Sunday, November 16, 2008

Portrait #8: Charlotte

Before I drew Charlotte, she went through my big bag of old clothes and picked out the sweater she wanted. Her project (for the same assignment as this blog) is bartering/exchanging objects with people, to find out what they will trade their things for. I was pleased to draw her in her new sweater; it looks better on her than me. It also produced some nice folds that I liked drawing with the thin side of my graphite stick.

This was not the first time I drew Charlotte, although it was the first time I drew her since we've actually known each other. She was the sitter for this painting that I did first year (but not for long enough that I'd be able to accurately paint her hair and shoulders):

I thought at the time it looked pretty cool despite the lack of hair-resemblance, since I focused a lot on the background (using a palette knife) and the way it related to the foreground on the profile side of her face. I think I learned a lot about planes in this painting, specifically in the cheek/eye/bangs part of the painting. It's hard to see the nose in the more recent drawing but I think I did her nose more successfully 2 years ago. The lips and eyes are pretty similar in both pieces, which is not to say that Charlotte still looks the same. It is hard to know how much my brain records images and how much it injects into each drawing a preconcieved notion of each person's physical essence.

Today Charlotte and I collaborated on a performance piece for the class we are in together. To read about it, you can go to my other blog, called Fe Fy Fo Femme (as soon as I post on it). Basically what happened is that we performed Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give it Up" on the elliptical machines at the gym, therefore breaking the social seal of individual gym music/body experiences. I wonder how my approach to her drawing would change after that.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Portrait #7: Jen

Jen is my new buddy. She is an awesome organizer for Solidarity Club, which is organizing against the evictions of tenants in the Hill House apartment building which was turned into a dorm. I think it is pretty tight because evicting the tenants is a super sketchy and unethical way of making some extra cash for our tiny endowment-- the College would probably make at least 4 times the amount off of sticking first years into triple-bedrooms, since the apartments are currently rent stabilized. Anyway. Back to Jen. She is rad and makes President Karen Lawrence tremble with her revolutionary fervor. LOL We really love radical theory and praxis!

Also Jen came with me to the FIERCE Bowlathon and was part of our JFREJ (Jews for Racial and Economic Justice) team. It was fun and I beat her bigtime in the second round (75 points! Jeez I am a bowling star waiting to happen JKJKJK).

While I was drawing Jen, she was reading this book called "The Oral History Reader" pictured in the lower left corner as "THE ORAL". I tried to portray her true beauty but I think it only half worked. She looked toadelly teen girl hardcore on my bed in her black pants and leg position, especially since we were listening to Sunny Day Real Estate (I needed some sad music in the background and I figured the best place to find it was my 14-year old music library). Jen didn't mind the music even though she is really into hip hop and freestyling.

I think the position of sitters near my pillow definately has an effect on the mood of the drawings and the experience. It's like I'm examining from afar the way they interact with my personal sleeping space. As the semester goes on, they are more likely to want to study while I draw them and sometimes it is hard for them to concentrate and/or sit still. Jen was good at concentrating since we were in a reflective mood.

Epilogue: Quit Playin' Games with My Heart

I am very grateful to have drawn a portrait of Spencer on October 6th. About ten days later, October 17th, his heart failed after taking a turn for the worse and he died in the hospital. It is so sad that his life was cut so short. It was really unexpected (at least for me) because I was really convinced by his attitude toward his heart condition that he was going to be fine. He had so much courage to live life so fully and remain as active as he did. I am really glad I got to know him better in the weeks leading up to his death, and it's been really hard in the weeks after it to realize that we can't keep developing our friendship in the same way. (He lives on through our memory of him, and all the things that remind us of him.)

His parents were very glad to have the picture of Spencer with the portrait, and now they have it on their refrigerator to help them remember him. (I offered them the drawing itself but they wanted me to keep it so that it can help me remember him.) Apparently the day I had drawn him was his mother Penny's birthday, so in a way it is a gift to her to have such a recent and angelic photo of him. I'm really glad for my art to help a family in the unbearable process of grieving for a child.

It has been interesting to reflect on how my drawing my friends marks a new step in our relationship, and how the intimate process of drawing them helps us acquaint ourselves in a basic but intense way. Spencer was very persistent in becoming part of this drawing project that night while we were waiting for our other friend to call me. He clearly really valued the experience of being drawn-- for example, he held out a stillness for a very long time, and finally he asked "hey Beth do you mind if I scratch my head with my right arm? I'm SO ITCHY." It was kind of ridiculous since he was doing me a big favor to hold a pose for a lengthy time without pay/collateral, and tried to ignore his itch for so long. That's kind of similar to the way he was about his heart, I think-- never really complained about it. When I told this story about the head-scratch at his memorial on Thursday night, Penny came up to me and said that it was an example of how much Spencer would do anything for art, and told me a story about how he had bronchitis during a school play, and miraculously controlled his breaths to not cough for an entire scene (only to let out some hacks as soon as the stage went black).

I guess in a way this blog has had an overall cheeky tone, which is fun but also doesn't really get at all the truths of the experience. When I was drawing Spencer I couldn't get over how sweet he looked sitting there looking up at me and how nice it was we were getting to know each other. Which is of course connected to the Backstreet Boys joke. Multiple truths.

Goodbye, Spencer. We love you and miss you.