About five years ago I went to my museum, The MFA in Boston. I know, but I feel we should all claim one museum as ours, explore it, learn it, learn from it and grow with it. So, The MFS is mine, so let me start once again.
About five years ago I went to my museum and after my normal stroll, (my sit down conversation with the paintings of Sargent, the light and brushwork of the impressionists, and a quiet reflective pause in the new contemporary galleries), I began exploring some of the newly displayed galleries. There is a small gallery in the middle of the museum, one without windows and with low light. This gallery is dedicated to displaying work on paper, mainly etchings and drawings. I suspect this room is for the museum’s more fragile work. I often skip by, but on this particular day, they were displaying a group of prints done by Albecht Duer, an artist from the 1500’s.
I found myself connecting with the buildup of value through line, the full energetic compositions, and the somewhat distorted or stylized figures. I found myself remembering my early days as an artist, working with whatever pencil or paper I could find and drawing to tell a story. I think that most artists begin as story tellers. We illustrate ideas or a character before we have any formal training. Narrative. It seems to me that narrative was our primary motivation, and then we are seduced by process. For me that day, those etchings drove that point home to me, literally. My sketchbook came out and I began to scribble and take notes. On the drive home I though back to the small boy in a badly lit bedroom pulling a charcoal stick across a bit of cheap drawing paper. I remembered the smell of a kneaded rubber eraser, and the seduction was on. I had been painting with oil almost as long, but my days at Swain drove me deeper and deeper into the mysteries of color. I had put down my pencils and erasers and dove into the hue and Chroma or pigment and medium. The brush became an extension of my fingers, y hand, even my arm. I struggled with the conflicting needs of narrative and energy, of surface and space, of color and value. But looking at those drawings drove me to a place where it became necessary to explore the power of the pencil once again, sort of the initial drug for me.
At first I went to the stories I read over time. Stephen King, Mary Shelly, and Shirley Jackson. I followed that with drawing of my own stories. Eventually I approached the narrative in the same way I did in my paintings. I drew images of Chicago, NYC, and Boston. I did line drawings and complete value drawings. It became therapeutic. I even sometimes refer to my time with a pencil and paper as “Graphite Therapy.”
I have now integrated my drawing as a full partner in my work. My last series of paintings, “The Drawn to Music Project” was augmented by a full series of drawings. I work now on toned, heavyweight printmaking paper. I love the feel and the look of graphite on this paper, it reminds me of those old Duer prints. It took a while for the one trip to my museum to integrate itself into my work, but it did. That’s why I go, that’s why it’s mine. So, yeah, it is back to the drawing board for me. Check out more of my drawings on my website or stop by the studio next time you are in town, or simply grab a seat, a pencil and a sheet of paper and practice a bit of graphite therapy for yourself.