Back in time: Artist’s Vocabulary

Notes: Painting Marathon, Naples Phil, January 2007: The week of color, paint, fumes and exploration
Graham Nickson, Dean, New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture
First came the vocabulary. The rectangle is good, a force to be used, filling in drawings is bad, finding a pathway through drawings is good, making corrections is good (”When in doubt, correct”), letting the energy of a drawing evaporate at the edge of the page is bad, embellishing is bad, democracy (in which figure is no better than ground) is good, keeping a drawing open is good, closing it down, or polishing it, is bad, floating figures are bad, weighty ones are good, perceptual drawing (in which you rely on the eye) is good, conceptual drawing (relying on presuppositions) is bad.

Drawing like an architect or carpenter (building a structure and fitting in objects later) is bad, drawing like you’re ticking off a shopping list of objects is bad, fighting and struggling for a form is good, engaging in wishful thinking is bad (”This artist is wishing he was in front of the model”), finding a synergy or relationship between shapes is good (”that plate is a surrogate head”) leaving ”footprints in the sand” where you’ve traveled is good, finding caves and lumps in a space is good, Apollonian space (the one you’ve reasoned should be there) is bad, Dionysian space (the one you’ve stumbled into) is good, desperation is good, searching is good, Arthur Dove is bad, Matisse is good. Andrew Wyeth is bad, Degas is good.

(…) It was a way for us to think about how the size of the image was related to the rectangular paper. If you’re going to do a large drawing, he said, you have to keep the unity. You need to see everything in relational terms.

”What is space?” he asked. The answers came: ”awareness,” ”everything between everything else.” Mr. Nickson had his own definition: ”Think of negative space as yogurt and then drop a raspberry into it. The berry doesn’t sink. It’s held in place by the yogurt.”


What about color. ”Was that a chance to embellish? To decorate? To be optimistic?” Color was used as scaffolding. Color became metaphorical. Skin isn’t cerulean blue. And that made us aware of the metaphorical nature of drawing. These are marks on a page. Color articulates form. It should be democratic in the drawing, all over the place. The less object-oriented, the less narrative a drawing is, the better. It is the density of a drawing, the accumulation of decisions, that gives it its power.

Photo: New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture

Article: New York Times “ART; Midsummer Madness in Charcoal and Pastel” by SARAH BOXER, Published: July 12, 1998 Online






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