Drawing: Listening Between the Lines

Watch Dryden Goodwin draw portraits of British Underground employees while listening to the subjects’ interviews. The project is an interesting one and it brings to mind the topic of how to draw, which is examined below.

Background
“British artist Dryden Goodwin has drawn 60 pencil portraits of staff at work, or at moments of pause in their day, and has created 60 films recording the drawings being made. Each drawing concentrates on a person’s face and head. The films show the accelerated progression of the drawings, accompanied by fragments of the conversation between the artist and ‘sitter’, revealing a multitude of personal exchanges and stories. Together they form an intimate and diverse social portrait of this community of workers.

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The drawings are displayed on a variety of poster sites across the London Underground network. The films can be viewed online, offering the opportunity to unlock the creation of each portrait.  

In his work Goodwin attempts to extend the limits of what portraiture can do. To explore this, he often combines various media, such as drawing, sound, photography and video. His multi-layered portraits offer a heightened sense of individuals or collective communities, and of how we interact with one another. His subjects are drawn from a diverse range of people, whether strangers encountered in the city, friends, family or specific groups within a shared environment.

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Central to Linear is an acknowledgement of the inability of any portrait to describe a subject adequately. Rather than attempting to depict the hundreds of staff who work on the Jubilee line, Linear evokes a sense of their personal contributions through the detailed portrayal of just 60 individuals, exemplifying the variety of roles on the line.  

A similar process of condensing occurs in each of the separate film portraits, where the real-time development of the drawings is speeded up and the conversations edited into intense (but inevitably incomplete) representations of each person. The investment of time becomes an underlying theme of the work. This is emphasized in the captions accompanying the drawings, where the time taken to make each portrait is juxtaposed with the number of years each member of staff has worked on the Underground’s Jubilee line.

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The portraits were drawn in a variety of locations such as train operator’s cabs, signaling towers, management offices, station control rooms, ticket offices and gates. Through the intertwining of these individuals’ varied roles, with the abundance of their personal revelations and experiences, different themes emerge encompassing life, death, love, personal obsessions and aspirations. In this way, Linear evokes both a physical and emotional mapping of the Jubilee line.                                                                                                                                                                   

For Goodwin, ‘Linear exists as a repository of insights and histories, anecdotal and factual, revealed through the interplay of the drawn line and conversation, that is unique to the Jubilee line at this particular point in time.'”Transport for London     

Further Observation

Drawing from the Center

Dryden Goodwin, as can be seen in these films, draws in the opposite fashion than most artists are trained to do. He starts at a single point and grows the image on the page. To the contrary, I was taught to draw from the general to the specific. Starting with basic shapes and light gestural lines that will eventually support more and more detail and shading. 
One would think that drawing without a structure would cause great inaccuracies and wonky proportions. But, some artists can pull it off. My good friend and Montserrat College of Art colleague Elissa Della-Piana is probably the best pure draftsperson I know, and she also grows her drawings from one point-the middle, and draws with a un-erasable colored pencil! Elissa says she’s extremely conscious of where she’s going in her drawings and is not wandering aimlessly around the page. Her ability to draw with peripheral vision a key to her success.

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Of course, to intentionally impose wonkiness on a drawing is great a reason to draw this way too. For those without Elissa’s drawing abilities (like me), it could certainly make drawings less realistic in proportions but could help give an artist’s work more personality.  After all, drawing is not simply copying the world on a page. Rather, drawing is translating the world to the page. Seeing the world differently, through the artist’s eyes, is the thrill beyond the skill.  
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