Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Pencil Hatching the figure(ANA)
Earlier this year Dee called me up to ask if any of my students would be keen to begin a life drawing course with her. That is to draw the living figure which is posing in front of you versus working from a photograph. My response was to want to dive into that space myself. Rather surprised, Dee explained that the teaching would be none other than how we had been taught at Technikon Natal, under skilled artists such as Virginia Mckenny and Fransie Pretorious.

My gaze looked over at the colourful swimming gala I was attending and in a second, as the brain calculates the spaces present, past and future, I said yes. All too often , as teachers we pass on the information and watch the growth and satisfaction in our learners and forget to fill our own tanks.
One  chaotic line eventually appears orderly.(ANA)
Sure I sketch from life whenever I can and the little watercolour and pen sketches are testimont to that BUT, to have someone telling you when one minute is up and to produce 30 gestures in 30 minutes , to remind you of the many facets to be used in drawing is so appreciated.          
We must have done on average 50 gesture drawings per week, 250 to 300 per 5 weeks which is the time frame per course.

Gesture drawing of any sort is paramount to getting the brain fired up. I need to pause here and mention Dee s music compilations. It must have taken Dee hours of sifting through songs to come up with such inspiring combinations of tunes. I literally got lost in " the zone "( a term used to describe the place you are in when you are so focused on what you are doing that nothing around you nor  any other thought can distract you.)

 Essence of movement.(gesture)(ANA)
The leap!(gesture)(ANA)

Slow your brain down(contour)(ANA)
Gesture drawing is the cardiovascular exercises for the brain before the weight and definition part of your routine begins. Contour drawing for me is pure meditation. This practice involves careful looking at your model. Like an ant , your eye travels along the contours of the figure as slowly as your brain reads the information and passes this onto your hand. One barely looks at one s paper. Duncan Stewart once said that 90 percent of the time of drawing should be spent with your eyes on the model. Yet so many people use that 90 percent, with their eyes on the paper then wonder why their drawing looks nothing like what they are seeing. The brain almost has to trust that the hand will receive the information from the hand. You will see that the lines in my contour drawings at times go astray but this actually adds to the mark making and uniqueness of the exercise.

Oil pastel" weight" drawing.(ANA)
Having completed both courses yesterday I look back in admiration at how Dee has put together a very coherent course. And there is no doubt of the hours of research and practising of the exercise needed  on Dee s behalf in order to come up with such great lesson plans. From gesture which looks at essence of movement in space through to eventually capturing the mood of the model specific. We used pencils, on short and long sticks, oil pastels, charcoal, cloths, rubbers (putty and traditional), our elbows and fingers. All the models were well chosen and evoked different characteristics from which we could respond to.
We covered all fundamental aspects needed to execute a drawing.
Here on the right is a "weight" drawing. My thoughts had to be on modelling the body on a two dimensional surface, starting from the centre and moving towards blurry edges. Darkening the areas where I felt the solidity of the figure was.
The studio above gallery ARTSPACE, (ANA)

Indeed, one only needs to look at art history to see that from the Renaissance through to  Picasso, Matisse and Kandinsky and into modern times, evidence that good draughtsmanship was in place before any attempt was made towards abstraction.

Pencil drawing on a long and short stick(ANA)
Dee went through many phases of drawing and some of the phrases that I identified with, and often quote in my own teaching, was this:
-The more one tries to capture the drawing, to own it and to keep it precious...the more it evades you.
-The more you let go and have fun, the more it is likely to settle itself.
-The more one trusts in one's inner voice, gut feeling, inner energy and marries this to what it is one sees, the more peace one gets on the inside, the more the viewer responds to your drawing.

The result is not to see and recognise a perfect drawing but rather the result is the abstract occurring on the inside.

Contact Dee on dee.donaldson4@gmail.com
Charcoal subtraction drawing(ANA)
And in the letting go that comes from processing , we find a language that can communicate cohesion and order. We are able to translate to the viewer our own experience of what it is we are seeing...

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Look at Estelle Hudson s talk from the perspective of DREAMS in the work of Maggie Strachan, Joan Martin and Lara Mellon.

Estelle Hudson standing in front of work by Lara Mellon
Why would these Artists be interested in exploring their paintings from a dream perspective? asks Estelle    (family counsellor with a deep interest in Jungian Psychology)

"Dreams that come to us in our sleep, are messages from the Unconscious, that part of ourselves over which we have no control and contains a wealth of knowledge and wisdom.  The language of our dreams is not the spoken language of everyday but is rich in images and symbols, which when given the time of day, surprise us with the deep meaning and unexpected ways of addressing life's journey." 

Applying this to the paintings of Strachan, Martin and Mellon, one sees these messages from the Unconscious;
not always in control of what emerges;
containing an intuitive and spontaneous knowledge and wisdom;
a language rich in symbols and images; 
an expression of a journey made into colour and tone and medium that deeply satisfies the soul.! 

Hudson drew parallels between an apt exhibition title (LOST, FOUND, STOLEN) and the paintings, suggesting a journey into the Past, of forgotten memories. The process has certainly been about accessing the Unconscious... " memories so deep that it has been like excavating, taking away layers of false perceptions; of childhood understandings, contextual falsehood and traditional indoctrination  -  and arriving at a place, a new place, a fresh view, a more mature understanding of events  and people, ….....that is the story of our lives."

Each painting becomes narrative, the story of the artist's life, the telling of which brings about the creative, restorative and transformational  journey towards Individuation (Carl Jung's word for Wholeness).  Now this doesnt happen in every painting by every artist, but the manner in which these three artists work makes it their reality. 

Hudson makes reference to Carl Jung's autobiography entitled “Memories, Dreams and Reflections”, which for her perfectly reflect these works of art. She then began to unpack some of these artists paintings recently exhibited at the FAT TUESDAY gallery in Kloof , Durban. And it is her thoughts which I shall share with you now.

You will notice that Estelle Hudson continuously asks questions during her narratively executed talk and it is questions like these which we are to ask from our dreams.

"LARA MELLON 'S  landscapes are such moments: riding her horse across the veldt, alone but not lonely, the freedom of those moments are played out on the canvas. For her the journey and not the destination is important. This body of work has been about her resting, restoration and recovery. 
How does solitude and being alone impact your life? 
Where else do you experience this freedom and how important is it for you? 
Is this the place where she claims her wildness, which in Clarissa Pinkola Estes' words 
“means to live a natural life, a place in which the creature has innate integrity and healthy boundaries, ...it is a force which funds all females...it personifies a force that women cannot live without” ( Women who run with the Wolves  Pg 8.) 
Her paintings use the colours of Africa (earth) ; the colour of the spiritual(air, sky). "  
Rides in the mist 1

Mellon in conversation with Hudson at Fat Tuesday

Like all of this body of work, her paintings are small – they demand engagement, a close encounter, encouraging intimacy.  In our dreams too, we are required to engage, have a close encounter, to be intimate with the information that the dream is giving us. 

This would be a time to remind us of how these three artists work together...close cooperation, sharing of symbols, stealing symbols and images from one another with permission. Trusting one another, a friendship of mutuality, reciprocity and generosity.

JOAN MARTIN'S   ghostly trees against a sky of both light and storm remind us of the reality of the opposites.  Carl Jung's statement is relevant: 
                    “It is only when we experience the Opposites of life that Wholeness happens.”
This is repeated again in Lara's sequential progressive paintings from “dark to light”. 

“How we long to achieve the growth the tree fosters in itself, the reach and rootage, the sturdiness and balance between high and low, the way it meets the season, holding its ground.” -  Book of Symbols .   In myths sometimes people are transformed into trees and if we are to ask in the language of dreams, “ What part of Joan is a tree?” because I 
know Joan's paintings and how often the tree emerges, I identify: 
the resin she uses in her paintings has its origin in a tree; 
the tree has an animating spirit and she often will house in her trees articles of sentimental and precious worth.  “The tree as self can come into existence, centred and contained, around which occur incessant processes of metabolism, multiplying, perishing and self-renewal...(repeating the theme of Lost, Found and Stolen) “the tree is also a cosmos encompassing psychic spheres of refreshment, creativity and initiation transcending space and time.. … Alchemists did not forget that the tree may represent not only a place of awakening to new life, but also of suffering. “    Joan as an art teacher is constantly initiating, creating, challenging to new frontiers her students and her artist friends.
What part of Joan is a tree?    Well!  I would say what an image, symbol, the tree is of Joan.!
Carolyn Myss says in her book, “ Your biology becomes your biography” and I would say looking at Joan's paintings of trees and the clarity of the trees physiology,  has indeed becomes Joan's biography.

Joan Martin in front of her trees.
"Observe" by Joan Martin

Beatrice Street by Maggie Strachan
MAGGIE STRACHAN   paintings of the Beatrice Street Congregational  Church and the children's hospital express a grief of what is being lost, history not being honoured, neglected, precious pieces of sculpture decaying and being vandalised.
Her paintings bring them back to life, restore the forgotten, and honour the rich purpose they once served. 
The Beatrice Street church has the memory of freedom fighters fighting for a place in the South Africa of that day, a journey in which she was personally involved as an activist. 
A question to be asked in this dream: Is there a 'place' in your life where freedom is found,and even sometimes involves, a fight for the freedom to be......?

Hudson looks at Strachan s painting
One of  MAGGIE STRACHAN 'S most touching paintings is the one of her grandparents and her mother as a child.  Grandfather in the Prussian uniform of a soldier who spent time in Turkey (and for those of you who have read the book  'Birds without Wings' will understand something of that complex war with Greece, Turkey , Germany ,France and England all of whom were  involved in the struggle for survival and power).  Grandmother, and their daughter, Maggie's mother, separated for long periods with its usual fall out of that kind of life.  Maggie's painting of this brings a new understanding of her mother's identity, a finding of a brave woman, a determined woman, the wild woman that Estes talks about causes her, Maggie, to remember who her mother was and what she was about.  A mother re-discovered  and a sense of healing follows.
Look carefully and see the woman with the blue umbrella in the background (an image brought to the table by one of the artists to which to associate ) takes a life of its own, suggesting walking away or going exploring, 
but not just accepting the status quo. (dream analysis also requires us to associate with all the symbols). 
Today we have become Outsider Witnesses to the journey these Artists have made with their paintings, and like the Outsider Witness our role here has been to affirm them and acknowledge this journey.  What we need to realise with dreams is that they are not only individual but often have an element which speaks to the whole community.  The artists inclusion of us, Jeanette Jilks who opened the exhibition, Ana and myself who have had the privilege to do the walkabouts and you the viewer makes the dreaming of their paintings a communal experience. 

We are left with their gift to us and as Rumi says:

“We are the mirror, and the face in the mirror.  We are the sweet, cold water, AND 
the jar that pours.”
Rumi reminds us that we are continually creating reality and are doing so while we experience what we have created.  In other words we are the artists as well as the art, the dreamer and the dream,  suggesting that we have the power to modify and change our lives today, while also choosing how we fashion them anew tomorrow.