John Berger's book Bento's Sketchbook: How does the impulse to draw something begin? has been on my night table for a long time now. It was given to my husband Kal Honey and me by our friend Phyllis Gordon, to celebrate our 2013 exhibition with Nancy Cuttle, Offence/Defence.
John Berger's classic work is Ways of Seeing, a 1972 book that was turned into a four-part series on BBC television and in both forms opened many eyes to ways of seeing in art that had nothing to do with an accurately rendered surface appearance, or even a purely modernist abstraction view.
Later, I won us tickets to see the Art of Time Ensemble's performance of I Send You This Cadmium Red, a gorgeous and affecting multimedia (live music/live spoken performance/projected visuals) theatrical production of the correspondence between John Berger and filmmaker John Christie.
There is an excellent synopsis of the book here, which I will quote to explain the birth of the colour theme:
“I Send You This Cadmium Red began in concept in February 1997, when Christie mused to Berger: 'What could our next project be?' Berger replied: 'Just send a color' Soon after, a painted square of cadmium red crossed the English Channel, from Christie in London to Berger in France, and an amazing conversation began.”
The music, writing and acting were wonderful, but it was a production that brought colours (not just red) to life, through words and by presenting them abstractly as dynamic, living things on layered projection screens.
I remarked to Kal afterward that it was the first thing I'd seen that presented me with an experience of colour that was true to the depth and vitality of my personal experience of it.
So serendipity, in the form of Phyllis, delivered me another dose of Berger, which I have neglected for too long. This is the new book for my morning routine, which I've quoted about the experience of drawing something, when you have a reference in front of you (e.g. a person, a scene, a still life). Once again he has got at the truth of it in words, which amazes me.
Speaking of words, writing is another component in my rebuilt routine, and I'll write about that next week.
Meanwhile, if you'd like to share anything about your own routine or what you wish it included, I'd love to hear about it (or anything related to this post) in the comments below!
“At first you question the model [ie any reference]... in order to discover lines, shapes, tones that you can trace on the paper. The drawing accumulates the answers. Also, of course, it accumulates corrections, after further questioning of the first answers. Drawing is correcting....
“At a certain moment – if you're lucky – the accumulation becomes an image – That's to say it stops being a heap of signs and becomes a presence. Uncouth, but a presence. This is when your looking changes. You start questioning the presence as much as the model.”
— John Berger, Bento's Sketchbook
This weekend I had a great, challenging and tiring time being a student again.
One of my first teachers when I got back into visual art in 2003 was John Leonard. I took a number of painting and figure-based classes (working from a model) with him, ending with his Wednesday Workshop, a by-invitation-only group of experienced and professional artists.
I began as the least experienced member of that high performance group, which was a little stressful, but that served to help me up my game.
This weekend I was back with John Leonard and many of my favourite people (with a few notable exceptions). And I was back to painting from the model… for the first time in at least 5 years!
Since my painting has been focused almost exclusively on non-objective work for a few years, it took a while for me to work my way back to the figure in an easily-discernable way. The photos below are in the proper sequence, showing how abstracted I began and how I did find the figure again.
Drawing was a little easier because of the prep and demo’ing I do for my 'Figurative Art' classes at Neilson Park. Make no mistake though, prep and demos are not the same as mindfully drawing from a figure with no other intent.
I always loved the challenges John threw at us and he didn’t disappoint (it felt like home!). If you click here, you will go to the first drawing of the group I’ve uploaded to Flickr. There I have captioned the photos with a list of approaches required for the exercise, in their proper sequence, for anyone who’s interested. Just click the right arrow on the page to view the next drawing.
I was nervous heading into the workshop after so long away, but after a brief adjustment period, the experience was joyful and the challenge has really refreshed me. Even for someone like me who is always inventing and trying new things, periodic challenges like this are invigorating and good for my creativity.
Here are links to a few of my skilled and talented artist friends who were in the workshop with me:
I'm testing and practicing to prepare for my summer show at the Art Gallery of Mississauga, where I'll have an enormous wall drawing. This weekend I picked up some massive charcoal sticks & a chunk (check out the measurements in the photo above). I can't wait to try them!
Kim Lee Kho
As a visual artist I like nothing more than getting up to my elbows in paint or little plastic toys, or wading in at the deep end in pursuit of an idea. When I am not teaching others in a similar vein, you can find me researching, writing and noodling around in my studio, seeing where my latest lines of inquiry lead me.
All images and content on this website © Kim-Lee Kho 2005–2018 except as indicated. All rights reserved. No reproduction without express, written permission.