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18, eyes wide open

Joe's Daily Drawing

1998, Year 1
No. 26 Aug 18

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18, eyes wide open

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Train and station


... or just an abstract composition?

by Robert A. Schaefer Jr., Gallery Daguerre at Art Quarter


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The artist as a young man ... Eyes wide open of no particular reason. I did not even realize it. My friends wondered why it was not that much me as it should. Something was wrong. Then they found out - eyes wide open. From staring at the mirror. Of course, normally my eyelids are rather half closed than that much open.

But this was not one of the typical mistakes I write about in Creative Journal 1.3. I did not learn anything formal in art except what my old teacher at school taught me, but I knew the trick taking proportions with stretched arm and brush. Here I look and see proportions and paint what I see, so the picture is quite realistic on the whole, except for the eyes which are correct, too, for that reason of staring.

As this staring does not relate to the mood, the painting looks funny. There are famous etchings of Rembrandt depicting all sorts of grimaces, and I know of a drawing of Beckmann as a young man mouth wide open - all these show that the artist was after the expression produced by pulling faces.

This is not the case here. The face is open, the expression does not relate to the eyes, and all you get is the desire to depict what is seen in the mirror - the surface of things.

Of course, I wanted to reassure myself if I could paint "right", "correct", "realistically". I don't want to delve into what could be possibly meant by those terms here, it is pretty clear that I am as naive as people generally are when it comes to art and painting.

And the question was answered by this painting. It took me some two or three hours to do that painting from scratch, and I realized that this kind of work is not hard to do. Nothing special to it. If I could do it so easily without formal training, I would not have to feel embarrassed if I choose to paint in a non realistic style.

Remember, Picasso was taken to be a wonder child because of his talent to paint realistically. He even had credits because of this in his later age, when he shocked people at large. After all, he had proven that he could do otherwise. People tend to think that painting realistically is hard to do, all other non realistic stuff being easy and childish. I proved to myself that this is not the case. It is the other way around. Painting realistically is easy. Inventing forms you don't see is hard.

This was no small problem, as I see today. Most people still see art developing in a straight line coming from the middle ages with its obvious drawbacks (seemingly those people just painted like kids who don't know better) to the renaissance with all its mathematical inventions to the 19th century, culminating in impressionism, still to be understood as kind of an improvement encompassing the features of light, to modern painting as an open break with tradition.

Common belief is, the modern artist is a botcher all right, making fun of the public, and people feel uncomfortable being laughed at. There are legions of stories on that theme, one of the last I know of happened early this year: A preschool Danish boy was awarded an eminent prize for abstract painting. There sure is a problem here. Those experts could not tell works of matured artists from those of a child void of artistic want. Confusion rises high everywhere, obviously.

At El Quatre Gats, for example, you can read how confused, even furious people are about Picasso. I did not doubt that modern art has its merits, but I was not quite sure. This painting shows that I did not care. I wanted to find out what it was that got me to paint in the first place, and how I could produce a painting worth the effort.

Some days earlier, I had my breakthrough, but I did not realize it. I did my first painting without preconception. It was a self portrait, too, but not so realistic that I could realize it. I certainly did not do it in front of a mirror. And it was the first I felt was worth to be hung, the first I was happy about. The fact that I did the realistic painting later proves that I did not realize at all what that meant to me.

I like the young man shown here. You see that he does not pretend. He is after something, but he does not know what it is. But it is very easy. It lies open in front of him, but he does not see. He is after himself. He wants to know who he is. And this is the core of every one's life: Know who you are! You can't find out by staring at the mirror. Definitely not.

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