Monday, June 18, 2007

the public lives of sketches...






the danish artist j.f. willumsens (1863-1958) was known mainly as a painter, although he also worked with ceramics, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and even designed his own house.

willumsens had a somewhat scientific and obsessive approach to studies, feeling the necessity to know every last detail of a composed painting in his head before he started the final work.

in his own words: "After all the preliminary work for a picture has been done, like compositions, sketches, studies, etc., and I think I know to the very last detail all that is necessary to complete the picture, I paint a draft version of it, usually in full size, from memory.

It is this draft version that I call the "dress rehearsal". From it I can see whether I am capable of painting the actual picture with the knowledge I have acquired from my studies, or whether more are needed. For it is my view that a painter has not mastered his subject unless he knows it by heart. One cannot at the same moment be an enquiring pupil and a knowledgeable master. I believe that I am the only artist who uses this procedure."

that willumsens was the only artist to use this procedure is debatable; but what is not open to discussion are the beauty of his preliminary color sketches. although these were never intended to be discussed as finished artworks in their own right, they would fit comfortably into the world of early abstract painting, even if this insertion was not part of willumsens' (nor anyone else's) plan. though never intended, the visual connections to abstract painting history - from paul serusier to alfred jensen - are certainly there. of course, it's somewhat presumptuous on my part to read the sketches of someone as obsessed with finished work as willumsens as something more - but when i discovered these images, they killed me!

i've recently been thinking a lot about the idea of sketches and how much an artist might or might not be able to control their eventual entry into the world. an upcoming release of some of nick drake's home recordings is a mix of both good and bad. some of it is unbelievably powerful and all of it is undeniably private (i've heard the whole thing... most of this stuff has existed for ages on various bootlegs, and this new release is already circulating on the web). drake was extremely shy, as well as a very very careful composer and songwriter; and i can't help but think he would be painfully uncomfortable with the idea that these "dress rehearsals" or, worse, these preliminary "color sketches" are being released as a record. on the other hand, there is no denying that these recordings do more than simply shed light on process. there is some seriously raw mind numbing beauty here of course.

perhaps an artist has to be resigned to the fact that when such things are brought to light; they will most likely be co-opted by a viewer/listener to fulfill expectations and purposes never intended by the artist (similar to the trajectory of most artworks). for better or worse, drake and willumsens sketches have no choice but to allow us to make them our own... to find transcendence in things, that perhaps, were never supposed to contain quite so much power.

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Blogger woolgathersome said...

Wow, I don’t know anything about this artist, but the color sketches / works are beautiful…. And, of course, that top image is very reminiscent of Rothko… In some ways, when I mounted that ink blot drawing by Cornell, I really didn’t feel as if he had ever intended this work to be shown publicly, and, in this way, it stood out as oddly un-Cornell and a bit too private….

Having spent so much time with Nick Drake (music and text upon), I tend to feel that you are right, and that he would certainly not have wanted the Family Tree release to come out - at least not without his gentle and careful hand being involved… yet, I am so looking forward to it….

4:23 PM  
Blogger sroden said...

yes, i think people like us would always want the chance to see fragments and toss offs, even at the consternation of the creators... the un-cornell's are great because of their un-cornellness. aside from being beautiful, it's totally amazing to have access to someone's thinking like that. the weird thing about willumsens is that i saw a painting by him one morning in odense, and didn't register the name (i'm terrible with names) and then in the afternoon found the little catalog with the color studies in it, and it wasn't until later i realized i had seen the painting. they actually make a lot of sense together because the painting was this kind of almost hallucinatory view of what i think was a scientist (all wall labels and catalog text in danish...)

11:04 PM  
Blogger zoe tati said...

"dress rehearsals" how nice a phrase
thank you for dwelling on my fave national artist !

ciao, zoe tati

3:18 AM  
Blogger sroden said...

glad to make you happy :-) he's a pretty great painter, and unfortunately doesn't seem to be so known here in the usa. i saw the painting "en fysiker" in odense, it was pretty much a stunner!

7:57 AM  
Blogger the art of memory said...

can't wait for the nick drake, thanks for mentioning it.
i am so bad with finding out about these things.
i would be curious to see or hear about other "dress rehearsals".
i guess duchamp would just say posterity is all that matters.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

An ongoing debate - who has the right to publish things after you are gone. In all the arts there have been examples of people publishing (Jimi Hendrix, Larkin, Virgina Andrews (?The attic books) material posthumously, as well as others where manuscripts were destroyed as requested. As with most things I am in two minds: as a consumer I enjoy hearing/seeing/reading 'dress rehearsals', lost tapes, etc; but then again, you must have some control of your ouevre. Some artists collect material for posterity (letters, drafts etc donated to libraries) while others are more private, more focussed on the work now. But I think that whiel there are still consumers the juvenalia, drafts, discads will continue to be published
Hopwefully sensitively ratehr than almost literally flogging a dead horse.

12:57 AM  
Blogger zoe tati said...

hi again,
just came up with another term:
color casting

and... you might enjoy another danish artist, whom you properly not know of: Franciska Clausen 1899-1986 somhow I think you will like....


6:21 AM  
Blogger sroden said...

thanks for the tip, i'll have to take a look. i'm sure at your suggestion, it will be something to like!

3:14 PM  

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