Sunday, January 29, 2012

red shoes, and nudity

Here's a bit more life drawing. Our model very kindly agreed to sit still for a lengthy pose. This picture took about 30 or 40 minutes, and was done with several different kinds of marker.

Convention calls for artist's models to be naked, but I'm always happier to see some brightly coloured clothing. Nonetheless, I'm ambivalent about the merits of lingerie in drawings. It compartmentalizes the figure in a way that makes drawing easier, and more visually complex, but on the other hand, because it's so close fitting, there's no disruption of the natural lines of the body, and the process of drawing remains very predictable. Clothing that has lines of its own is often more interesting.

Of course, clothing is interesting for another reason. As Kenneth Clark long ago observed, the state of nudity in art "takes the most sensual and immediately interesting object, the human body, and puts it out of reach of time and desire." A clothed body implies that a decision has been made about what to wear, and that in turn implies a personality.

Our model chose to keep on her shoes and stockings and panties and glasses; had she decided to be naked, she would have presented a very different aspect. Ironically, it would have been far less sexual. One of the  reasons the convention of nudity still exists is because it allows us to use models as mere objects of art, or at least of art instruction, without the distraction of remembering that they are real people.

*He said it in The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form, Princeton: Princeton University Press, p.25. It's all very old news, but worth reiterating.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Across the Horse-Jumping Fields

A new landscape by Tarragon, showing us a portion of the village of Compton in winter. One of the most illuminating things about the English countryside is the tracery of footpaths, established by common law centuries old, that crisscrosses the farms and hills. Due to their origin as old peasant right of ways, the contours of the paths are often obscure.

In this picture, the trees on the hill to the left wreath the graveyard and the Watts Mortuary Chapel; another view can be seen here. To get to the chapel from the spot Tarragon painted from, a walker must trek several hundred metres to the right, traverse the trees to the right of the farm buildings and then travel along a sunken road to ascend the hill on its far side.

The system has its advantages. The town of Guildford, population 70,000, is a fifteen minute walk from the same spot. You would never know it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Friday, January 20, 2012

2 views in Venice

A page from a small sketchbook I once carried in Venice. Above, the view down the canal from the entrance to the Guggenheim done with a marker; below, the Ponte dell'Academia, drawn in pencil.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

iPad drawing: The Blue Plate

There's a school of thought that holds that every still-life is a memento mori, whether the artist has included a skull or not. The idea is implicit in the French word for the genre, nature mort.

The thing about still-lives is that they're supposed to be still. But those done on the iPad are anything but. The colours are too lively, the strokes record every gesture of the artist's finger. And of course, in a literal sense, they are alive with the electricity that maintains the image on our screens.

Of course, in its original incarnation the still-life was about conspicuous consumption. What was best in life was for the sideboard to groan with gold and silver plate, a big side of bacon, and bones of your enemies. But if that wasn't possible, a painting of it made a good substitute.

iPad still-lives don't work exactly like that either. How exactly they do work is an open question.

Tarragon made this still-life using the brushes app on the iPad.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Sazerac and Danielle, II

And here's the original line drawing that served as the base for yesterday's picture. Not radically different, of course. Some may prefer the simplicity of the penwork. I'm a bit divided, myself.

It was done with fine tipped micron pens, plus some Copic brand brush markers for the boots and the hair. She had to sit still for quite a while; 40 minutes maybe. Which was enough time for at least three Sazeracs.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Sazerac, and Danielle

A fairly detailed life drawing, in which I failed to restrain my love of rendering clothing. I made the drink by way of bribing my model to keep still after a long day of clomping around in those boots.

For the purists out there, the Sazerac that day was made with bourbon, not rye, so it's not 100% authentic. But it was delicious.

I've been experimenting with photoshop of late. It's a bit too easy to go overboard with colour using the computer, so I've been conscientious about keeping it to a minimum. I'll post the original line drawing tomorrow.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Joan at the Christmas Party

And a poinsettia, of course. It's a quick sketch from life. She was watching the antics of those who had consumed far more wine than she.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Another old self-portrait, drawn with a china marker on heavily textured paper - you can see the vertical lines from the weave. I used a mirror to make the drawings in this series. Later on, I got my visual memory to the point where I could include the hand I was drawing with, but this is an early one.

It's visible how much younger I was when I made this. I'm wearing a random beret that I used to keep my hair under control, a jumper later stolen in a internet cafe in Florence, and an old cavalry gauntlet I found in the market in Piazza del Ciompi.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

painting quickly in Verona

Occasionally I set out to make an architectural watercolour without doing a drawing first. I'm of two minds as to whether this is a good idea or not.

I did this one in Verona a few years back:

It's a lot sketchier than I prefer.

The buildings are among the many gothic survivals in Verona. I did the painting in the Piazza del Erbe - the old market, as the name implies. Through the arch you can see one of the Scaliger tombs (Mastino's, if I recall correctly). These are among the most spectacular funerary art of the entire Gothic era, but for some reason are underrepresented in both the academic and tourist literature.

Friday, January 6, 2012

don't slouch so much, you look so pensive

Drawn quickly from life with a china marker, while waiting around in a French train station. I felt like some colour so I added the overlay in photoshop.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The man with the strawberry

It's a man, with a strawberry.

Drawn in under ten minutes with some markers and two colours of china marker.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Porphyria's Lover

This beautiful painting by Tarragon is neither his first, nor his last, attack on Browning's great poem Porphyria's Lover. Another one is here. More are forthcoming. 

It's a good sized oil, about five feet tall.


Recurrent motifs in the work of any artist often appear for reasons that are deeply personal and frankly obscure, even to the artist him or herself. I don't think Mikhail Vroubel could have explained his own obsession with Lermontov's Demon.

As for why Porphyria and her lover keep cropping up in Tarragon's work, to read the poem is to understand one possible answer. It's famous for a reason.

Perhaps another reason is the dictum of Edgar Allen Poe, undoubtedly known to Tarragon, that "the death of a beautiful woman… is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world," especially if heard from "the lips… of a bereaved lover." Thus the impetus of The Raven, a poem even more famous than Porphyria.

Do we agree with Poe's rule?
Well, perhaps not. But certainly the pathos of loss is proportional to the value of what is lost, and without doubt, beauty is valuable.

Whether Poe read Porphyria I have no idea. He could have. It was collected in 1842, three years before The Raven. The two poems have some bombast in common, which we might charitably attribute to their near contemporaneity. The final lines of Porphyria, in which God says not a word, seem almost to invite in the Raven, through whom God says one word.

It's a pleasing conceit to imagine that Lenore and Porphyria were the same woman. One who had chosen a lover more muscular than the weepy protagonist of Poe's poem. As it turned out, she choose unwisely. Not, of course, that either poem is much concerned with women's choices. Indeed, a main subject of both poems is obsessive male possessiveness. Perhaps too of the painting above.

The quote is from Poe's Philosophy of Composition, which is certainly one of the most humorous documents in the history of artistic autobiography.