head pointer, U. C. Berkeley, 1984, photo by Mary Sullivan

Frank Moore’s publishing company, Inter-Relations, just put out a posthumous collection of Frank’s writings called Frankly Speaking. It’s full of great stuff, but I’d like to share here a brief piece that gets at something profound about the creative process, wisdom that is often neglected by teachers. Since many of my readers are artists or art students, this should serve as a good introduction to Frank Moore’s way. I’ve interspersed the text with some of my own doodle-like abstract watercolor sketches, not as illustrations of Frank’s essay but just as my tribute to Frank Moore, examples of my own attempts to work with the kind of freedom Frank is talking about here.

Pedestrian Surge, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Pedestrian Surge, 2014, by Fred Hatt

CREATING A MASTERPIECE, by Frank Moore, published in Lummox Journal, March 2000, included in Frankly Speaking: A Collection of Essays, Writings & Rants by Frank Moore, 2014, published by Inter-Relations

An artist starts, let’s say, a painting with a set idea of what he is going to paint. Sooner or later he makes a “mistake” – a color or a line which doesn’t fit in the original idea – which “ruins” the painting. When this happens most people give up, thinking that they are not cut out to be artists, and withdraw back into the common existence. Others try to pretend that they didn’t make the mistake, that the color or line isn’t there on the canvas. They go on painting as before. When they are done, they have painted the shadow of what they wanted. Morevoer, this shadow is covered with a haze. Others keep starting over whenever they make mistakes, not accepting any mistakes. They are rewarded for their endurance with the perfect copy of the thought form which they had held for all this time. They are rewarded by what they think they want to create. Their thought form has been brought down into the material plane. The creation is perfect. But it is not a masterpiece. It is perfect within the limitations placed around it by the rigidness of the artist. The work is perfect, but not free.

Wetlands, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Wetlands, 2014, by Fred Hatt

A masterpiece is perfect and free. The master artist paints an adventure in color, words, or notes. What others see as mistakes, he sees as challenges, boxes out of which he has worked as the basis on which he creates a totally new, fresh pattern. These challenges, boxes, keystones, keep appearing as he works, demanding the artist’s flexibility. If the artist looks back, trying to hold on to what he thought the painting was or would be, he gets trapped in a box out of which he must battle or be turned into a rigid, bitter pillar of salt. The artist has to keep his whole attention on the swirling colors in front of him in order to be the creator.

Burning Bush, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Burning Bush, 2014, by Fred Hatt

To create a masterpiece, the artist has to use and risk every bit of himself. But he also has to create with God, for God is the one who creates what most people call mistakes, and that the master artists sees as his tools and materials. God does not create for the artist. God just provides the tools, the guiding bumps. It is up to the artist’s free will whether he creates or gets dragged down by the weight of the tools. When the artist is creating, he feels no weight.

Growth Spurt, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Growth Spurt, 2014, by Fred Hatt

The most important masterpiece is a lifetime. This is a statement of hard fact. Creating a masterpiece in every day living is governed by the same rules as creating a masterpiece in paint, but much harder because the artist is also the canvas. In every period of time, in every land, there are a few masterpieces of art and writing. But a masterpiece lifetime is much rarer.

Orb, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Orb, 2014, by Fred Hatt

“Creating a Masterpiece” is on pages 64-65 of Frankly Speaking: A Collection of Essays, Writings & Rants by Frank Moore.

Photos of Frank Moore and his performances were found on the web. Clicking on the photos will take you to the sites where I found the photos.


Pointz of Contention

Mural by Dase, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Dase, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

5 Pointz Aerosol Art Center, Inc. is a 200,000 square foot factory building occupying a whole block in Long Island City, the southwesternmost district of the borough of Queens, in New York City. Since 1993 the building’s owner has allowed the building to be used as a fully legal venue for urban graffiti artists from around the world to showcase their artistry.

5 Pointz Loading Dock Area, photo by Fred Hatt

5 Pointz Loading Dock Area, photo by Fred Hatt

Curator Jonathan Cohen, also known as the artist Meres One, selects artists, who must submit work samples and designs to get permission to paint at 5 Pointz. The building is regularly renewed with new murals replacing those that have had a good run.

Mural by Cortes, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Cortes, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

The center is well known to anyone who rides the 7 train, whose elevated tracks pass right by 5 pointz. It’s directly across Jackson Avenue from PS1, MoMA’s satellite museum devoted to contemporary art, and many visitors to that august institution also visit 5 Pointz to see a kind of contemporary art that springs from the streets rather than the academies. If you’ve never heard of 5 Pointz, perhaps you’ve seen it in music videos by Kurtis Blow, Doug E. Fresh, Joss Stone, or Joan Jett.

Mural by Sinxero, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Sinxero, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Jerry Wolkoff, the long-time owner of the building, has made it available as a painting space for artists over the past twenty years (Back in the ’90’s it was called Phun Factory). The idea was to discourage graffiti vandalism by offering spray paint artists a legal place to exhibit their work. Particularly since Jonathan Cohen’s curatorship began about eleven years ago, the place has become one of New York’s cultural landmarks, a destination for practitioners and appreciators of street art from all over the world.

Mural by Meres One, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Meres One, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

5 Pointz Posted Rules, photo by Fred Hatt

5 Pointz Posted Rules, photo by Fred Hatt

Jerry Wolkoff’s son, David Wolkoff, is a developer. He wants to tear down 5 Pointz to build two luxury high-rise condo towers. Manhattan and the parts of Brooklyn and Queens that are close to Manhattan are already glutted with fancy condos for the ultra-rich. Many of the most expensive apartments are not even used as residences, just held as investments by people who have a lot of excess money they need to park. New York, along with London and other international cities, has been subjected to massive development of this kind in recent years. It’s made it more difficult for artists and other middle class and working class people to live in the city, but money rules over all.

Mural by Joseph Meloy, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Joseph Meloy, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Long Island City is one of those parts of New York that’s a short train ride to Midtown Manhattan but still has a lot of old, decrepit industrial buildings and warehouses, so it’s a natural spot for development. On the blocks around 5 Pointz you’ll see wholesalers and taxi dispatchers and sidewalk food cart garages, but gourmet restaurants and designer boutiques are nearby, and the blue glass Citicorp Tower looms above the art center.

5 Pointz and Citicorp Tower, Long Island City, Queens, New York, photo by Fred Hatt

5 Pointz and Citicorp Tower, Long Island City, Queens, New York, photo by Fred Hatt

The City Council voted unanimously to allow the bulldozing of 5 Pointz. The developers agreed to feature some aerosol artworks on the facade at the base of the new building, to “preserve the heritage and legacy” of 5 Pointz. It is hard for me to imagine, though, that the managers of a luxury condo building will allow the kind of freewheeling spirit of creative anarchy that the old 5 Pointz has embodied.

Mural by DT, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by DT, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

I think destroying 5 Pointz is a crime and a disgrace. It was almost exactly fifty years ago that developers were allowed to raze the old Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, a true temple of transit and one of the great architectural masterpieces of McKim, Mead & White, to build the uninspired arena of Madison Square Garden with today’s depressing Penn Station in the basement. It was a true act of vandalism that shocked the aesthetic conscience of the city and led to the rise of the historic preservation movement.

Mural by Monsieur Plume, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Monsieur Plume, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

5 Pointz is no masterpiece of architecture like the old Penn Station, and the art on its walls is not all of transcendent quality, but neither is all the art on the walls inside PS1 or other centers for contemporary art. These institutions are valuable because they are vital laboratories of creative ferment, filled with many clashing varieties of contemporary art, not yet culled by time, the ultimate curator. We go to be wowed by some works, bored by others, and angered by others.

Mural by James Cochran, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by James Cochran, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

A lot of the contemporary art in PS1 is abstruse and condescending, or crudely and pointlessly transgressive, or gimmicky and commercial, but there’s a great variety and it can be a very exciting museum to visit. I’ve often thought of 5 Pointz as PS1’s outdoor annex, offering work that is grand in scale, with vivid colors given their fullest expression in the bright light of day.

Mural by Nicholai Khan, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Nicholai Khan, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

The City Council would surely never approve the destruction of an established museum such as PS1, with wealthy donors and corporate sponsors and a respectable board of trustees. 5 Pointz, though, has none of those recognized signifiers of legitimacy.

Mural by TooFly, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by TooFly, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Currently the most famous “street artist” in the world, that master of self-promotion Banksy, is in New York, sending his fans on a sort of treasure hunt to find the new pieces of work he’s installing around the city at regular intervals.

Kool Herc mural by Danielle Mastrion, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Kool Herc mural by Danielle Mastrion, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mayor Bloomberg criticized Banksy, saying “Art is art, and nobody’s a bigger supporter of the arts than I am. I just think there are some places for art and there are some places [not for] art. And you running up to somebody’s property or public property and defacing it is not my definition of art.” And indeed, Banksy is painting graffiti on property he doesn’t own, without permission, but of course he gets away with it because he’s a celebrity and an international art star who also sells work in galleries for serious prices.

Mural by Kram, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Kram, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

The artists of 5 Pointz are nearly anonymous. It took me quite a bit of digging to identify the names of the artists who did the pieces pictured in this post, and still I couldn’t find some of them, and may have made some mistakes. If anyone who is knowledgeable can correct or amend my picture captions, I’d truly appreciate it.

Mural by unidentified artist, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by unidentified artist, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Some of these artists have surely engaged in illegal tagging elsewhere, but all the work at 5 Pointz is completely legal.

Mural by El Nino de las Pinturas, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by El Nino de las Pinturas, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

I took all the photos in this post last weekend, and if you can visit 5 Pointz soon you can see the originals. Most of the murals are eight or ten feet tall, and these small photos don’t really do them justice.

Mural by Rimx & Nepo, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Rimx & Nepo, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

You’ll notice the great variety of styles and themes, abstraction and figuration, whimsy and seriousness, pop cultural and art historical references. There is a lot of the wildstyle lettering that came out of the New York school of graffiti art of the original hip hop era, and traditional lowbrow motifs like skulls and monsters, but there are also realistic portraits and some truly sophisticated painting techniques.

Mural by Fumero, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Fumero, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

The city will do nothing to stop the celebrity Banksy’s illegal work, but they will sanction the razing of the outsider artists’ legal work at 5 Pointz. They’ll protect the gallery-anointed contemporary art at PS1 but not the street-culture contemporary art at 5 Pointz. It’s hard not to see this as an example of a class-based double standard.

Mural by True Fame, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by True Fame, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

As of the time of this writing, there is a temporary injunction stopping the bulldozers, based on a claim by seventeen of the 5 Pointz artists, invoking the 1990 Visual Artists Rights Act.

Mural by Mr Blob, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Mr Blob, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

To be fair to the Wolkoffs, they do own the building, and we can be grateful to them for having made it available as a place for the creation and exhibition of artwork over the past two decades. But I find it disappointing that someone who owns such a collection of art would decide to destroy it to put up more luxury condos in New York. Surely there are other options available to billionaire developers.

Mural by Meres One, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Meres One, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Click on the link and look at the principles of the Visual Artists Rights Act. No one would question the application of this law if someone who owned a recognized masterpiece like Picasso’s Guernica announced plans to destroy it. The court will need to determine whether works by little-known artists, not acclaimed by the curators of major institutions, and in a genre associated with criminal vandalism, deserve the same moral rights as the Picasso.

Mural by Auks, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Auks, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Fine art by recognized masters has been destroyed by its owners in the past. A famous case is Nelson Rockefeller’s destruction of “Man at the Crossroads”, Diego Rivera’s commissioned fresco at Rockefeller Center, which was interpreted as anti-capitalist propaganda.

Mural by Kid Lew, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Kid Lew, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

The boundaries of art that is recognized as such by the arbiters of culture are subject to change over time. Not long ago, the common attitude among serious art curators would have been to dismiss popular artists such as Norman Rockwell and R. Crumb as “mere illustrators”, not fine artists, but that is beginning to change. A little further back, the art authorities in France dismissed the impressionist painters as crude daubers, not worthy to be considered in the same league as their favorites, painters we now see as stodgy academic bores.

Mural by Esteban del Valle, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Esteban del Valle, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

I suspect the work of some of these street artists will some day be seen as important work – not all of it, but some of it. For now, these artists are clearly underdogs, Davids confronting Goliaths of great wealth.

David & Goliath, after Caravaggio, mural by unidentified artist, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

David & Goliath, after Caravaggio, mural by unidentified artist (Reckin’ Krew?), 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Recent decades in New York have seen a significant loss of the city’s diverse cultural manifestations – not just street art but funky mom-and-pop businesses, community gardens, eccentric neighborhoods and vibrant local artistic scenes – to make way for generic apartment towers and homogenized franchise businesses. A recent editorial by Talking Heads frontman David Byrne expresses feelings I hear often expressed among New York’s creatives. Will history see rampant commercial development as a greater act of vandalism than graffiti tagging?

Mural by Onur, Senor, Wes21 and Kkade, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Onur, Senor, Wes21 and Kkade, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

If 5 Pointz is razed, the center of gravity for street art in NYC is likely to shift to the Bushwick Collective, an area around the intersection of Troutman Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in Brooklyn where curator Joseph Ficalora has invited street artists to create elaborate works on the many blank industrial walls. It doesn’t have the high-profile location or the single massive building of 5 Pointz, but it’s already become a destination for the practitioners of aerosol art and their appreciators.

Mural by The Yok & Sheryo, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by The Yok & Sheryo, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

I think street art is a vital and important part of the visual arts culture of our time. Let’s not dismiss this work based on class prejudice.

Mural by Mataone, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Mural by Mataone, 5 Pointz, photo by Fred Hatt

Update added November 19, 2013: Last night, under cover of darkness, crews working on behalf of the developers smeared over all of 5 Pointz’ murals with white paint. The “Graffiti Mecca” is no more.

My friend Steven Speliotis memorialized the whitewashing in this video:



Self-Portrait, Skull, 1958, drawing by Alice Neel

In time for Halloween and the Day of the Dead, I give you a collection of skulls and other personifications of death and horror from the art of the past several centuries.  If you’re sensitive to violent, creepy, disturbing imagery, don’t scroll down.

Totentanz (Dance of Death), illustration by Michael Wolgemut from Liber Chronicarum, also known as the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493, by Hartmann Schedel

In the wake of the famines, plagues and wars of the late medieval period in Europe, there arose a genre of popular allegorical murals, prints, and plays called Totentanz or Danse Macabre, the Dance of Death.  Often there’s a series of images showing corpses or skeletons dancing with commoners and kings, popes and peasants.

Death and the Heathen Woman, from the medieval Preacher Totentanz mural of Basel, copy by Emanuel Büchel, c. 1770

These images say life is fleeting and precarious, death is ever-near.  High-born or low, Death will get you in the end.

Totentanz mural in the Anthony Chapel, St. Nicholas Church, Talinn, c. 1490, by Bernt Notke

Surely the Totentanz was an expression of something deeply felt by the people living in this time, who saw death everywhere around them.  The priest could point to it to urge repentance, since the end could come without warning.  The hedonist could see it as a spur to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh while they last.

Death and the Devil Surprising Two Women, c. 1505, print by Daniel Hopfer

Mortality is not simply an abstract fact for mortals, it is personal.  It comes to take you away from your life and your loved ones.  So it must be personified, and it is often shown as a skeleton or a decaying corpse that is animated, to show the horror we feel at the decay of the flesh.

Dead Lovers, c. 1470, by an anonymous artist

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, a master of deep natural perspective and complex figurative compositions, transformed the simple Totentanz scenes into a panorama of war and executions, famine, torture, and madness.  Click on the image to follow a link to a much larger version of this landscape of hell on earth, big enough to scroll around and see all the horrific details.

The Triumph of Death, 1562, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The sense of death as a corruption that devours life from within has been expressed by artists closer to our own time.  For a 1945 movie, directed by Albert Lewin, based on Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Henrique Medina made a straight portrait of actor Hurd Hatfield that was gradually, over the course of filming, transformed by painter Ivan Albright into this image of walking decay.  Click here to see before and after versions.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1943, by Ivan Albright

Similarly, Francis Bacon transformed Velasquez’ strikingly realistic portrait of Pope Innocent X into a scream of modern existential dread.

Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1953, by Francis Bacon

A century or two after the era of the Totentanz, the omnipresence of death was perhaps felt with a little more distance, and the prevailing genre of painting meditating on death was the Vanitas, usually a still-life composition incorporating a skull or skulls.  “Vanitas” refers to the line from Ecclesiastes that declares “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity,” so it has some of the same meaning as the Totentanz, but considerably less of the visceral feeling of horror.

Vanitas Still Life, 1672, by Aelbert Jansz. van der Schoor

The Totentanz and the Vanitas are both considered versions of a more inclusive artistic motif called “Memento Mori” – Latin for “Remember you will die.”

Still Life with a Skull, c. 1650, by Philippe de Champagne

Of course artists also study skulls and skeletons as part of learning anatomy, the better to depict the human form full of life, and many artists become fascinated with bones as elegant forms.  Paul Cézanne, the post-impressionist “painter’s painter” made several Vanitas still-life pictures at the turn of the 20th century, as he faced his own mortality.

Pyramid of Skulls, 1901, by Paul Cézanne

During a brief stint in a classical art academy in Antwerp, where skeletons were studied as part of the curriculum, Vincent van Gogh painted this mischievous smoking skeleton.

Skull with a Burning Cigarette, 1886, by Vincent van Gogh

James Ensor, Belgian satirist and proto-surrealist, depicted pointless struggle in the form of skulls with mismatched jaws, wearing military garb and fighting over a bit of fish.

Skeletons Disputing a Smoked Herring, 1891, by James Ensor

Contemporary sculptor Kris Kulski makes ornate monochromatic constructions, many of them incorporating skeletons.  Here a giant skeleton appears to be building a city along its own spine.

The Decision, 2007, sculpture by Kris Kuksi

Yet another often-revisited motif in the Memento Mori tradition is Death and the Maiden.  This gives the artist the chance to contrast youth and beauty with repulsion and decay, combining sex and death in what artists found to be a potent thematic brew, pushing two primal buttons at once for a creepy frisson.  Hans Baldung was an early master of the erotic horror genre.

Death and the Maiden, c. 1519, by Hans Baldung

Throw in morality and religion with the sex and death, and you can really have your cake and eat it too.

Triptych of Earthly Vanity and Divine Salvation, c. 1485, by Hans Memling

The Death and the Maiden theme has also survived into modern art.  How could the famously death- and sex-obsessed Edvard Munch resist it?

Death and the Maiden, 1894, print by Edvard Munch

Käthe Kollwitz sees the theme from a female perspective, and transforms the maiden into a mother holding a child in this image of death as predator.

Death Seizing a Woman, 1934, print by Käthe Kollwitz

For Hans Bellmer, mortality and sexuality are fundamentally linked in the depths of the psyche, and both are arousing and terrifying: Eros and Thanatos.

Instructions to Sexuality II, 1974, print by Hans Bellmer

The medieval view of death and horror was of something intensely real and palpable.  By the age of enlightenment, artists tend to express a romanticized fear of madness, of the unknown, of the supernatural – something we still feel in some part of our psyches where reason’s light fails to penetrate.

The Nightmare, 1791, by Henry Fuseli

Goya obsessively depicted horror and madness and evil, both in the absurdities of human behavior and the very real devastation of war.

Disparate de miedo (Absurdity of Fear), from Los Disparates, 1815-1823, print series by Francisco Goya

Japanese artists of the same period also display a wonderfully vivid imagination for visualizing the stories of ghosts and horror that abound in Japanese folklore and literature.  Here are works from two masters: Hokusai and Kuniyoshi.

Ghost of Kohada Koheiji, c. 1830, print by Katsuhika Hokusai

Detail from Princess Takiyasha summons a skeletal spectre to frighten Mitsukuni, c. 1845, a triptych of prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

In the later nineteenth century, death is seen more in a mournful light than one of terror.  No longer the dancing zombie of the middle ages, Death calmly ferries you to the set of a tragic grand opera.

Isle of the Dead, 1883 version, by Arnold Böcklin

Death is a symbol – the Grim Reaper, horseman of the apocalypse.

Death on a Pale Horse, 1865, by Gustave Doré

In our time, pop culture is full of images of avengers, terminators, furious warriors and inhuman killers, but it’s mostly fantasy, not our everyday reality.

The Death Dealer, 1973, by Frank Frazetta

I can’t think of a painting that gives a more realistic image of the act of killing than Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith and Holofernes.  It’s far more brutal and horrifying than Caravaggio’s great version of the same scene, and Caravaggio reputedly had real experience with killing.  But Artemisia was an ambitious female painter in a time when ambitious women got no respect, and she must have put the real murderous fury she felt towards men into this chilling work.

Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1612, by Artemisia Gentileschi

The ancient Mesoamerican religions were based around human sacrifice, and figures of death and blood and the underworld abound.

Mayan God of Death, date unknown, stucco sculpture at Palenque, photo by Sherry Hardage

The skull or calavera image survives in today’s Mexican culture in the jaunty decorative skulls and skeletons of the Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos,  November 1st, a time to honor ancestors and perhaps to be cheerful in the face of death.

Las Calveras, Cancun, Mexico, contemporary photo by Tiffany Shu

Elaborately decorated calaveras are a tradition with endless variations, such as this visionary Huichol psychedelica.

Huichol Beaded Skull, contemporary creation by Our Exquisite Corpse design team

Posada, a popular Mexican illustrator of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, used the calavera as a basic motif for social satire and political cartoons.  This tarantula-skull is a caricature of General José Victoriano Huerta Márquez, Mexico’s brutal dictator at the time.

Calavera Huertista, 1914, print by José Guadalupe Posada

Through the twentieth century, much of the art of horror and death is about war.  The Great War of 1914-18 harvested vast swathes of Europe’s youth and left many more maimed and traumatized.

The Field of the Slain, 1916, by Evelyn De Morgan

The Victorian image of a dark angel, aesthetically romanticized, survived for a while as the predominant artistic depiction of Death.

Prospect Park War Memorial, 1921, sculpture by Augustus Lukeman, 2003 photo by Fred Hatt

At the same time, through this period, European artists like Picasso with his Demoiselles d’Avignon, composer Stravinsky with Sacre du Printemps, and writer Alfred Jarry with the play Ubu Roi, had been discovering the power of a rawer, more primal approach to expression, and many found it the only way to truly depict the horror of war.

Skull, 1924, by Otto Dix

Of the work below, full of chaotic energy, the artist said, “This is a painting I painted after the defeat of the Republicans in Spain.  This is obviously an ironic title [“Angel of the Hearth”] to denote a kind of animal that kills and destroys everything in its path.  That was the impression I had at the time, of what was possible to happen in the world, and in that I was right.”

I think the title “Angel of the Hearth” may refer to the fact that the violent ideologies of Fascism, Nazism and Stalinism begin from a claim to stand as protectors of the homeland, and of the purity of their cultures and races.

L’Ange du Foyer (Angel of the Hearth), 1937, by Max Ernst

Mexican painter Siqueiros went to spain to fight against the Fascists.  His painted response to the war, from the same year as Ernst’s, expresses a more emotional experience of devastation and loss.

Echo of a Scream, 1937, by David Alfaro Siqueiros

Death taking his victims in his pitiless embrace is a timeless image.  Here’s a version painted by Vietnam veteran William Myles.

Death Taking a Soldier, 1997, by William Myles

Henry Moore’s sculpture “Nuclear Energy” is on the campus of the University of Chicago where the world’s first nuclear reactor was built.  It is an abstract image of power, but it evokes both the skull and the mushroom cloud of the nuclear bomb, perhaps to remind the scientists working on that campus that Death is ever near, just as he was six hundred years ago in the time of the Totentanz.

Nuclear Energy, 1967, by Henry Moore, photographer unknown

All images in this post, except for one that is a photograph taken by me, were found on the web.  Clicking on the photos links to the sites where the pictures were found, and in many cases, to larger versions of these images.


What Will Last?

Filed under: Art and Society,Art History — Tags: , , — fred @ 23:24

Sumerian Cuneiform Tablet, c. 3000 BCE

A friend used to like to say I have a mind like a steel sieve.  My semantic memory (for general knowledge, concepts and facts) is pretty good, but my episodic memory (for my own life experiences) is weak.  My sense of my own history is vague, a collection of hazy dream images.  Perhaps this keeps me feeling young, as I don’t carry around the weight of the past, but it also gives me the sensation everything is always slipping away.  I think this sense, early on, made me interested in documenting and archiving things, collecting images, books, and recordings.  As a kid my favorite toys were the cassette recorder and the 8mm movie camera, tools for capturing fleeting moments.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the impulse to save things, and the factors that make cultural products survive or disappear.  In this post I share some of these thoughts for your consideration.  Don’t expect me to offer any good solutions!

I have a room filled with my own drawings and photographs.  I keep boxes of papers, shelves of books and discs and tapes, and several terabytes of digital files.  A few years ago I had to move twice within two years.  Those moves prompted me to get rid of a lot of stuff – I let go of two thirds of my books and most of my music and dumped tons of paper, but the archive remains vast.  If I didn’t live in the city, where space is expensive, I’m sure I’d have kept even more.

Self portrait with my books, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

I grew up in a house filled with books and records, in a family of intellectual collectors verging on hoarders.  My mother has particularly recognized the necessity of organizing and distilling things into a useable form, and has, over the last several years, assembled a series of beautiful scrapbooks documenting the family history.  Still, I know she feels overwhelmed by the enormity of the task.

Page from Hatt family history scrapbook, assembled by Martha Hatt

We save things to carry what we value of the past into the future.  We still find inspiration in the work of creators and thinkers long dead.  As artists, we hope that something we create may not only speak to our contemporaries, but survive to inspire future generations.  I’d like to see my work preserved after I am gone, but I’m afraid my lack of marketing efforts or serious art-world status may doom it to the dumpster.

In the art supply store, paper is labeled as acid-free and archival, and paint pigments are ranked for permanence.  But stable and durable materials won’t preserve your work after you’re gone unless those who receive it think it’s worth saving.  Cultural change, war and disaster, chance misplacements and discoveries, can doom or save artworks.  Here are a few examples:

Child-Headed Whiplash-Tail Blengins, date unknown, by Henry Darger

The reclusive artist Henry Darger’s obsessional writings and paintings on paper, work he never shared with anyone while he was alive, were preserved only because his landlord, Nathan Lerner, an established photographer/artist, recognized the creative merit of the work found in Darger’s apartment after his death.  Now Darger is much more famous than Lerner.

Pennsylvania Station, Concourse from South, 1962, photo by Cervin Robinson

New York’s Pennsylvania Station was one of the great buildings of the early 20thcentury, a magnificent temple of trains the same size as St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, but in the early 60’s the interstates and the airlines were supplanting the railroads in American travel, and the vast building was razed to build Madison Square Garden.  Neither its massiveness nor its grandeur could save it.

Portrait of Antonio Vivaldi, artist unknown

Antonio Vivaldi was a well-known composer in his own lifetime, but after his death his work was forgotten and was not part of the classical music canon for nearly 200 years until a boarding school, eager to sell off its dusty archives, asked music historian Alberto Gentili to assess the value of its music manuscripts.  This was in 1926.  Today, Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” is one of the most frequently recorded and performed baroque music compositions of all, and it’s hard to imagine that it was unknown in the time of Mozart and Beethoven, but that is the case.

Francois 1, King of France, c. 1530, by Jean Clouet

An art historian once told me a story about François 1, King of France, who was an important patron of the arts in the Renaissance era, supporting Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea del Sarto, and other great artists of the time.  Apparently the king was a bit of a libertine, and constructed Roman style steam baths in his palace at Fontainebleau, where he hosted parties.  He hung many of his favorite paintings in these steam baths, where they were destroyed by the moisture.  (I tried to verify this story by doing a little online research.  I did find references to the King’s having displayed paintings in his baths – nothing about any specific works having been ruined, but surely constant moisture can’t have been good for them!)

Statue of Buddha in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, shown in 1997, left, and after destroyed by the Taliban, 2001, right, photographer(s) unknown

There are so many stories like this.  The painters considered the greatest in the nineteenth century are mostly forgotten today.  Herman Melville died a failure, his work appreciated by almost no one until decades after his death.  The great manuscripts of antiquity were gathered in the Library of Alexandria, which was burned down in an accident of war.  Statues have been melted down to recover the bronze, or destroyed by religious fanatics as forbidden idols.  Films thought to be forever lost have been found in garden sheds and attics.  Works of the creative spirit are always being destroyed or lost or forgotten, sometimes rediscovered or reconsidered.  It all seems incredibly random.  An artist can try to make something that has the potential to last for a long time, and can hope it will be something people will value enough to protect, but nothing is certain.  The future is a crapshoot.

Hall of Bulls, Cave of Lascaux, photo by Sisse Brimberg

The artworks that survive from the Paleolithic era, 40,000 to 10,000 years ago, are carvings in stone or bone and paintings in deep, difficult-to-access caves.  Surely there were carvings or constructions in wood, paintings on bark or animal skins or fabrics, body art, and many other things, but all of that is gone now.  I doubt that the artists thought of the caves as time capsules for their art, though that’s what they became.  The caves may have been secret ritual places, known to only a few in their time, but the art our paleolithic forebears showed in public is gone, while their deep hidden art still inspires many of us today.

I grew up in an era of analog media – vinyl records, chemical photography, movies on film, books on paper.  When I was in college, we studied Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, which argued that mass media had changed the function of art from something rare and precious and ritualistic into something ubiquitous and ephemeral, public and political.  The digital revolution has accelerated this alteration to the point that it’s now hard even to imagine the magical power that images once had.  Even in my youth, finding a rare book or record in a dusty old shop was still exciting, but now almost anything is available by Google search.  We need a new essayist to write a follow-up to Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Media Avalanche”.

Essayist Walter Benjamin, photographer unknown

In the analog media era, mastering a musical instrument or photographic equipment were intensive crafts, and producing and distributing books or movies or records was an expensive industrial undertaking overseen by gatekeepers.  These factors tended to draw clear lines between amateur and professional artists, and to keep the appearance of new material in any artistic field to a manageable flow that an audience could follow.  Digital tools have made the production and sharing of material so easy that we’re all swamped by mediocrities from artists who haven’t paid their dues or done serious time in the woodshed.  Even before the digital revolution, the arts had a bit of a supply/demand problem.  Suddenly there’s this eruption of material, and the gems must be somewhere in that cataract, but finding them, even recognizing them, isn’t easy.

In our digital world, most images, music, and writings increasingly exist only in digital form on hard drives or memory cards, or on servers in “the cloud”.  You sometimes hear the idea that all of this material is protected from loss by the fact that it’s widely distributed and shared.  How can the ubiquitous cease to be?  But I think digital media have striking vulnerabilities.

Fred Hatt projecting 35mm film in the Airstream trailer projection booth at the HBO/Bryant Park Film Festival, 2011

Some of you may know that besides my art and photography and filmmaking, I work as a freelance motion picture projectionist.  It’s a good trade that offers me a certain level of financial stability I’ve never found from my more creative endeavors.  I project old and new films at places like the Museum of Modern Art, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and the French Institute/Alliance Française.  In the film business, sound recording, film editing, and special effects have been mostly digital for decades now, but until fairly recently most movies were still shot on film and projected on film.  That’s all changing.  Now, when you see a new film at the multiplex, it is almost certainly a digital file played on a server by a high-resolution digital projector, and probably shot with digital cameras as well.  The major film distributors have announced plans to cease production of film prints in the next year or two.

Projectionist with Super Simplex 35mm projector, Capitol Theater, New London, CT, date and photographer unknown

A good 35mm theatrical movie projector will keep working for 50 years if you take good care of it.  Cinema-quality digital projectors cost several times as much and can only be expected to last five to ten years, even if they aren’t rendered obsolete by technological developments before they reach such an advanced age.  Film projectors are 19th century technology, simple mechanical devices, and most things that can go wrong with them can be fixed or at least jerry-rigged by the operator.  The film print is a strip of pictures, 24 projected for every second of running time.  You can look at the film directly and see the pictures on it, and they can be scanned or copied by any potential future technology.  Film prints suffer from some wear and tear, but it’s a gradual deterioration.  A film that has some scratches and dust, or a little color fading, is still watchable.  Technologists use the term “robust” to describe a technology that is reliable and flexible to changing conditions – it bends but does not break, or it deteriorates slowly but still does the job, or it is simple to maintain and fix even while it is running.  35mm is the ultimate example of a robust technology.

Two frames of 35mm motion picture film. The picture is optically “squeezed” to be projected on a wide screen using an anamorphic lens. To the left of the picture area is the analog, optical sound track. A digital sound track is recorded with dots in between the perforations on the left, and another format digital sound track in blue on the edges of the film.  Twenty-four of these frames are projected every second, and the average feature film is about 2 miles or 3 kilometers in length.

The new digital cinema systems, on the other hand, are highly complex and also encumbered by copy-prevention measures that put serious limitations on testing and troubleshooting.  If something goes wrong during projection, the screening usually has to be cancelled, because there is no quick fix.  At this year’s New York Film Festival, a screening of Brian De Palma’s new movie, with the director in attendance, had to be aborted midway due to technical difficulties.  Already most of the projectionists I know have experienced these occasional devastating problems with digital screenings, problems that never happened with film.  Unlike the film print, with its visible image frames, the digital film is nothing but about 150-200 gigabytes of ones and zeroes, highly encrypted.  A small error, a little bit of corruption in such a file can render it completely unplayable, or at least unbearable to watch.

Dolby Cinema Server

All digital files are analog information encoded into binary numbers and recorded microscopically on optical or magnetic media.  Reconstructing the texts, images, or sounds they represent into a form we can use requires both the correct hardware and the correct software – if either one is unavailable, you have a problem.  These technologies are constantly changing.  Already if you have obsolete media like floppy discs, or files recorded in a ten-year-old program, you may have difficulty recovering them today.  These files have become essentially unreadable in a matter of years.  How much more will be lost this way over the course of decades or centuries?

Corrupted jpg camera image file, photo by Sokwhan Huh

Professional archivists suggest that all digital materials should be recopied every few years onto the best available current formats and media.  As long as the speed and efficiency of the technology continues to increase exponentially (as does the quantity of digital material we expect to conserve) this has been possible, but does it really seem completely unlikely that a slowing of the technology, a financial crisis cutting budgets for media archiving, or some other occurrence may erase or render unusable vast quantities of words, images and sounds?  A serious collapse of our technological civilization, even a gradual collapse, due to wars or peak oil or environmental disaster or whatever, would probably completely doom all digital files to extinction.

I envision a time in the twenty-second century when cultural historians will still have great collections of 20th century analog photographs, recordings, films, and printed matter, while much of the 21st century stuff has vanished into a technological memory hole – a digital dark age.

Jpg Corruption, photo by Codell. This is a digital camera file damaged by a loss of power while saving the file.

Perhaps the most permanent material ever discovered for information recording is the clay tablet.  Thousands of such tablets, inscribed in soft clay with a stylus over five thousand years ago, still survive in completely readable form.  Ceramics can be broken, but generally in a way that can be reassembled.  A bull in a china shop can never be as destructive as a corrupt code in a digital system.  Perhaps our creative efforts have a better shot at lasting if they stay closer to earth.

Akkadian Cuneiform Tablet, c. 3000 BCE, photographer unknown

Most of the images in this post were found on the web.  Clicking on a photo links to the site where I found it.


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


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