Studio Mysteries

September 28, 2009


Filed under: Drawing — Tags: , — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 10:43 pm

I have always loved the hell out of the graphite pencil. When I was a kid in the USSR, we did graphite still life drawings as part of the junior art school curriculum. How people complained and moaned through those, and how I totally secretly dug them!

Later, in Canadian high school, I did a graphite figure composition and loved it, but for some reason stopped there. I came back to the pencil in Year Three of art college, when I took up old exercises out of sheer frustration with the reprehensible level of instruction in the college’s Fine Art department. I remember drawing something very tedious with a flower in it, and contemplating not being an artist due to the whole difficulty in earning money that this profession involves for many people. As I was thinking cowardly thoughts about defection, I hatched away for several hours, and suddenly felt a huge and overwhelming sense of peace, a sense of deep and utter rightness. Hatching away at a sheet of paper is the functional specification to which I was built.

It took a few years of flailing hither and yon to accept this truth and act on it, so after art school, I didn’t do much with the pencil until I did my first big, insanely ambitious multi-figure composition in the spring of 2004. The good news is that I have been drawing steadily ever since and show no signs of repentance whatsoever.

Just for fun, I pulled out a close-up of the hatch work on the First Big Drawing, and compared it to the piece I’m working on now. It seems that what I crave today is softness and a kind of smooth elegance, where you can’t see the marks at all. I wonder how this will evolve. I have been contemplating using visible marks again, but in a very different way, using the direction of the strokes to follow the form, rather than dominate as a single-direction slant across the picture.


September 17, 2009

What + How = Let’s Think About It A Lot

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 7:46 pm

I have been an artist all my life. But ever since immigrating to Canada 18 years ago, and beginning studies at an art college, I have struggled with contemporary art and where I fit into it.

What I think of as contemporary art is not necessarily simply “art being made today”. In the 20th century, a lot of experimentation and redefinition took place, resulting in some art practices that I personally find ridiculous, bewildering, absurd, lazy and downright fraudulent.

It is beyond the scope of this post to make a more specific and concrete critique of contemporary art. The reason I bring it up is to say that as an artist, I had to sit down and figure out what kind of art animal I wanted to be. The thing about being an artist now is that it’s not at all a given as to what that means. Artists in industrial and post-industrial countries have a greater freedom to define their professional arena than they ever did in the past. It’s a great thing, but it is also a thing that can disorient artists at the start of their path, particularly if the artist in question doesn’t fit into the mold of visual art as it has been defined by mainstream art institutions after the 1970s.

What I came up with was this:
1. I don’t agree with the obsolescence model of art, meaning, with the idea that innovation is the most valuable and urgent task of any artist. I am not interested in art that is new, in its format or technical construction. I am interested in art that is unique, rich; art that has something to say; art that gives an eloquent and compelling voice to the way its maker sees the world. That kind of art is new by definition, regardless of whether its technical execution and format is based on a thousand-year-old tradition or on the latest iteration of a computer language. Art doesn’t have to be new. It has to be good.

2. The art I love the most is Western art – the painting, drawing and sculpting traditions of European civilizations. It’s not because I think that other types of art are lesser, or uninteresting. Western art is what I respond to most strongly from my guts, and what gives me the most pleasure as a viewer. It’s also the art of the places I come from. The two facts are probably linked, but in any case, even after seeing all manner of other art, paintings, drawings and sculptures of a realist and figurative nature are my strongest source of creative nourishment. Unfortunately, this source also comes with a package of problems.

In the 1970s, everyone in capitalist countries’ universities woke up to the fact that Western civilization is steeped in sexism, racism, colonialism and class oppression. Since that is the case, the art of this civilization is in many ways shaped by sexism, racism, colonialism and class oppression, because those things shaped the minds of the artists as well as the production and distribution of the artworks.

This critique was excellent, thorough, necessary and long overdue. But the 1970s were a decade of excess, and a lot of people went further than that and concluded that the art of the European civilizations was nothing but sexism, racism, colonialism and class oppression, and on top of it all, like, totally last month and bad-retro, and therefore had no value at all aside from being an instrument of oppression, and neither did the very activities of making paintings or drawings.

I don’t agree. First, I believe that the amount of oppressive crap on the canvas is directly proportional to the degree that the individual artist is an oppressive asshole. A lot of artists within the European traditions were humanist philosophers, consciously working to overcome the evils of their society. Some of those artists were even female, or non-white, or poor! There were also lots of simply decent people, with empathy and conscience that served to mitigate the way the evils of their society shaped their perceptions and beliefs. I believe that some of the things on the canvases are a contribution to healing the souls of the viewers rather than injuring them further, and a powerful, transcendent contribution at that. Western art has problems, but problems are not all it has.

Secondly, I think that the activities of making paintings or drawings are extremely necessary and fantastic, and that people have an intrinsic need to both make them and look at them. I am 600% sure that I am one of those people.

3. Therefore, what “being an artist” means to me is making paintings and drawings that involve human beings, objects and environments as their subjects, using the language of realism to do so.

In some ways, it is a relief to set these parameters, but in others it means I have a lot of work to do not just on the “how” of this kind of artmaking, but on the “what”. As in, what kinds of images do I want to make? As a self-proclaimed heir to the European art tradition, I have to deal with all aspects of that tradition, including the sexism, racism, colonialism and class oppression.

The critical thought that deals with those vile things exists on two levels, social and individual. On the social level, volumes and volumes have been written about them, and lots of intelligent and progressive people have given them time and thought. Even most recently, Cat Minou has marvelled at the way Tintoretto’s colours sing the beauty of the female body – a true female body with a belly and hips and not the starved pre-adolescent we are presently expected to be – and at the same time, the way he dehumanizes the women he portrays because in his pictures, they are nothing but bodies, bodies that don’t even have a response to being raped! Because the other fun part about Western art is how it’s all rape, rape, rape, rape, rape. Daphne, Europa, Danae, Lucretia, Ravished Nymph #1701. Can we have a break from rape, for maybe five minutes? Alright, here is some Annunciation. Sure, Mary was impregnated without her knowledge or consent, but it was to bring forth Jesus! Jesus is worth it! Plus, she is totally cool with the whole thing! And so is Joseph, and he was her husband!

In addition to the macro-critique, though, an individual, personal journey of critical thought is involved in addressing and transcending the crap aspect of Western art – how much the individual artist sees and notices it, and how they go about not making a further contribution to the crap aspect in their own work. In this respect, I think I have a lot of work to do, both with the sexism and the racism.

I’ve read a mountain of feminist art criticism, and being a woman with brains, I’m generally alert to sexist cultural bullshit, but I have also had a lot of formative experiences that conditioned me to accept being devalued and turned into an object as a normal course of events. It’s something I have to be alert about both in daily life and in my image-making.

As for racism, I have a huge, long way to go. Like many white people who have a conscience, I consider racism evil and wrong, don’t want to be part of the problem, and want to be part of the solution. Like many white people, I am also blind to what is called systemic oppression and privilege. Racism permeates every structure of our society and every particle of our culture, to the point where it becomes like water, and therefore invisible to us, the fish. It influences and shapes us as *conditioning*, as brainwashing. For people of colour, that means fighting racism not only outside, but keeping at bay the kind of internalization that causes a person to accept being devalued or turned into an object as a normal course of events. For white people, it means consciously and frequently thinking about racism and the various ways it’s present in the culture, and despite our best intentions, in our perceptions and actions.

People of colour have the issue of race shoved into their face 24/7 and our social environment makes it impossible for them to just be an individual, at any given time, for race to be beside the point and not on the horizon. One of the ways in which racism is evil is this sheer inescapability, the way it has to be dealt with every single time a person of colour opens a book, turns on the TV or leaves the house, let alone applies for a job or a mortgage. As a white person, I can look at Gaugin’s cool use of line and colour, and suspend thinking about how he portrayed Polynesians in patronizing and dehumanizing ways. A person of colour standing next to me at a museum and looking at the same painting can’t suspend, because she is patronized and dehumanized in the exact same way daily, because she is standing in an institution that until recently, denied her entry as anything other than a (naked) model, because she is the one being directly insulted by Gaugin as surely as if he is still alive and leching away at brown teenagers.

White people don’t have to live with this gauntlet or constantly fight against a sick deluge. And since we don’t *have* to think about it, we don’t. Not always because we are assholes. Sometimes, because thinking about race, racism and our daily, ongoing complicity in it, is painful and disturbing, and makes us ashamed, and deserved shame is not a nice feeling and takes emotional resources to confront, and meanwhile there are bills, and work, and errands, and the car broke down, and we have other sources of oppression such as sexism that do get shoved in our face 24/7 and get bumped to the top of the mental queue, and on and on and on…

So even the best-meaning of us have a natural tendency towards obliviousness. But as an artist and as an artist who is white and portrays people, I think it’s urgent for me to think about racism and how to make images that don’t end up being racist. Because I can help what I am conscious of, like not being disrespectful to the people I encounter, but I can’t help unconscious racism, which will most surely show up on the canvas as everything unconscious will, until that unconscious racism is made conscious, addressed and changed through awareness and knowledge.

I asked a media analyst and African-American journalist/blogger Harry Allen about what I can do in this regard. His suggestion was so simple, it made me facepalm: study the analysis on the subject, which is out there in droves. So much so that it’s silly that I haven’t done a lot of reading or studying of the history and writing of Black people, or thought very deeply about what the world is like for people whose skin colour is not the colour favoured by the dictatorship of race. Where I did get thus far is discovering very smart and thought-provoking blogs, such as Harry’s own Media Assasin Blog, Racialicious, Resist Racism and Womanist Musings.

Where it comes to the -isms of evil, the problem baggage of European art, I have a lot of thinking and a lot of *seeing* to do, of looking at the world and at the inside of my own head with eyes that are maybe wiser and more awake than the ones I have been using. In my studies for this past year, I have gotten a good way towards figuring out how to express what I want to express in my paintings and drawings. As to what I want to express, the answer will evolve as I do, but it is important to pose the question so that I can make a conscious choice as to which aspects of my artistic heritage I will give continued life.

September 13, 2009

Studio Mysteries Answers Questions

Filed under: 3D Anatomy Course, Anatomy, Ecorche — Tags: , — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 1:48 pm

The purpose of this blog is in large part educational. Therefore, it cheers my little blogger heart to no end when I look at what search terms people used to get here, and see that some of them are in the form of a question. Here are some answers:

Q. “Is pubic bone below ilium?”

A. Yes. The ilium is the topmost bone in the pelvis. If you put your hands on your waist and move them down until they run into the pelvis, what you will touch is the ilium. Although it’s important to note that in anatomy, terms such as “above” and “below” are relative. The human body is capable of a great range of movement and often positions itself ass over teakettle. This means the artist has to analyze the relationships between major anatomical landmarks for every pose.

Q. “How to draw boobs”

A. How indeed. I suggest, “with lots of enthusiasm” and “by observing how they conform to the underlying form of the rib cage”. Breasts are glands protected by fatty tissue, resting on top of the pectoralis muscles in a bubble of skin. Female breasts have weight and drape over whatever they lie on top of. Kirk Shinmoto has a hilarious, though also crude and slightly awful analogy: think of balloons filled with water and nailed to a barrel.

Conversely, don’t draw breasts as though they are billiard balls. Even artificially augmented breasts are filled with material that is pliable, not rock solid. And solidity is what makes artificially augmented breasts look fake and weird. Breasts are soft. They are meant to be treated – and drawn – with care.

Q. “how rey’s anatomy do skeleton?”

A. In the 3D Anatomy/Ecorche class, we started with constructing a wire armature that would support the weight of the clay and keep the ecorche upright. We sculpted the skeleton on top of that. Because half of the ecorche would be eventually covered with muscle, we made the skeleton on the exposed half very detailed, and on the muscle half, rougher and more general.

Rey stresses that studying the skeleton is the most important part of artistic anatomy. There are a couple of reasons for that.

First, muscles and fatty tissue are very changeable. They look different in every pose, and vary a lot from individual to individual. The skeleton is immutable and though individual variations exist, they are much more subtle.

Secondly, similarly to breasts, muscle and fat tissue drapes. In a way, it has no form of its own, like a dress that assumes its final form only when the wearer puts it on. If you understand the skeleton, you understand how the underlying bones give form to what you see on the surface.

Thirdly, muscles attach to bones. If you figure out where the bones are and what they are doing, all you have to do is connect the origin and insertion points with a tear-drop shape and presto – you have the muscles. (Every muscle has origin and insertion points – think of it as a bridge from point A to point B. When you study muscles, you have to study what points of the skeleton they connect).

September 11, 2009

Big-ass Drawing, Progress Report

Filed under: Drawing, Values — Tags: , , , — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 6:40 am



Working like a fiend on my death-by-drawing drawing. Spot the differences: top image is from my previous update, second image is from this afternoon. I feel like I’ve made miles and miles of progress, but on comparison, if anything, the second image seems more busy and scattered than the first. Which would be the opposite of my objective.

Now, where’d I put that drink?

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