Drawing, more than process. Honestly.


For-Scythian Suite, detail #1

For-Scythian/Forsythian Suite, detail

Last time I wrote about the process of drawing.

I wrote especially about my process; what I assume echoes many others studio practice. But I didn’t even mention content.

When I teach, students always want to talk about content. When I am showing my work, I always get questions about content: “Why did you choose that subject?” or “What moved you to work with that image?” Even my fellow artists almost always ask a “What’s up with that?” kind of question.

For years, I didn’t answer that question well. If at all.

I could have been to young and naive, to unsure of myself to have anything to say. Maybe I really didn’t think that I should even talk about subject matter back then. Perhaps I was playing out the mid-20th C. art world game of being above the idea of image and subject. It certainly never came up much when I was studying in college during the mid to late 70s. I have heard a lot of artists, then and since, say that art should speak for itself … that they shouldn’t have to explain anything. When I returned for further study during the late 80’s, folks wouldn’t quit talking about content. But they were abuzz with deconstructing meaning, not talking directly about content or subject matter.

Formalist and Post-Modernist strategies are quite exciting; I enjoy discussing and using both. I also value direct, straightforward discourse, heartfelt honesty. Years and years ago, a director at a community art center/arts council called not being willing to explain my work in ordinary terms a form of snobbery. Intellectual snobbery and arrogance to be precise. (Guilty as charged Sally!)

Well, about ten years ago, I started this series of large drawings. The subject matter is, frankly, probably the most important part of the whole series. The subject is not just the process. It is not just the design. The subject incorporates all that … as well as the images in the pieces … AND the alignment of the images that I am bringing together.

I have come to title this series “natural FAMILY history.” It is comprised of images from nature, signs and symbols taken from weather, history, science, and culture, as well as totemic and/or visually recognizable representations of my extended family members. The drawings, combining/aligning such diverse … maybe even disparate … images into complex but approachable compositions … are about the convergence of personal history and natural history.

Vixen (a working title), unfinished, detail 1 mixed media on Mylar

“Vixen” (a working title), detail 
unfinished, mixed media on Mylar

I can not any longer avoid talking about the images. How could I; these are the people, the events, and the ideas that have brought me here. They are the family and the places that have sustained, supported, and challenged me. This is about love and pain, disappointment and total joy … a reflection of my journey and of my being.  These are the images I will carry with me to wherever else I may go.  So the drawings are hopefully … essential and intrinsically humane; an attempt to be honest about not just art … but about life itself.

So, yes , the design, process, and materials are fair game … so is the imagery and what I am trying to say or to trying to explore with the imagery.

And I will talk about them with anyone.

Ask away!

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8 Responses to “Drawing, more than process. Honestly.”

  1. jean sampson Says:

    I have seen some of these drawings and they are wonderful!

    • johnahancock Says:

      I am excited by what is going on right now! The “orange” one in the post … the one has has the fox and the scarlet hawthorn berries … its about the young Miss “K.” I’ll send or post some more about that one as it progresses!

      Scared too. … I need so much more work done before the end of December!

  2. Priscilla Fowler Says:

    I do so appreciate happening upon your thoughtful description of the content of drawing. I have largely been a formalist, but imagery always asserts itself. And it is just this WEEK, when writing an artist talk for my exhibit with Virginia Jenkins at the Dairy Art Center in Boulder CO, that I realized how much the sea and coastline have pushed their way into my work. They never show up literally but they sure do show up! Thanks, John!

    • johnahancock Says:

      Thank you for your kind words.

      I do SO understand. I started out with a strong naturalistic training and slowly fell in love with formalism. Spent years working formalist images up from direct observations. Now, my natural impetus has become more evident again.

      Congratulation on your exhibition in Boulder. Best of luck with the show.

  3. Teri Says:

    John,
    I have been enriched by the discussion you started on the the Art Professionals LINKEDin page. Your comment above to Priscilla, “now my natural impetus has become more evident.” is a perfect culminating thought. Thanks Teri Hoover

  4. Cole Says:

    John,
    I really enjoy your work with mylar, I want to use it in my own work, but I’m unsure of how to execute it. I wonder if you could enlighten me on how you do so well with it, what kind of media you use, and how you use it?
    Thanks, Cole Baxter.

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