Discovering modern art anew through the eyes of this new generation of visionaries at the exhibit Visionaries: Creating a Modern Guggenheim.
The weather might be hot but it hasn’t discouraged our two newest students from Boys and Girls High School from coming to Window Studio afternoons as well as Saturdays. Both 10th graders are eager to spend their time doing more than just “hanging out in the park or playing games on their phones,” so we’re planning field trips to museums and neighborhoods in addition to art-making in the studio. Stay tuned!
(Artist in Residence Omari Waves, at work in the background.)
For yesterday’s class and in honor of the beautiful summer weather, we headed out with our sketchbooks to draw the neighborhood. We drew our friend Jonesy who was soaking up the sun in front of the laundromat, drew the castle towers of Pomoja House and then the storefronts along 356 Marcus Garvey. Actually a man who had just parked his car noticed that he was blocking the girls’ view and obligingly moved it. And while the picture captures the girl’s intentness on their drawings, it doesn’t capture that they were singing and shrieking and laughing as they worked! Their drawings are studies for the canvas mural that we are planning to paint inspired by Kerry James Marshall”s Garden Series paintings.
I loved working with Mimi to illustrate this story of a kitty with super powers. As always, her creative solutions to communicating with images blow me a way. Notice the foam clouds and other surprises. Fun way to spend a rainy afternoon!
Inspired by Ezra Jack Keats’ charming picture book Jenny’s Hat about a little girl disappointed by the plain hat her aunt sent her, Miss Anne and the WS kids designed collage hats on paper and then tried our hands at making ourselves “wearable” hats. Amazing what you can do with a styrofoam plate, a few roses and feathers!
How many places are there where you can spend an hour or so making art in the company of other artists of all ages? Recently as I was getting stared on my latest portrait, I was joined by Aviva with her baby, Kimora who had brought a friend, Diesel who is a graffiti artist and Cesar who is working on his illustrated novel, and Mimi who is always up for drawing puffins!
After the belated arrival of spring, Window Studio has seen an influx of new students. Mia and her son Mo, who live two doors down on the block, started coming last week. For their first project, we did self-portraits with a focus on the difference between a naturalistic vs. stylized approach. We opted for stylized!
It was most interesting the way that Mo, like many kids at the age of 6-8 years old, are absolutely confident and fearless in their drawing. They seem to have full command of their own personal visual vocabulary. While they might look at something that they are drawing briefly to note key features, they rarely get bogged down in the complexities of what they are looking at. I love for instance the lines Mo used under the eyes to show eye sockets, and his missing tooth. He also repeatedly drew lines in sets of 3 (the ears, the eyelashes) and the spikes of his hair are marvelous!
But then something seems to happen around age 10-12 (early puberty?) and that assurance disappears, for most people never to return. So when Mo’s mom Mia drew her stylized self-portrait, it seemed much less spontaneous, though I think she enjoyed making her eyes look like hypnotic spirals and her mouth like a red Cupid’s bow.
The same difference emerged again last week when Hanora brought her cousin TieTie, also age 8, to class. She (and Jeremy) have crossed over into that miserable stage of intense dissatisfaction where everything is “no good, sucks, don’t look right!” and ends up with a lot of crumpled up paper in the recycling bin! All they want to draw is anime or super heroes, and while copying these can be a way to learn how to draw figures, and some kids like Sam are genuinely gifted at this style of drawing, the rest of us find it frustrating and unsatisfactory. And while I let them do it, I don’t know if tracing really counts as a way to learn drawing!
All of this was emphasized by TieTie’s joining us last week. He plunged in, painting his self portrait (at top) and then drawing vases of all kinds of flowers with such ease you felt like he could draw the whole world!
The workshops at Window Studio have become an increasingly vibrant part of the project. Most of the kids who come are middle school age. While some, at least initially, are accompanied by a parent or another relative, several of them come completely on their own. A few, like Denari and his brother, live in one of the neighborhood shelters and haven’t come for awhile. Jerome who lives with his grandmother, frequently stops in on his way passed to check on my progress on various paintings. (“What, you’re still working on THAT one!”) It is quite amazing to me that a twelve year old should seize the opportunity to make art in this way. Full of curiosity about everything from the paint on my palette to who the people in the portraits are, they are particularly gratified when it proves to be someone they recognize from the neighborhood. (“Hey, that’s Ms. Carla with the little kids day care!”)
In addition to the discovery of seeing the people of the neighborhood transformed into paintings, the kids who come to the workshops find aspects of their own interests in a new context. For instance, they’ve been fascinated to discover that the action figures that the boys in particular love to draw from anime and graphic novels can be found in the drawings of the Renaissance masters like Raphael and daVinci. That the battles of superheroes and man have been the subject of art for hundreds, if not thousands of years is an exciting concept. Equally so is the realization that artists have figured out how to draw the human figure in these positions – flying, leaping, wrestling – partly from imagination, but also extrapolated from observation
So when Sam and Sirus, who continue to be regulars, recently brought a friend, Dejani, we decided to do a session of “action drawing”. It was a new take on one of the most traditional techniques of life-drawing class. They took turns with one of them posing while the others had 2 minutes to do quick sketches. Part of the fun was setting the stopwatches on their phones/watches, and then the “model” adopting as extreme a position as it was possible to hold for the 2 minutes without falling over. The model usually included instructions – “Make it look like flames are shooting from my fingers!” or “Make me lifting up a car!” — which the artists dutifully included!
We also looked for ways to capture the essence of the pose with a few directional lines rather than focusing immediately on details like the brand on a sweatshirt or style of sneakers. The pressure of the clock ticking added excitement. Sirus, who is six, is able to confidently draw his figure holding up a car, or emitting a force field with an economy of gesture. On the other hand, Dejani, who was new to art class, surprised himself by capturing the complex relationship of two overlapping figures by drawing exactly what he saw, and not so much what he thought he saw.
After the drawing sessions, we discuss what we like in each drawing. Surprising associations come up. In the case of Jeremy and Hanora’s portraits (top), we were all struck by the expressiveness of Hanora’s round mouth (“I look loud!”) or the way the soft smudgy middle portrait looked like a sleepy kid yawning in class. But we were all most interested by the intensity and texture of Jeremy’s first (lefthand) portrait. He said the person looked like a Muslim, or I said, someone wearing a hood, “like Trayvon Martin” he added. But it also looks like the way that sometimes the figure of death is represented in art, I explained. “Well that makes sense then,” Jeremy concluded.
The summer has been a busy time at Window Studio with art workshops attracting an increasing number of participants of all ages. Sam and Sirus come every week. Sam, age 12, works on his animation drawing while younger brother Sirus uses oil pastels and water-colors to create his imaginary animal, a combination of a snake and donkey, called a “Snadonkey”. Art sessions are complemented with reading stories and a trip to the corner store for a snack.
Chantal, already an accomplished designer of sneakers has also been coming regularly. She wasn’t that interested in studying art at college, but started creating hand-painted sneakers which she sells. Her love of patterns has led to a wide ranging exploration of abstract art. Together we’ve looked at the dense variety of marks in Van Gogh’s landscapes, the combination of colored forms with sinuous black line in Kandinsky and the gestural rhythm of Jackson Pollock’s paint throwing in Lavender Mist. A field trip to the Museum of Modern Art is in order!
And Karinna, who says she was always in trouble for drawing all over everything she could lay her hands on, including the walls, has reconnected with that inner child. After suppressing her creative instincts for so long, it sometimes seems hard for her to get her hand to do what she wants it to. But she worked with intense concentration on creating a color wheel and used it to develop her own color pattern.
These are only a few of the many people of all ages who have come in saying, “I used to love to draw, I won prizes for art in school, I always wished that I had been able to keep doing it, I can’t believe there’s an opportunity to make art like this.”