Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Drawing is a big part of what I do.  I like making things and I like drawing things. Sometimes I make what I draw; sometimes I draw what I make.  I have a special idea about drawing.  I believe drawing is genesis.  If you look around you at any object--furniture, the street, buildings, a computer, clothing, a car, even the entire city--every man made thing you look; every part of our material culture, started with a drawing--that’s why it’s genesis.  If you want something, the first thing you do to get it, is to draw a picture of it.  Drawing gives the human symbolic power over the object; he takes ownership of the idea of that object.   The next step is easy; obtain that object.  You think cave men and women made pictures for decoration?  Draw the bison, hunt the bison, then eat the bison.  Drawing is the realization of desire.
 I know this because that’s what happens in my own studio.  I took a trip to New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado to look a lot at Anasazi pottery.  The Anasazis are the ancient ones, the aboriginal people of southwest America. They like clay and make beautiful pottery with eloquent geometric designs on the pottery.  Simple black and white, thin walled, hand built, and decorated with sophisticated geometric patterns.  When I got back from my trip I made a big drawing.  I had a fireplace that I liked, and I drew that fireplace along with a fabulous collection of Anasazi Pottery on the mantelpiece.
  Years later, I met a guy who wanted that drawing but he didn’t have enough money to buy it.  He said he had a collection of Native American Art.  I traded that drawing for two Anasazi pots which I now prize dearly.  If you want it, draw it.  It will come to you
  It’s interesting that when I teach drawing, lots of people say, “I can’t draw.”  For humans, drawing is as basic as walking or speaking.  Every human has it hard-wired into them how to draw.  We teach it out of children by trying to teach them how to draw what we see.  Really, the idea of drawing is not to draw what you see in front of you, but to draw what you see in the profound sense of “what you see.”  It’s in your head.  You can’t take a photograph of that—the only way out is through the pencil and onto the paper.  Drawing is not a fine art, or a work of beauty—it’s a way of communicating.  You don’t have to teach a human child how to walk or talk, they do it automatically.  At a certain time, they get up and walk, and when they get old enough they start saying words.  The same with drawing.  We think of drawing as an artform, but it’s not--it’s a language.  In walking and talking, no one worries about talent.   However, you only get encouragement in drawing if you show talent or a “gift”.  Drawing is the realization of desire.  Good or bad, everyone needs to do it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Venus of El Segundo and Venus of Willendorf

Bonnie and Clyde, Adam and Eve, Thelma and Louise.  I want to talk about another great couple, The Venus of El Segundo and The Venus of Willendorf.  This piece was made in the 80's out of Baltic birch plywood panel with waffle board back so it will never bend or flex.  The front surface is gold leafed and then covered with clear lacquer.  The image you see is carved into the wood through the gold leaf.  When it was finished, I flooded the surface with indigo ink.  It sunk into the exposed wood and I was able to wipe the ink off the gold leaf.  It’s a nice piece of drawing, very volumetric.  Nice to touch.  The comparison of images is vivid fat, fullness vs. slim compression.   The piece is a diptych--two panels.  The Barbie panel is 6 feet tall 2 feet wide.  That image was made from a photograph that I took of a 1957 Barbie.   I drew it from a photo I made because I wanted it to be very accurate.    I used a photograph of the Venus of Willendorf to make my other drawing.  The Venus of Willendorf panel has the same number of square inches but it’s a different proportion—it’s about 5 feet tall, 3 feet wide. Barbie is staring at Willendorf but Willendorf can’t return the glare because her wool hat is pulled over her eyes.

I’m telling you about this piece because I think it’s one of the greatest pieces that I’ve made.  Just think for a minute of people in the far distant future going to a museum of anthropology and looking at artifacts of the people that lived from 1950 to 2050—a short period of human history.  One of the images that keeps reoccurring is this female Venus figure.  The clothing wouldn’t survive—just the naked figure of Barbie—and maybe the plastic wouldn’t either—by that time the plastic would have perished—and there would be very few Barbies left.  So each Barbie would be a fossil—the plastic, due to certain conditions, wore away.  This plastic was dissolved and replaced with a harder material like granite.  So that the actual sculpture is not the actual Barbie, but a fossil of Barbie.   In any case, we’re thinking about the future.  We have no context, only the statue.  It’s displayed in a vitrine with a little metal rod holding it up.  It’s called the Venus of El Segundo because El Segundo, California, is where Barbies were manufactured.  So people would think, “Why is this figure so elongated?  Why are the eyes so big?  Why doesn’t it have nipples?  Why is the body so smooth? Why such small hands? Why such small feet? Why such long legs?”  There would be all kinds of explanations to these questions.  Scholars would be writing theories, and students would be writing papers about what they think this artifact means.  What does it tell us about the people that lived during that era, 1950-2050?  Let’s go back 15000-20000 years, somewhere in that range, to a birthday party of a 6 year old girl.  Her father didn’t know what to get her for her birthday, there weren’t any stores back then.  He was a handy guy and found a piece of stone and carved out an image of the perfect women.  It was not an original idea—there were many similar images of the perfect female form.  It was special because he carved it for his daughter.  He wrapped it up in a basket made out of grasses and presented it to his daughter at her birthday party.  When she got it, she loved it.  She felt it, held it,  played with it, fed it,  she even made a little house for her Venus.  She and her girlfriends made clothing for it out of materials that were around her.   She and the people of that time had no idea that this Venus would ever end up in a museum with people looking at it.  It was a doll, it was a toy; it was a teaching toy to tell the little girl what means to be a woman.  Just like how our Barbies are teaching tools to tell our daughters what it is to be a woman.
 I don’t know if anybody’s thought to make the comparison between Venus of Willendorf  and Barbie.  It seems silly or funny because it poses something so profound.  It tells us that in human evolution, we are so close to the people that made the Venus of Willendorf, that we might have been at the girl’s birthday party.   That’s why I think this piece is so great—it gives you a new way of looking at Barbie and the Venus of Willendorf, illustrating the concept of the ideal.