Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Where does the power come from?" (Chariots of Fire)

This sculpture is by Gerhard Marcks, who was a friend of Marguerite Wildenhain's (with whom I studied) and was her teacher at the Bauhaus. Modernist. Minimalist a la the Bauhaus "form-follows-function" mantra. Yet he captured a reality of some sort here. There is movement, personality. The whole point at the Bauhaus was to capture the Essence of something with the Least amount of effort. No Rococo, Gothic--ewwww! Simple, elegant. Whether that was a teapot or a seated girl, Marcks taught his students to "see" what was essential. Quintessential, in fact.

Marguerite had her students at Pond Farm take Wednesday afternoons off from wheel work and go sit in the shade of the oak trees and draw. We occasionally drew each other as models (plump models are best), but were usually tasked with difficult still lifes (a single leaf, a potato, empty wine bottles). What made the leaf "leaflike?" Or the potato "potatolike?" (It was stinkin' hard to make a potato not look like a piece of excrement!)

I am a cartoonist, cariacaturist, line drawer. I don't do shading or any such "fine fussy work." I chewed the erasers off pencils as a kid, so when I drew, there was never any going back and redoing! I had a tough time with the Pond Farm drawing afternoons. But I understood the concept of trying to see the bare bones of something--what few features gave a thing its thingness. My line drawings, while not realistic in any anatomical sense, convey feeling, emotion, character. Good, evil, sassiness, mistrust, rambunctiousness, longing--stuff like that--all with minimal line work. See "Familiar Faces" for examples.

Back to the sculpture: looking at the left forearm, for instance, there are only a few "planes" involved in expressing it. You see a flat plane on the top of the arm, another one to the side. You expect there would be a third one hidden from view. That's it. Did Marcks need to put in all the anatomical musculature that shows up in Michelangelo's David? No. "Arm" is there. You know it ain't "Leg," or "Piece of Lumber." It is "Arm."

There's a segue at the elbow, and another at the wrist, and these segues are pretty tricky--you can make them too complicated--then the next part is done, again, with very few planes.

Marcks' faces are usually bland like this one--guess he wanted the viewer to interpret the minimalist expression for themselves. I usually have more expression in my faces.

In Rodin's Testament (which Marguerite read to her students each year), he admonished his sculpture students to first establish the big planes, and the details "will take care of themselves." This advice is probably the best there is! Take enough time with the big chunky stuff. Get it right. Use the big tools. Don't even bother with the details until you are SURE your work is right. Then, go to the details. There's no rush! And, THIS is where the power comes from: getting the big planes right.

Well, that's my sculpture lesson for today. Go look carefully at a potato. Draw it if you want a challenge.

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