Sunday, June 4, 2017

Lines of Thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to Now

What a wonderful team they make, Bridget Riley, the well known British Artist; Hugo Chapman, Simon Sainsbury Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum (BM) and Isabel Seligman, Curator for the Bridget Riley project.  The idea started when Bridget Riley, a prominent British artist who had been inspired by a life-drawing class in her student days, asked Hugo Chapman if would be interested in a project that would bring art students to the Drawings Study Room at the British Museum to learn about drawing.   Using funds from the Bridget Riley Foundation they hired a curator, Isabel Seligman and a part-time Project Officer, Sarah Jaffray to undertake these workshops.

More than 1000 students have passed through the BM Study Room since the project began three years ago.  The students came in groups of 10 and were asked their interests. Then 10 to 15 drawings were selected from the 50,000 in the collection for them to study, discuss and eventually draw in reaction to what they saw in the master works before them.  The exhibition “Lines of Thought: Drawing from MIchelangelo to Now” reflects selections that, in Chapman’s words, “might excite or intrigue the students to think more deeply about the practice of drawing.”  

The resulting show I found extremely exciting.  It is divided into various intellectual categories of the drawing process but one is not forced in any way to follow that.  As far as I am concerned you can view it in any order you wish, and get a hell of a lot out of it!  The wonderful catalog by Isabel Seligman is full of marvelous quotes by artists of all eras.  One I found most succinct is Matisse’s reference to drawing as the “Clarification of thought”.

The exhibition starts with a 3,000 year old piece, an Egyption funerary papyrus from the Book of the Dead.  Without having a clue what it is about, I found it a drawing that stimulated my imagination.  Turns out it is of a religious official “Nestanebetushiru, kneeling and having her heart weighed against the feather of Maat, the symbol of cosmic order and truth.”  That tidbit certainly makes it even more intriguing!

You could call this just an A-Z exhibition but it is so thought out that the drawings actually do have one contemplating the act of drawing.  The problem for me writing about these 70 sheets is what to pick to share with my readers.  As usual I will choose drawngs that either spoke to me, or made me see something in the artist I never had thought before.  One such was a very small Franz Kline (American, 1910-1962) of just a few strokes of calligraphic form.  Maybe because his brush strokes usually do not make sense to me writ large, here I find them most accessible.  In contrast to Kline’s freedom look at the incredibly controlled lines of Bridget Riley’s (British, 1931- ) study for a series of OP Art works with kaleidoscopic qualities called “Blaze”, 1962.

Andrea del Sarto’s (Italian, 1486-1530) “Studies of Children”, some making gestures showing that probably the artist was working on studies for a painting of John the Baptist is inspiring enough that a detail was chosen for the cover of the catalog.  Contrast this image with Albrecht Durer’s (German, 1471-1528) “Studies of arms for Adam and Eve” for the famous engraving of the couple from 1504.

It is hard to pick a Rembrandt (Dutch, 1606-1669) when there are several wonderful ones, but I will take my wife’s favorite since it is sure to please mother’s of all ages.  It is of a mother and grandmother(?) teaching a child to walk.  Their backs will ache in the morning!  Contrast this evocation of few lines with the highly finished and shadowed Victor Hugo (French, 1802-1885) representing a “Landscape with a Castle”.  Hugo produced around 3,000 images during his life time sometimes using such diverse materials as coffee dregs and soot, as well as ink, to achieve his spooky results.

I have presented here images from Ancient Egypt as well as the 16th, 17th, and 19th centuries from The Netherlands, Italy, Germany, the United States and Britain.  And yes, there are examples from the 18th Century and France as well.  It is a most digestible course in drawing as well as art history.  Just in case I have not convinced you yet to visit Santa Fe this summer, I have not illustrated the Leonardo for the Sistine Chapel or two Michelangelos.  You will just have to come and see the show in Santa Fe.  Works by artists of this caliber do not usually come to these parts!   It will be here until September 17 and then move on to the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, RI.

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