Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Another Solution to the Problem of the Head

Many problems have more than one solution, and not just more than one workable solution, but more than one optimum solution. This means that one may prefer one solution over another, but that no defense can be made of the preferred solution such that the disfavored one is reasonably eliminated. Certainly this scenario pervades the broad and unevenly lit universe of making art.

Case in point: ways to represent the head. I just worked up a pretty appealing argument for one means of representing the head. It happens to be a means I myself have worked on for many years. But it’s not the only way to do it.

As you may have noticed, I do a lot of work with Leah, a model who is, relative to me and a fair number of other artists, muse-grade. I ordinarily draw and paint her head at various points in the structural/emotional paradigm I was working up last time. Here, for instance, is the preparatory sketch for my painting Blue Leah #2:

Daniel Maidman, Preparatory Sketch for Blue Leah #2, pencil on paper, 15”x22”, 2012

It leans on the emotional, sacrificing some structural accuracy for the sake of mood, while still maintaining approximate fidelity to form. That sounds awfully clinical, like I go in the studio, set a few dials to the desired values, and hit EXECUTE. The act of drawing wasn’t like that at all - this is just how it came out.

Here, on the other hand, is the preparatory sketch for a version of Blue Leah #3 which I later abandoned:

Daniel Maidman, Preparatory Sketch #1 for Blue Leah #3, pencil on paper, 15”x22”, 2012

This happened to come out much more technically: sometimes you start a drawing, and you realize you are getting everything in the right place, and you excitedly ride that wave as far as it will carry you - it is very rewarding to draw without mistakes. That’s what I did here. The elements of personality and mood are still present, but they are subordinate to right form, right shadow shape, right highlight position, absolute line…

Different though these drawings are, they still represent two points in the same continuum. Consider now a third drawing of Leah - this is a preparatory sketch for Meiosis #2 (we’ve discussed it before):

Daniel Maidman, Preparatory Sketch for Meiosis #2: Head, pencil on paper, 15”x11”, 2013

This conforms with something we’ve discussed in the remote past, which I call my natural line. I am always not using it very much because it is so reminiscent of Matisse and Picasso, who got there first, and I am always vowing to use it more, because it is genuinely mine and I like it.

Because I do not practice with it very much, I can really only access it around models I have worked with so much that I have the sense of them in my hand and heart; it is a blindfolded true line, if you like. To my eye, it is outside the architectonics-of-the-head paradigm altogether. Certainly there is something right about it, but that rightness is no longer empirical or derived from an analytical model deeply compatible with the empirical. You can’t shade one of these the way you shade an ordinary drawing, or it turns into crap:

Daniel Maidman, Preparatory Sketch for Meiosis #2: Body, pencil on paper, 15”x11”, 2013

That turning-into-crapness yields an important clue, that this mode of linemaking exists outside the classical accounting of observed form.

So anyway, I decided I wanted a more worked-up take on the version of Leah’s face I drew in my natural line. I wanted to make a painting of it. How? How? How? Well - it’s eventually a question of diving in and seeing what happens. So I drew something very like it onto a canvas and got Leah to come in and we sat down and banged out a painting in three hours.

Daniel Maidman, Leah, oil on linen, 20”x16”, 2014

A few thoughts on this painting. First of all, it doesn’t look like my ordinary work. The values are much less contrasty and more clustered toward middle grey. I have preserved the centrality of line. There is no real three-dimensionality to the forms. It doesn’t really look real.

And yet it has other qualities which I have pursued a long time and feel like I caught here, a bit, at last. Leah appears not in her guise as a highly particularized set of forms, but as a day-to-day person; we don’t see her forms more astutely than we do those of people we run into in normal life. That backgrounding of form provides space for aspects of personality I can’t catch in my more developed work - the casual facets of personality: a turn, an interested glance, the intake of breath, a fleeting thought. I asked her to put her shirt back on because I realized I wasn’t painting an Eternal Nude, but a civilian. This is how you paint a friend. It comes closer to what we like about Hals - Hals is the master of the brief and the transitional. That’s why art history puts up with his sloppy, half-assed brushwork. Those awful marks are the byproducts of the only means of catching spontaneous liveliness: painting fast and not trying to get it right.

I liked this pretty well when I got done, and I like it more now. It’s been growing on me, in a friendly way.

I hope this works for you as an example of another optimal solution to a problem. I sometimes worry that the breadth of my techniques (not that broad, but not monopolar either) will make my body of work seem uncommitted. But it’s not that; it’s that life is very various, and I want to make room in my own life and work to say “yes” to as much of it as possible.

No comments:

Post a Comment