matisse, me and the delicious joy of drawing

I simply drew a line, and then another. They didn’t materialise as the strong, rich sensual shock of black on white that I’d envisaged but as shaky, wobbly and uncertain. The garden chair supporting pot plant didn’t transpose from reality into lighthearted whimsical representation as planned but in disproportionate and wonky deformation. But it existed. It existed.

Back up a bit.

I hadn’t properly attempted to draw in years. I’d doodle, but my little cartoon faces had never been pushed to excel, had remained immature and undeveloped, as if I hadn’t fed them a decent meal in a long time. I never had a love for representative drawing – sketching if you will. Foolishly I think the mantra I protest in others – I don’t draw because I can’t draw. For me it’s a matter of patience. I’ve been a perfectionist in art for a long time. I want to be good but can lack patience with getting good –  developing technique. It’s quite embarrassing to admit. I’m a messy, immediate artist, perhaps having potential but never properly trained or instilled with discipline enough to realise it. Like Brett Whitely, but not as seedy. Turns out that my love for immediacy which makes drawing my favourite art form in its intimacy also hinders me from working at it.

It was Matisse who has changed my mind.

Matisse, whose influence I can’t understand because it was so expansive I take it for granted. Matisse, about whose his painting style Fauvism I knew, and still know, little beyond its depiction of happy scenes in solid, flat blocks of colour which made Picasso jealous. Apparently. The other day Nick and I went to visit Matisse: Drawing Life at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane.  I wasn’t sure if I’d be disappointed – in Australia a lot of the ‘big’ exhibitions we get featuring old masters aren’t their good paintings or whatever, but the preliminary sketches etc. Would it be worth it?

It was. As I was looking at some of Matisse’s very simple line drawings, I got it. Who cares about being good? Guys like Matisse and Picasso loved to draw, to play with line and form. Not only so, but they were interested not in capturing the look of a subject but the emotion and subjective experience of/with it. I could see in Matisse’s charcoal, ink, etching a simple delight in the line and form of what he was looking at. I loved his simple representation of scenes, of swimmers, dancers, self portraits and yes, his nudes. He had a playfulness which I want, which I once had. It should be a joy. It was for Matisse. It once was for me. Just draw, Ryan and good things will come of it.

The next day I bought 3 sticks of charcoal. Charcoal, my love. It’s a messy, loud medium. And I haven’t used it for so long. I particularly love the thick, pitch black stuff that’s impossible to use unless your drawing is expansive – not good for little details. But the line, that glorious, rich, deliciously thick textured line of inky blackness you can wallow in – the stuff they make happiness from. I said earlier that drawing is an intimate art form. In my opinion it’s the most intimate, there’s this closeness, this immediate connection between my self and the line appearing on the page. No fiddling, no disconnection or distance between myself and the image which, personally I find with painting that makes it unbearable to me.

So yesterday I drew. Technically awful, never to be seen by other eyes, but the beginning of something joyful. When I turned from trying to sketch from life to the imaginary figures straight from my imagination the lines flowed easier, and yet I want to return to sketching. To grapple with representing the world before me – and yet not get caught up in worrying about technique but to enjoy representing, if not a lifelike transposition of my subject, then the emotion of it. Despite the art world boldly pushing on and relinquishing the past I have always been and think I always will be an expressionist.

It’s not that technique isn’t important. Judging by my first awkward attempts yesterday that simple looking nude of Matisse’s I’ve pictured requires more technique, more steadiness of eye and hand and developed appreciation of form, than you might first think. What i mean is that if you approach it in joy and just get into it, technique will come.

If you ever wanted to draw but won’t because you can’t, just do it. Trust me.

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3 thoughts on “matisse, me and the delicious joy of drawing

    • Interesting question Ryan. I think I’m more of a ‘bookish type’ – I’m always reading something and usually have a pile of books I’m either in the process of reading, or planning to read. I did enjoy art & design in school (a lifetime ago), but unfortunately the combination of Year 12, a new school and a new art teacher (who wasn’t very supportive) kind of sucked all the enjoyment out of it. I guess I’ve never really recovered it.

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