Category Archives: Contemporary Artists

Line Drawings

Line drawing, like writing, can be declamatory or expository; a way of persuading viewers or a means to simply engage with the world beyond the self. The searching, tentative quality of a sketch is more like a soliloquy than a sermon, the artist’s interior dialogue groping toward a mystery. John Berger wrote that for Vincent Van Gogh drawing was  “a way of discovering and demonstrating why he loved so intensely what he was looking at…”

At the beginning of a drawing class we focus on line and all of the various ways it can be played. Working with line is like the visual counterpart of MTV’s “Unplugged” series where musicians leave all their technological wizardry at the door and just play the music. In the absence of recording-studio colors and effects, the integrity of the basic idea is revealed. The ensemble stands or falls in that clarifying light.

A linear drawing builds its riffs from a similarly austere palette, drawing its unique power from elimination, reduction, and distillation of the rich sensory experiences of the eye. Unaided by the seductive romances of tone, color and texture, the play of line in a drawing can inform us about what we are and are not seeing, allowing us to address problems before they’re embedded in complicated visual embroideries.  The relative spatial positioning, directional movements, and scaling of one part to another can be tested and worked out. Like a house under construction, a line drawing is more about the foundation than about the furnishings. The understanding of relational structure, built over time through constant practice, is the foundation of our powers of expression as artists.

On its march toward resolution and clarification of intent a linear drawing leaves in its wake a clamoring of linear hypotheses that can produce a remarkable beauty, as can be seen in many of the drawings below. The ghostly images of abandoned positions, proportions and directions function almost like the sonic qualities of reverberation in music. Tonal drawings have an epic feeling and grandeur about them. Linear drawings, by embracing certain constraints on their means, can achieve a very different kind of poetry, not unlike the sparse syllables, internal rhymes and rhythms of haiku.

Tone speaks directly to the emotions. Line speaks to the mind. Or, rather, it speaks to the emotions through the mind by distilling the idea of the thing. Lacking the mimetic immediacy of tone, which is a closer approximation of the actual way that we perceive the world,  the abstractness of a line drawing can never look like its subject in any literal sense. It can only look like itself, however much it may remind us of things seen. But, what we give up to line’s austerity, we gain back from its unique power of transformation. When we begin to draw, the motif is, as Henry James said of nature, a “blooming buzzing confusion.”  As our lines negotiate and articulate that empty space everything changes – our perceptions, our emotions, even the motif itself. The provisional becomes the inevitable.

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Filed under Contemporary Artists, Old & Modern Masters, Practice, Uncategorized

Hank Buffington

Hank Buffington is a Lancaster, Pennsylvania artist who works as a digital illustrator and graphic designer. A few years ago he began drawing and painting outdoors, executing quick, one-shot studies from observation. About himself he says:

“I was born in Pennsylvania but did most of my growing up in a somewhat rural part of New Jersey close to the Delaware River. I didn’t appreciate the bucolic charm of the area when I was a kid and a lot of my drawings were fantasies to take me away from it to a more exciting life. Those drawings eventually took me to the Rhode Island School of Design and after graduating with a BFA I returned home to begin a career as a graphic designer and digital illustrator. For the past several years I’ve taken time off from being a commercial artist to be a full-time dad to our five kids. The forced break from the computer gave me the opportunity to resume painting after years of pushing a mouse. In the summer of 2009 I began painting plein air landscapes to retrain myself in the craft of painting and try to break some old habits… not to mention get me out of the house for some much needed quiet time!”*

“With drawing I’m trying to be more spontaneous and courageous. These are relatively quick drawings that focus more on what I think is important in my subject; eliminating extraneous information and superfluous details.” 

For more work and discussions of his process check out Hank Buffington’s blog  and *website .

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Filed under Contemporary Artists, Practice, Sketchbooks

“The Elemental Big Forms…” of John David Wissler

“Seems to me the true artist must perforce go from time to time to the elemental big forms-Sky, Sea, Mountain, Plain,-and these things pertaining thereto, to sort of re-true himself up, to recharge the battery. For these big forms have everything. But to express these, you have to love these, to be part of these in sympathy. One doesn’t get very far without this love…”  -John Marin

A beautiful collection of drawings in a recent show of John David Wissler at the Lancaster Galleries in Lancaster, PA, brings to my mind the work and words of John Marin.  Wissler apparently shares John Marin’s love for the “elemental big forms” of nature. Working mainly with water-based media and brush Wissler’s drawings are more than just landscapes. They are urgent translations of emotion experienced in the act of seeing, and being, in nature. His brush moves with the excitement and energy of an electrical storm, acutely aware that in another instant the whole scene will shift and disappear. An ancient Chinese text on landscape painting recommends that the artist meditate for hours before picking up the brush so that he or she becomes an instrument of nature’s forces. Wissler seems to achieve such a state in these works, channeling the force of nature directly onto the page. The artist has this to say about his drawings:

“My passion has always been the landscape. I feel a sense of history when painting… the painters I admire and study, Corot, Constable, Turner, Inness, Bonard, Resika…the history of the land itself and my own familiar connection to it. Painting comes through the study of nature…transformed, not merely copied. Seeing the immediacy of the place…what strikes me first. The way trees react to fields, colour to colour, shape to shape…pushing and pulling the plastic nature of the picture plane, creating believable space.

I find the challenge of using what I have observed, taking it to my studio, and creating a new painting invigorating. Drawing upon the memory of place and experience…using the language I have learned from nature, trying to keep the painting fresh…space, clarity, surprise…that’s painting!” (Courtesy of Lancaster Galleries)

Lancaster Galleries exhibition

Wissler Interview at Painting Perceptions

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Contemporary Landscape Drawings

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October 26, 2012 · 1:23 am

Avigdor Arikha

Avigdor Arikha (1929-2010) was a painter, printmaker and art historian, born in Romania to German parents. After losing his father in a concentration camp, Arikha took refuge in Israel after the war, eventually moving to Paris where he lived the remainder of his life.

In the 1960s Arikha visited an exhibition of Caravaggio (1571-1610), the painter whose brutally honest realism and dramatic use of light and shadow, began to put an end to the period in art history known as Mannerism that followed the Renaissance. For Arikha, the exhibition and its narrative of the history of Caravaggio’s time was an epiphany that led him to view his own time, the period dominated by Pop Art and the beginnings of what is now called “Post-Modernism,” as another incestuous Mannerist period. His solution was to abandon the abstract paintings that he was doing and to just draw directly from nature and always in one sitting. For eight years he did nothing but draw. Working with Sumi ink and brush was a favorite material. Later he picked up paints again but his subject matter was transformed.

Like Giorgio Morandi, another artist who turned his back on the dominant art form of his day, Surrealism, and returned to a direct study of nature, Arikha’s work has much to teach us about attitudes and motivations for art making. Arikha demonstrates what art can become when it stops striving for self-importance or cleverness; when it ceases to be made as an appeal to the “gatekeepers” of the so-called “Art World” and turns its eye and its hand instead to the private, and the personal.

Marlborough Gallery will be showing work from Arikha’s estate this month in New York. Many of the pieces were in his private collection. You can view work from the show at the Marlborough website, and in this special album, below.

Avigdor Arikha

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