Statement for Reflections: Self-Portrait Exhibition 2013, Bethlehem Rotunda
The blind contour, a drawing process that focuses solely on observing the subject without viewing the drawing surface, has been an important component of my teaching. Though the results often perplex the beginning drawing students as childlike or primitive, I explain the inherent beauty of the mark-making as the result of a pure process devoid of pretense. For once, the students are not trying to convince me how well they can draw and by relinquishing control in the face of a seemingly futile endeavor, a beautiful honesty prevails.
Last summer, I joined my students in a ten-minute blind contour drawing to conclude a landscape drawing lesson at Bethlehem Steel and as I worked along side them during that lengthy leap into the void, I rediscovered the joy and transcendence of the process. For the remainder of the classes, we used the blind contour drawings as a conclusion to each field trip. Regardless of the day’s successes or frustrations, it served as an opportunity to engage the subject through intensive observation and the revelation of the finished products always ended the day on a high note as we compared the results.
Over the course of time, artists develop a uniquely personal language of expression. Certain threads run through the work and tend to resurface. While these traits help to define a personal style, many artists, myself included, seek to disrupt the predictable to broaden the vocabulary of the work. Over the past few years, I have been exploring different materials and techniques to diversify the mark-making and revitalize the creative process.
For this exhibition, I began with a series of forty blind contour self-portraits. While I was unsure of how I would integrate the drawings into a finished piece, I was quickly drawn to the unique line quality and the diversity of the results. I then used the computer to experiment with various overlays and compositions based on the drawings. Inspired by these compositions, I transferred the images on to tracing paper to preserve the translucent overlays and constructed several studies using encaustic wax.
While the resulting image may lack the recognition of the portraits in their original form, there still remains the connection to the subject and the reconfiguration represents the culmination of an evolving process.
Statement for Indeterminant Operations
Initially, my interest in exploring the philosophies of John Cage was primarily for the benefit of my students. In teaching design, we tend to focus on that which we can control and manipulate in order to create harmony. There is a very rational ordering system and a fundamental series of rules that define the principles of design. Unlike art, which remains subjective, design functions in a very systematic way. Once our students understand these basic principles and learn to apply them, their design skills tend to progress quite quickly.
The real challenge seems to lie in creativity. How do we generate ideas that are engaging and evoke interest? While craft and technical ability are skills to be honed, the source of creative thought can be elusive. By removing representational imagery from the design solutions in our foundation course, students are left with the perplexing dilemma of how to create something that generates interest without utilizing recognizable imagery.
Starting with nothing proves to be a daunting task at first, but as students learn to embrace the process of design as both a journey and a destination, they soon begin to understand the potential for absolutely anything to provide inspiration. The first time I turn their composition upside down, or scatter the pieces of their cut-and-paste design like confetti, there is an incredulous look of disbelief. How can that be an acceptable form of design when it was not my original intention?
The chance operations of John Cage, which by all observations appear completely random, were entirely about intention. By defining the rules of the process, however absurd, the artist is both maintaining ownership and relinquishing control. As the students began to explore their own chance operations and random generators, they soon realized the creative potential and complexities of such systems.
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