More than ever I feel very lucky to be an artist. During this troubling time, art has helped me keep focused, productive and creative.
Toni Morrison said it best: "This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak."
For years I have been spoiled working from real life with L.A.'s great art models. That luxury came to an abrupt end in mid-March, 2020. Quarantine at times feels like an animal in captivity, but being an artist, I feel luckier than most. Things are still enjoyable, with much to be grateful for.
My ongoing lockdown series has creatively sustained me over the months in self isolation. Referencing drawings of master draughtsmen has enabled me to continue working with the figure. My work during lockdown has become narrative. I reference classic mythology to tell modern mythology. This series serves as a visual diary of my interpretation of the human condition and current events during these troubling times. I tell my own narrative by combining and rearranging figure drawings of old Masters. Juxtaposing the figures of different Masters creates a quirky, modern twist. The use of classical styles of drawing gives a sense of history repeating itself, that everything happening during these troubled times has already happened sometime before in the history of the world. This gives me hope that we will get through it.
My lockdown series uses a variety of mediums on paper. I do my best to use the same medium that the master used in the original art piece. (Black, red, brown or other colored chalk, and black or brown ink.) Even if the original piece was a quickly sketched by the Master, the process of copying it accurately is often slow and meticulous, which is ideal for the endless days of self-isolation. I am intrigued by the uniqueness of each old Master's technique.
Dissecting a master's drawing is like cracking a code with ingenious layers to be deciphered. It sometimes feels like learning a foreign language, with each master speaking their own unique language.
Another major shift for me is I now consider myself a narrative artist. Covid-19 has given me something to say. My prior work luxuriated in quiet beauty of my subject. Whereas my lockdown work combines the beauty with a message. This ongoing series tells a narrative of contemporary mythology by combining ancient mythology with old masters’ drawings. During these troubling times, I find it comforting that everything has happened before, maybe not in my lifetime, but in the history of the world we live in. It may be new and even surreal to us, but is the ongoing story of mankind. This gives me hope.
All of the artwork in my lockdown series is not a collage and does not use photography. All of the painting and drawing has been done by hand directly on sheets of 30 x 42 inch paper (2 1/2 x 3 1/2 feet).
Sheep is the title of this work in progress triptych. Ink and chalk on cotton paper with deckle edges, 30" H x 126" W. [Three sheets of 30" x 42" (762 × 1067 mm.)]
Some of my favorite old masters inspired the parade which appears in Sheep: Tiepolo, Durer, Goya, Michelangelo, Daumier, Pontormo, Degas, Ingres, Poussin and Toulouse-Lautrec,
The title, Sheep, is a metaphor for thoughtlessly following the leader, and succumbing to peer pressure, as opposed to thinking for yourself. Our nation's current discussion of complicity and failure to do the right thing, is the inspiration for Sheep. The three central characters in Sheep (in the center panel foreground; L to R:) represents leaders: media, government and religion. The horsemen in the left and center panel represent police and military. Sheep speaks of the ability of leaders to lead us to be either our best or worst selves.
Saturn Speaks [After Degas, Holbein, Goya, Kollwitz, Daumier and Sargent.], talks about our interconnectedness, even during quarantine. People may feel isolated and alone, but our actions inescapably continue to be felt by others, with consequences, for better or worse.
Like all of the artwork in my lockdown series, Saturn Speaks is not a collage and does not use photography. All of the painting and drawing has been done by hand directly on one sheet of 30 x 42 inch paper (2 1/2 x 3 1/2 feet).
While washing my hair I created this in 3 - 5 minutes. I called it, We Will Survive. The surreal lockdown rollercoaster had begun.
I had much fun and learned a lot doing this master copy of Venus Lamenting Adonis. It also helped me formulate my plan for lockdown. I often prefer an old master's drawings to their paintings. And I love learning about an artist by doing a copy of their work.
But rather than tell someone else's story, I wanted to somehow customize the work to tell my own story. (Like I had done in week two and three.)
Thanks for checking in. We're fine. Just a typical Saturday night in isolation. I'm chilling topless in my plastic laundry hamper. Holding a feather as I usually do. Got my turban on and red shoe laces for my fake stab wound. Using the paper bag from food delivery as a table. Nothing strange happening here at all. Another routine Saturday night in lockdown. You?
Re-creating works of art turned out to be fun and addictive ... and surprisingly self-portraits.
Georgia O'Keeffe - Hands by Alfred Stieglitz
Esthetically speaking, I like the simplicity of the first version of this recreation (without the mask).
But the second version with the mask better captures the inescapable daily nuisance of the mask for me.
The prior week (week 2 of lockdown) I used Michelangelo's figure drawings to tell current day mythology. What luck that it set me on a wonderful creative course for the quarantine. For week three I used Daumier's figures to illustrate more childhood mythology. This drawing shows a student being scolded just before their best friend rescued them.
For the second week of lockdown I created Dodgeball, a triptych (3 panels), using red chalk, black chalk and brown ink on paper that I stained with tea.
The figures are master copies of Michelangelo's drawings for the Sistine Chapel.
The inspiration for this challenge came when an old friend jokingly asked me to make a painting commemorating her childhood victory of catching a killer dodgeball hurled at her by the school bully. I liked the challenge, but not being a narrative artist, I initially drew a blank.
While at the Getty's Michelangelo exhibit - the day before it shuttered - this concept occurred to me.:
Michelangelo's burly muscle bound figures would tell our schoolgirl mythology perfectly.
The red (headless) figure on the center panel is catching the dodgeball. The figure just to its right is throwing the ball.
The side panels show the spectators.
On the last night of normal restaurant business before the lockdown, I took this lobster home in a doggy bag to paint. The chef had sawed it in half. I texted a friend, "My poor model! Its head had to be tied together with a blue rubber band." She replied, "He is lucky - he's still got a job!".
Remember when we used to get together with friends? A friend gave me some beautiful oranges from his tree.
It's always a treat painting fruit with leaves still on them.
Copyright © 2020 M Susan Broussard - All Rights Reserved.