I was invited by Wendy Welch, director of Vancouver Island School of Art, to give an address to the Advanced Drawing Class of 2016. This is an abridged version.
It is a very important principle I have learned here at VISA – our inspiration, our emotion, our ideas, need a road along which to travel, with sign posts and guides. A good teacher is one form of guide- someone who sees what is happening in your work and draws out what is emerging.
Sketching, writing, googling, looking at other artists, tracing, collage, photos, gathering ideas, writing about work, talking with other artists; all these activities provide material for our inspiration, our feeling, and ideas to hold onto and gain direction from.
Wendy Welch teaches that action is the way forward with art, but it is not blind action, it is action which looks and feels, and makes for itself something to respond to.
We are not supposed to make something from nothing as though we are creator gods, we are meant to be responders to what was and is already there.
I value the analogy of drawing on cave walls: going into the dark and scratching upon the surface of the earth the animals which nourish us as though we are giving back to earth itself; artists give back to life what life gives to us. But what if it is stories of death and suffering that occupies an artist, as it seems to do me? How do I offer that back to life?
There is in me the sense of the tragic which needs art of operatic proportions, but large scale drawing exhausts me. Yet, in stories from many cultures there is the idea of small things being as valuable as the grand gesture, and I have found comfort and a way forward with small drawings.
I am enchanted that I can put so much care into a small simple piece instead of always feeling I have to be bold and complex. I don’t have to try and bring life to the pictures of the dead, I am able instead to infuse understanding into the brokenness of the living.
I crush paper with my hands and bathe it in water. These actions become in themselves ways to draw, and express the damage of small children in war, and the sorrow of it, far more effectively than if I had drawn literal weeping, or dead children.
The result of the 100 drawings project was described by one of my classmates, and I paraphrase her comment as best as I can: “your work is really dark, but I am not repelled by it as I usually am by dark work. It isn’t “icky” I am drawn into it, I feel compassion instead of revulsion.” That response says it all for me, and helps me see a sense of purpose for my art.
My hope is that my work might encourage empathy even as it asks us to look with compassion upon a society which we consider to be have been the least compassionate. I hope my work might help remind us that even in the deepest darkness there is light and love and goodness and innocence, just as there were in these tiny children and the mothers who loved them. By looking at these children I hope we might be reminded to love our enemy, even if we go to war.