Flesh, Image, Word

charcoal

I made this drawing in an open studio at a local college. I drew it in about five minutes. The original image is about eighteen by twenty-one inches. I used 100% cotton Strathmore 500 Series charcoal paper (unprepared—I drew directly on the white surface), and vine charcoal.

I draw very rapidly, holding the charcoal like a paintbrush and lightly dragging its tip in circles over the page. (Let the charcoal follow your hand like a mouse’s tail, my teacher would say.) All the original lines in this drawing remain revealed in the final product. By not erasing, covering, or otherwise recapitulating my original lines, my process remains bare to the eye of the viewer, who, more often than not, is me. I like how, by remaining naked, this drawing of my favorite model continues to teach me how I saw, thought, and moved while I made it.

I am an animated, noisy sketch-class participant. My charcoal rasps the paper like a thrashing beetle seeking light on a dark window. When the model takes a short pose, I draw like the devil is after me, and as though finishing my drawing (which I never do—I just walk away) is my only means of escaping him. My redundant flesh shakes as I hectically stab the air with my charcoal, trying to nail the forms I see to my paper before the model shifts and morphs.

I often imagine the man at the easel behind me as aghast. When I can bear my work no longer and turn around, I find his face caught in a tangle of emotions. But he does not see me. His eyes look veiled—in them, I disappear in particles of light from the bare bulb above us. He gazes at his easel as though what hangs from it is made of live flesh—perhaps freshly sprung from his rib. He stares at it, and through the back of his easel I can feel it staring back at him. Perhaps they have become the first two souls on earth studying each other’s forms—counting what is alike and startling at what is not.

After a while, he frowns. Perhaps there was a conflict. Perhaps after taking toll of what is redundant and what is lacking, the man was overwhelmed. Perhaps he erased the wrong line. Perhaps he underwent or committed an amputation. Perhaps he feels he and the creature on his easel are the last ones standing after a decimating war.

There is often a strange, palpable intimacy in an open studio. I can feel the lines tracing my pursuit of the model and whatever is pursuing me extending from my easel and intersecting the lines of others in pursuit and flight. Sometimes, I can feel the lines go beyond the studio into an unseen place—a timeless space—where they encircle the pursuit of the created by the Creator.

As we draw circles around it, the pursuit belongs equally to God and us. When we stop, we find ourselves in His sphere—the place where the creator gazes at his or her created. When we evaluate our own images, we hope to say, like God says in Genesis, It is good.

But we see our lines don’t obey. If we don’t flood them with a rag and wipe them out, but rather endure them, we show mercy: like God when he packed Noah’s ark full of clean and unclean animals, we choose preservation for our creation. We let a sense of stewardship for our body of work, and perhaps even love, override our sense that it has betrayed us. By allowing some of our lines to live on imperfectly, we suspend our power to make them right, and ourselves right. Rather, we are choosing to let them form something unique to ourselves in spite of ourselves. We choose to say—even though it might suck—This is good.

But we might also say to ourselves, Why not erase these lines? Why let this drawing (or writing) denude me for all the world to see? Why do I stand for this—cowering like a rejected lover as the lover I’ve created stares me down?

I think that while we are saying that, we are getting closer to where God is thinking and feeling. We are demonstrating that, like God, we are letting our images show us what kind of place creation really is.

Let’s say we have arrived there—let’s say we’ve accepted its reality. How might we describe our world?

Creation is where we find how vulnerable we are to our created.
It’s where our creations seem to demand all we have and rarely thank us.
It’s where we are represented both faithfully and unfaithfully.
It’s where our vision gets honored and obscured.
It’s where who we are is crucified, glorified, and monumentalized.
Creation is where in seeing our own nakedness, we discover we are pathological lovers.
Because this is us, we let this happen to us, and we make this happen to us, over and over again.

So we are fruitful and multiply our works. We welcome others into our world as we make it by drawing and writing and being seen and read by others. While we create in a private wilderness, we are aware of each other like listening to noises from bodies in a sketch class. Scratching, shaking, stabbing, and sighing, we each work toward feeling the climax of a consummated, albeit forever unfinished, work. We hope what results is something that, when we walk away from it, goes on speaking to others. We hope what remains is a piece that contains the strange, palpable intimacy of the process of making it.