Feliks Topolski, Air Attack (from Three Continents). Image Credit: Feliks Topolski, Fourteen Letters, Faber and Faber Limited, London, 1988. No pagination
A couple of days ago, blog Pays Connu posted on a series of drawings which formed part of a learning/teaching exercise in figure drawing, where time is limited to 5 or 6 minutes per pose.
I well remember the adrenalin rush of trying to produce a resolved drawing in just 2 minutes when I was in art school. I loved the rush of getting it down lickety spit, without time for preconceived ideas, edits or intimidation of the blank surface. It all came down to snappy decisions, limited material and rapid focus. For me, these kinds of drawings capture a raw energy and movement which is not present in so many laboured, studious works. It is vital and immensely rewarding to invest solid time in sustained studies or projects, practising and honing skills and technique over and over again, becoming utterly lost for hours on end in the process of working and re-working, erasing and rebuilding. I love the process of working, but I also love the spontaneity and test of working really fast and on the spot.
Feliks Topolski painted as he drew, capturing the essence of action, emotion, trauma and suffering of those he saw around him during some of the worst moments of modern history. Witnessing the ravages of war and the political turbulence of his time first hand, he worked as he saw things unfold, rapidly banging it all down on whatever paper he had on hand, torn from books and found scraps. These drawings often ended up in published (and self-published)magazines, newspapers and chronicles. They became murals. He recorded things as they were, and his drawings capture forever the intensity of those lived moments and the people who endured them. Air Attack is just one example among countless drawings that does this. His use of the page, dynamic composition, and sheer economy of means explicitly communicates the terror and trauma of victims of war, demonstrating both artistic dexterity and the ability to capture the truth of human experience and suffering within a fleeting moment. Works like these transcend time and retain their currency, irrespective of politics and the historical moment in which they are made and viewed.
Drawing is not only the backbone of painting, for example, it is an extension of the artist’s physicality, and whatever is in the brain and heart comes out through the hand directly onto the surface. It is for this reason that it can be so unforgiving, and yet so revealing and brutally honest.
My work, titled Betty. Fabric and thread on card.
I find that while I love drawing by instinct with speed and limited materials, these works have a certain quality other pieces lack. They have more energy and dynamism, and appear more true of the time they were made in. Sometimes I love to draw with my sewing machine, and when I produce pieces like this, I never draft or plan it. I shove the card right under the needle and pull it around on impulse. I am rough and throw it all together as though time is running out (My mother is a very precise and clever quilter who would flip out if she saw how I treated my machine). I make decisions and additions as I go, but these works are always made in one sitting. I am well aware of how easy it would be to stuff things up and have to discard it and start all over again. But it doesn’t matter. Each piece I judge to be a successful work is almost an accident, spontaneous and made on the edge of screwing it up. I have found that each begins to take on a life of its own and become figures I somehow recognise.
Another piece of mine, untitled. Graphite on paper.