Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Artist and Model

I just returned from a wonderful day's drawing, led by the artist Tom Davies at the school he teaches at in Ealing. It's a long way from North London but I can't think of a better way of spending a Saturday.

My good friend Aliette was modelling, along with two other people, and between 10am - 4pm the hours just whizzed by. Another fantastic and inspiring artist, Francis Hoyland, was also there. The class comprised a few of Tom's Sixth Form students and then quite a few 'older' people - myself being one of the youngest of that category. As all of us sat and sketched, Tom and Francis kept up an ongoing dialogue about drawing, ways of seeing, and artists. Their favourites seem to be Matisse and Bonnard, which is handy as they're my favourite artists too. The discussion moved to the new Rothko exhibition at the Tate, which I am dying to see. Tom also told us about his imminent trip to Calais, where he's been invited to give a talk at the inauguration of Anthony Caro's new installations in a 12th century chapel. The project is entitled Le Choeur de Lumière.

Tom also talked to us about Balzac's novella, Le Chef d'Oeuvre Inconnu, which he'd suggested as reading matter to one of his pupils who is preparing to study Art History at UCL. The book is set in 17th Century Paris. It's about an ageing artist, the mysterious and foreboding Frenhofer, desperately trying to complete his 'unfinished masterpiece'. He inevitably fails - in the eyes of his critics at least. Balzac incorporates a fictitious young Poussin into the tale, too. According to Tom, the house in which the story is set actually exists, and apparently Picasso was so enthralled by the tale that he decided to paint Guernica there. I read the Balzac work a couple of years ago, whilst researching for a dissertation on painting and cinema. Jacques Rivette made a film loosely based on the book, entitled La Belle Noiseuse (1991), and that's what first inspired me to read it. The film stars a fabulous Michel Piccoli as Frenhofer, and Emmanuelle Béart as the young model. Both the film and the book provide fascinating explorations into perceptions of beauty, the artist's impulse to capture the ephemeral, and poses the unanswerable question of 'what makes a good painting'?

During today's session I completed about 5 drawings, using a mixture of charcoal, pen and ink. I was very pleased with them and can't wait for my next class.

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