The words of my mentor, teacher and friend Bob Burridge continued to resonate in my mind long after they were spoken in my figurative art course today.
“What a luxury you have today, painting from a live model,” he told the class. “This is a time-honored tradition; it goes back to cave paintings.”
His description got me thinking about what a time-honored tradition it is indeed. Some people collect coins or baseball cards; I collect art books, poring over the works and stories of those who went before me who shared my passion for making art.
Think of your own favorite artists from the past …now Google them. They all work from live models at some point, both drawings and paintings — further proof of the undraped model’s relevance in art’s foundations and evolution.
This art history buff gets giddy just thinking about visiting the paths of my art heroes. Rembrandt, Picasso, Goya — they are all masters of the figure in art. So today, pondering Bob’s words, I felt a kinship with my teachers from the past and yet an owning of my own tradition, a journey that takes me deeper into my own artistic voice while nodding to the greats of art history.
Here’s the thing about life drawing or painting: It teaches you to see. The human figure is not easy to re-create; you really have to look, find proportions, study the shapes and spaces around the figure or negative shape. It’s a challenge that stretches you as an artist, makes you better by forcing you to look, and then demands that you have seen with each mark you make.
The figure, a human element in art, is not just exciting to me because of the nod to the past and the exceptional way it teaches you to master your skills. It’s about humanity. Mastering the figure is a way to enter a painting from your own point of view. By this, I mean: We are all human, so it puts the “us” factor in the art. As I continue my week of study, this will be my goal, to honor the life in all of us, the connectedness we have as humans. Here’s to being alive!