Drifting Closer to Home

Personal work

I recently decided, in a determined attempt to increase productivity and explore new visual ground, that I would do one finished drawing a day; regardless of how busy I am or where life decides to take me. Just make some time to take a plain white sheet of paper and a pen, and “take a line for a walk”, to quote Paul Klee. No self-editing allowed until an idea is fully represented, letting common sense go on vacation, and intuition and curiosity to take hold. And let anything (anything at all), trigger a concept or notion and let the line do its thing.

As with any course of action where parameters are loosely set, I had no idea how unexpected the outcome would be. I certainly didn’t even suspect these presets would quickly lead me to some of the most personal drawings I’ve ever done.

The first two drawings that came out were completely improvised, rather directionless, and (frankly) not too exciting. (Consequently, they are not shown here). But one day I was walking through a field covered by twigs, leaves, and weeds; and almost instantly the image of the man reaching out while being held back by stems popped in my head. As I drew the image when I got home, I wondered what the man was reaching out for –it immediately became clear that it was longing or yearning of some sort. I broke the rule of avoiding reasoning and I arrived at the metaphor of the bird house. Bringing this unexpected element into the image quickly and completely defined the direction I would take.

Creative thinking is rarely smooth or linear: you rarely go from point A to B to C without at least a few detours or bumps in the road. It’s precisely those detours and bumps that lead you down a previously unexplored (and hopefully worthwhile) route. By the same token, explaining something complex you’ve been through is not always easy or clear-cut, regardless of the medium you’re using. Being Argentine by birth and living in the US for now close to two decades, I’ve gone through a long process of adaptation and assimilation that most (if not all) immigrants go through when they leave their homeland to start their lives anew somewhere else. As I moved onto the next daily drawing (which was of the man stepping off a boat and having his arms tied up by a papyrus), the idea of making a series of drawings that deal with this experience emerged.

Once the theme was set, the images started shaping themselves, as if they had been waiting all these years to come pouring out. Initially, these were going to be rough studies to be developed later, but, as I worked on them, I realized they were self-contained ideas that could stand as finished drawings by themselves. They also became increasingly sequential as I worked on them; although they don’t necessarily need to be read as such, since their visual language is grounded on metaphors much more than on traditional, literal storytelling. Ultimately, their full meaning is left up to the interpretation of the viewer.

They were all drawn directly with ink on paper, without any preliminary pencil sketches (there were, however, a few false starts and occasional corrections with white acrylic paint). This a breakthrough of sorts for me, since, until recently, the thought of not having a pencil blueprint as a safety net for an ink drawing gave me severe “stage fright”; the final drawing almost always ended up being stiff or timid on the rare occasion I braved a straight-to-ink finish.

I’ve always admired artists like George Grosz, Ben Shahn, and Saul Steinberg, all consummate draftsmen who believed that drawing was an end in itself, not just scaffolding or mere launch pad for their ideas. (“Drawing is thinking on paper”, as Steinberg himself put it). They also didn’t believe that an idea had to be limited to a final, undisputed statement, and so it frequently evolved and found its way through paintings, prints, and other explorations of medium and theme.

Having said that, I’d like to attempt these ideas in color –not just colored drawings or painted mimicry of the originals, but to aim for an emotional impact and depth of mood that only the addition of color could bring. I could only hope that the immediacy and intimacy of these ink drawings won’t get “lost in translation” as the pen gives way to the brush. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these –you can click on them to see the full-size versions and feel free to write any comments you might have.

I guess the series on 20th century Paris mentioned earlier will have to wait a little while longer… And, being as bad as I am with titles, chances are that coming up with one for these new drawings is gonna keep me busy for a while!

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