Life: I used to draw!

A sketch from one of my early 1990s sketchbooks

Once upon a time, I would sit down and DRAW. Lots of us love to draw when we are kids, and I kept at it, and could draw for enjoyment into adulthood. This came in handy when I chose to study architecture (though you could get by with drafting for anything that required straight lines; note that I went to school before CADD was a thing, so I mean drafting by hand.)

I enjoyed sketching, not impress other people (as it feels is common in this new, social media age), but to REALLY LOOK AT THINGS CLOSELY and learn about them through that deep study and transforming them into two dimensions on paper. Few of my drawings are good (in the showing-off meaning), but I learned something from the process of creating each of them.

I don’t have any photos of my city’s old deYoung Museum, but I do have sketches of it! And of other things.

Some early 1990s sketches of the old deYoung in Golden Gate Park (in pencil and fine pen), Alcatraz, and a general northerly view over the San Francisco Bay (in soft pencil), all by me.

Some of the color drawings, despite the fact that I don’t much like the texture of colored pencils, showed I WAS learning how to use them!

Selections of colored pencil sketches in the same notebook as the other images in this entry; the lower right one is pastel.

I love that I took the time to MAKE these. I love that I gave myself that opportunity, even while taking a risk that nothing would really come of it, that I could enjoy both looking and drawing. It’s a rich experience, having that kind of focused attention and doing something with it. I had never really LOOKED at a cantaloupe closely, but one day I cut one open and knew I had to draw it and its lovely seeds.

I drew from life (from a place I really was, like the marina where I drew that boat, or the geometric shapes that were based on an origami project I had made with friends), and photos (the garden in the lower center was surely from a magazine), or that I invented (the house on the hill with Japanese-castle-like details and modern windows, if I remember correctly).

It’s fun for me to look back through this old sketchbook (which I came across while cleaning out a box in the garage), and think about how good it was that I took the time to study and enjoy the time I spent drawing these things. My life was challenging during that time period (tuition was becoming a serious hardship, etc.) , but this was something I did for myself, and I’m glad I did.

I have lots of interests, and my career has limited the time I can spend on my own projects, so I’ve given up drawing and painting to make room for work, sleep, and loved ones.

I felt I could only choose one creative pursuit, and I chose photography (and writing for my own websites, if you haven’t noticed). I have no regrets about that choice, but would love to “have it all” – including more time to study, draw, and paint.

Book: Vija Celmins: To Fix The Image In Memory, edited by Gary Garrels

Cover of Vija Celmins: to Fix the Image in Memory

Vija Celmins: To Fix The Image In Memory
edited by Gary Garrels
published by San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, in association with Yale University Press
2018

In late 2018 & early 2019, SFMoMA had a fantastic exhibit of the art of Vija Celmins, and that show led to the publication of this enormous, substantive catalog of her work. It contains essays with a broad range of interpretations of her catalog, high quality reproductions, a collection of insightful interview excerpts, AND a biographical timeline that is unusually well written. It is one of the better catalogs I’ve purchased, and after enjoying it in small servings since the viewing the exhibit in person TWICE (it was that good), I read it from end to end today.

There is something remarkable about Celmins’ artistic focus. She has created a range of work to show off her skills, but her long term commitment to drawing and painting certain subjects, such as the surface of the ocean or the depth of the sky, in a very particular method, has led to a profound body of work. It is remarkable to have such a range of skills, to have shown them off through solid early representational work in oil paints and remarkable sculptures (though she considered those drawings or paintings of a sort), and also to perform time-consuming, in-depth studies of a few subjects in graphite with such SATISFYING results, all while bucking other artistic trends, and maintaining a unique “voice.”

I’m old enough to have trained in architecture back when we actually drew (no, really), and so seeing such amazing work in graphite means something to me – it’s a medium I worked in for so many years… and she does wonders with it.

The graphite drawings in particular are inspiring and gorgeous in person. From afar, they are the sea; from up close, they are the texture of graphite on paper; and you can feel yourself slipping between the two understandings, especially around the edges, and being pleased with that experience.

Her pictures of the surface of another planet are also remarkable, and you realize after viewing several that you recognize specific rocks appearing in the drawings, because the rocky landscape is NOT a random drawing of high precision, but a high precision interpretation of a specific NASA image, methodically mapped out and reinterpreted in different weights of pencil, or from a closer point of view.

The reproductions would have been satisfying enough for me, but the texts, including the interview snippets on her NEED to do this work, and on the way drawing and painting on these projects became part of her way of living in awareness… it’s all quite informative.

I love her consistency; the way she challenged herself by changing media when the time felt right; the depths of the blacks in her drawn skies; the inverse skies she created recently… there is a lot to enjoy.

Great artist; great show; unusually satisfying catalog.