From Sydney to Canberra
I spent a weekend in Canberra, in what is beginning to feel like my annual art pilgrimage. The first stop was breakfast at NewActon. A bit of hipster action near the university. They had wonderful sculptures dotted around in the area too and the food was good too at Mocán & Green Grout.
The National Galley’s major exhibition this season was “Impressions of Paris” – a wonderful exhibition displaying three French artist – Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas and Daumier, who have been very influential on me.
I was introduced to the works by the first two artists when I was in high school, at a time when I was developing my drawing skills and breaking out of my comic book self-education. Because they both used drawing tools rather than paints, brushes and canvases I related to them more.
Daumier I only came across in books about the history of western art etc. one of his oil paintings would usually sit next to a Corot or Courbet. They were painters from the Realist period in the late 1800s. ‘Realism’ was not about painting subjects as photo-real as possible, but about revealing the truth about life, and in particular the class differences that existed in France at the time.
And it wasn’t until a trip to Europe back in the 1990s did I realise Daumier was known more for his caricatures and satirical drawings than his fine art paintings. For all of us sketchers out there the opportunity to see a master’s sketches and drawings, more than they’re finished pieces, is a thrilling opportunity. Lead up drawings are uninhibited and they leave their notes or mistakes in so you can learn quite a lot from them. But this artist is known for his drawings, full stop! So it was imperative I went to Canberra to see some.
Another wonderful angle to this exhibition was that the bulk of work on show were lithographs and monographs, basically prints. Some were reworked by the artists while others were the prints from original newspapers or posters that were on display. It was very exciting to see these fine artists produce artwork specifically designed for reproduction. Many were very clean in style and were always, more often than not, designed as black & white works. I appreciate work of any kind that uses black as more than just a means of outlining or shading a picture, but as a dynamic element in a composition.
And print work is not always as revered in galleries like their painted partners (which is probably why this exhibition was free to enter compared the previous years exhibitions) but i think they have more relevance in our world than oil paintings. Daumier’s work was designed to be topical and relevant to everyman. The biting humour in his work created in the late 1800s and aimed directly at the French aristocracy can still make someone in the 21st Century on the other side of the world laugh out loud.
And he wasn’t just a cartoonist or caricaturist whipping up little sketches of topical content, his illustrations have wonderful tonal balance, fantastic compositional direction and an intuitive sense of anatomy. If ever there is a Daumier exhibition near you I highly recommend seeing it. Even if you can’t draw or aren’t interested in art his work will entertain and impress you.
From Canberra to Sydney
As most of this trip was gallery hopping it didn’t leave much time for sketching. So I don’t know whether this was a good thing or not (probably not coz I didn’t get home till 9.30pm) but my plane home was delayed by more than 2hrs so I used that time to sketch. And I kept it purely monotone in inspiration of the French masters. However, I didn’t have my pencil sharpener so I kept having to pick at the wood on my pencil with my fingers!
I tried drawing the above with these cheap kids multi-coloured or marbled pencils, but as you can see they hardly made an impression. So I resorted to my 3B pencil to capture some serious cloud action that was happening on the horizon.
It was a very sparse terminal and little to draw in terms of texture and complexity. I saw this little truck…thing?But my brain switched into trying to replicate the artwork that i saw and it felt disjointed.
So I tried again and just let my natural style kick in. It’s like a scribble technique. I let the pencil fly across the page and draw what I see and, especially, feel. It’s not so much about getting any kind of accuracy but more about allowing myself the joy of putting in the shapes and lines, like waving a sparkler in the air until it burns out. If there is any accuracy or tonal balance created I guess that comes from experience and having spent a lot of time drawing more precisely and always practicing the foundations of drawing.
Another cute little truck – I reckon it could have fit in my pocket!
Forty minutes into my delay I went to get a drink and lost my seat next to the window, so sat in another position. I used my hotel biro. It was hard to get this right (for me) because that girl thought I kept staring at her (which I was) but probably not for reasons she might have thought (whatever that was).
They had these large flat ottomans I thought were great for a tonal picture. I tried the multi-coloured pencil again which hardly made a dent, then I tried the hotel pen but it kept cutting out on me, so resorted to my then blunt graphite pencils.
Finally in the air, halfway through the flight we saw some more crazy cloud coverage. Just really big and fluffy but ranging in different depths of perspective, like the multiple backdrop scenes in an opera. One day I will do a serious study on clouds, they’re impossible to do as you fly past them.
Even after the pilot said we are now preparing for our descent into Sydney, it still took long enough for me to sketch these two. Impromptu sketching does help one deal with the anxiety of wanting to just get home.Anyway, hope you enjoyed my flight!
(NB: I cannot find the original ownership of the Daumier prints, so post thanks for allowing me to reproduce them in my post)