Saturday, September 22, 2012

Chaotic Drawing

I bought a cheap sketch book, 6 inches by 9 inches.... Canson, 100 sheets, 65lb paper... whatever... the point is, it cost $4.50. I bought a cheap one so that I could make LOTS of fast sketches in public, without worrying about filling a "nice" sketchbook with fucked up drawings. I didn't want to overthink it, or worry about making a "good" drawing. I just sit in the park, or lean against a wall, or even just walk down the street... and I make very rapid drawings of people as they walk by.

The first day I did it (three weeks ago), I made 70 separate drawings in about 3 hours. Some of the drawings were not so good, but most were quite effective at capturing the attitude or gesture of the person being drawn. Sometimes I got the anatomy right... sometimes I drew the figure more like a cartoon... sometimes I exaggerated features like a charicature... and so on. The cool thing was... that by going after LOTS of sketches, rather than laboring over a single sketch, I am capturing a lot of interesting moments that would otherwise have been missed. This 100 page sketch book is nearly full now, and the sketches constitute a real study of the postures and attitudes of people in public.

Most interestingly in all of this are the discoveries I am making about people in public. The thing is (and I have mentioned this before) people in American never sit still. Everyone is always moving, always modifying their posture, always behaving in an anxious fashion. It is rare for someone to stand still. These quick drawings reflect this. On average, I'd say I have maybe 10 seconds MAX to register my impression of the person, before they either rapidly walk by, or before they change their posture (if they are sitting down).

Typically what I do is make a quick series of lines to register essential points on their body. After they have passed, I will invent missing parts, or maybe graft the missing parts from the next person that walks by.

Basically, it doesn't matter what I do. It doesn't matter because I am not after a refined drawing. And that is my insight... that a refined drawing or portrait IS NOT POSSIBLE, because the public person is not refined, not coherent, not stable. The physical anxiety displayed via endless movement is incommensurate with a stable identity. Why labor to draw such chaos in a controlled fashion? So instead, I simply draw what is perceptible to me in the very small window of time I have.... ten seconds or so.

If such a drawing is fractured, incomplete, inaccurate... then that is ok. In fact, it is more than ok... it is actually a good thing... because I am actually capturing the fleeting nature of such public encounters. Why demand that drawings of a figure in public be refined and complete, when NO SUCH interactions in life are refined or complete? I could say that the incompleteness of my drawings are actually what makes them honest.... that which is "inaccurate" about them is precisely why they are accurate.

I have to amend the earlier statement that refined drawings are not possible. Obviously they are, but only through INVENTION. One can invent the vast amount of information that is missed in a 10 second encounter on the street. That does not make such a refined drawing irrelevant, but it does VERY LIKELY make it less honest (in a way) than the rapid drawing. The rapid drawing registers only those strong impressions present in a flash of they eye.

It's like a drunken cab ride at 2 in the morning. As you lean your head against the window, and look up at the passing buildings at a funny angle... what is it that you will remember later. Probably not much. A series of fleeting impressions... bursts of neon and street lights.... strange moments here and there. Just raw impressions of the city at night.

You could go to your studio and reconstruct the experience into a coherent view of the city. You could bring a rational order to what was (in the experience of it) a chaotic experience. But what would be the point? What is it you would capture? That which exists chaotically needs a drawing method that can deal with that chaos. Drawing methods that required refined and rationalized methods CANNOT properly record chaos, because they require more processing than happens in 10 seconds. No... the drawing needs to RESPECT the incompleteness of perception... by allowing some way of recording incompleteness.

The rapid sketch accomplishes this. Such sketches serve as the basis for paintings. Such sketches can serve as the basis for more refined drawings. But what they can't do is BEGIN as refined drawings... or end up as refined drawings. The inaccuracies and exaggerations and missing elements in these sketches are AS IMPORTANT as that which is present. Such errors and omissions in the drawing are actually SELECTIONS you make within the 10 second window of time.. and so the short list of that which you include, and that which you don't... THAT is the truth of the chaotic moment.