Drawing one – part 4 – the figure and the face

Reseach point – the human figure

The human figure seems to be the most common artistic theme throughout history. I feel this is because human beings have always been fascinated by facets of their self and in looking at pictures of people- particularly before the advent of photography , as artists recorded figures from their historical timelines. Portrait artists were employed in the royal courts throughout Europe to record Royal life. I live in Greenwich and grew up fascinated by the Royal portraits on display at the Queens house and have memories of copying the images of postcards for school history projects. I recently visited the Dulwich picture gallery and marvelled at the sublime beautify of the old master portraits. There were several large fashionable society portraits filled with dramatic imagery including a portrait of the actress Sarah Bernhardt by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) I was also drawn to ‘portrait of a young man ‘ by Rembrandt ( 1606-1669) believed to be of his son Titus painted in 1663. In the painting  Rembrandt seems to have captured some of the personality of the sitter with the way he has captured the posture and the intense dark eyes of the young man.

Portrait painting continued to thrive during the nineteenth century and themes developed with some artists moving away from society portraiture and producing ordinary people including capturing people at work such as Van Gogh ( 1853-1890) paintings after the French artist Jean Francois Millet( 1814-1875) particularly his paintings and drawings inspired by Millet’s sowers. Self portraits were  also very popular throughout history Rembrandt produced many and the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch produced several self portrait drawings in bright primary colours during the latter part of his life. The advent of photography again added another dimension to portraits and today we have advances in technology that enable everyone to be a photographer with smart phone technology leading to the rise of the ‘selfie’ now a word that has been  added to the English dictionary.

Figure drawing its self has also been a fundamental aspect of learning about the mechanics of the human form for artists. Art schools trained their students to draw by copying the naked form from plaster castes and statutes later artistic practices trained students to draw from a live model. Life drawing became a fundamental aspect of art education.

The Renaissance artist Leonardo Da Vinci ( 1452-1519) was a painter, sculptor , architect , scientist and an inventor. Leonardo was interested in the mechanics of the human body he filled sketchbooks and notebooks with anatomical drawings he also drew detailed portrait drawings. ‘In Vitruvian man c.1490 demonstrates that he clearly understood the proportions of the human form each part of the human form in the drawing has been accurately measured using the theories of the Roman architect Vitruvius – which I find interesting as it is a very similar theory that is used in building perspective and perspective rules such as the golden ratio.

During the twentieth century artists pushed the boundaries in portrait and figure drawing ( I wonder whether this may have been a response to photography? ) Pablo Picasso ( Spanish 1881-1973 had a long and very successful career – early on he produced a series of very emotive and powerful works of figures using a limited colour palette known as his ‘blue’ and ‘Rose ‘ periods – the poignant images he captured were of beggars and circus people . As a leader of the cubist art movement from 1907/1908 he produced an entirely radical concept of capturing a form by showing several different viewpoints within the same space – so that the picture plane would have a face represented with maybe a half view and a front view that literally invites the viewer to challenge their perspection  of the portrait.

Today the contemporary artist continues to explore the human form and face in many unique and different ways.

Anne-Marie Schneide ( French b.1962) produced a series of graphite drawings using mainly just line to produce a series of intimate and sexually explicit drawings where she seems to be largely concerned with shapes – the series of drawings seem to be quite extraordinary in the way that Schneide is able to suggest form and movement with such economic use of mark making on the page. The static lines to me manage to suggest movement! Which I find astonishing. To Me Schneider’s work is very exciting with a raw energy that is very visceral. I definitely would like to find more about her work.

British contempory artist Julie Brixley-Williams is also an interesting artist she is concerned with the very relationship between the body and the space that it around it and the space that it physically fits into. ‘Cloud dance 2’ is a graphite drawing made as a response to a performance on a beach.  ‘locationation’ captures the collective pirouette of 52 dancers at the same time 11.30 am on 9th June 2001. Brixley-Williams has created a series of complex hieroglyphs that map time the location. In a similar way to Anne-Marie Schneide Julie Brixley – Williams’ work is new and diverse and exciting. Brixley-Williams ‘cloud dance 2’ has an almost ghostly ethereal feel to it – it reminds me of whisps of smoke. Chinese artist Ren Zhenyu (b.1976) produces abstract – expressionist style very colourful portraits of famous iconic figures such as Apple software inventor Steve Jobs, and American president Barrack Obama. At first glance Zhenyu’s works look like collage as the structure of the form of the faces appear to be applied in a built up patchwork effect – they are actually oil paintings. Each image stares out of the frame – they are just head shots so the focus is the facial features of the sitter. To me the eyes of the portraits seem to be the focal point of the art works.

I am looking forward to starting this part of drawing one as figure drawing has always interested me and I have done various classes over the years with some very inspiring and different teachers  – including a short summer course in 1987 at the city lit college in Covent Garden with the British surrealist arist Cecil Collins ( 1908-1989 ) . Collins used classical music and mediation in his life drawing classes. He was also concerned with using colour as an  emotive tool.








Drawing now – between the lines of contempory art edited by Tracey published by IB Taurus 978-1-84511-533-3



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