Learning from Repetition

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Motherwell is ruefully aware that the “Elegies” are regarded by some as a formula. (“When he gets stuck, what should he do but make another ‘Elegy’?” he quotes one critic as saying).

Grace Glueck, “The Creative Mind; The Mastery of Robert Motherwell,” The New York Times, December 2, 1984.

My art history reading of late has taken me back to Robert Motherwell, an Abstract Expressionist painter who has always fascinated me because of his erudition. I’ve had the pleasure of reading his Collected Writings and have perused many volumes of his work that I’ve purchased over the years.  The Youtube interviews with him are also rich in ideas, and after wearing out the VHS tape, I purchased the DVD of his “Storming the Citadel.” Yesterday I found this New York Times article and read it with great interest as well. He painted the “Elegy” series well over a hundred times, and sometimes took criticism that he just fell back on the pattern when he was out of fresh ideas. In response, he said in an interview:

. . . the reason I’ve made so many of whatever I’ve made that could be called a series–because I detest serial painting–is simply because I feel that I’ve never really solved any of them, and so they remain a challenge.  The day I can make an Elegy that really satisfies me, then I’ll stop.

In the past month or so, I have become absorbed with drawing. Throughout my artistic life, I have believed in my heart that drawing is fundamental to art, and yet have felt like a hypocrite, because I have always drawn so little.  Finally, I am obsessed with the practice of drawing.  And for many years, I have stared at the anatomy of trees in the winter, when they are so exposed and accessible to the naked eye, yet never pulled the trigger in deciding to fill up sketchbooks with tree drawings.  That has changed.

All I wish to say is that I am not falling back on tree drawings because I have no fresh ideas.  Like Motherwell, I’m still trying to figure them out, still trying to find a satisfaction with my own efforts.  Meanwhile, I have learned a great deal by this repetitive exercise.  Following is an abbreviated list of what I’ve come to understand while attempting to draw trees:

  1. Tree boughs are not silhouettes; they have a range of tones.
  2. In watercolor, the tree’s wood is not uniform throughout in color and value.
  3. Tapering the boughs and limbs, for me, is extremely difficult and requires much concentration and repeated checking.
  4. The snarls of twigs are similar to scribbles with the pencil.
  5. There are always more twigs at the ends of the tree that I tend to notice in early glances.
  6. I do not want the tree to look badly pruned.  I must taper the twigs all the way to the point that they nearly disappear into the sky.

My attempt at watercoloring the tree tops in my back yard is coming along much more slowly than the drawings, but I’m happy in the struggle.

tree wc

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

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