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
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 2005–2017 except as indicated. All rights reserved. No reproduction without express, written permission.