Tag Archives: drawing

Jerry Saltz’s abandoned illuminations for “The Divine Comedy”

The following is a combination of quotes from the critic Jerry Saltz’s article “My Life as a Failed Artist.”

“Before I became a critic, I was an artist, and for about ten years, beginning in the early 1970s, I feverishly devoted myself to a single, gigantic project: illustrating the entirety of Dante’s Divine Comedy — starting with Inferno.

“These are the gates of hell. The famous inscription appears above the portal, the one that begins, in first person, “I Am the Way Into the City of Woe, I Am the Way to a Forsaken People.” There are no doors on the Gates of Hell because anyone who ventures too close can easily enter. Around the gate are ten diagrammatic spinning spheres, one for each of the levels of hell.”

[Why Dante?] Dante is a paradigmatic figure of the canon — therefore a perfect picture of the dream of artistic canonization — but he’s also a weirdo Boschian fantasist and so satisfied my obsession with hermetic traditions, indexes, myth, archaic cultures, and mystics and visionaries like William Blake. This late-medieval universe freed me from making choices; the story and structure told me exactly what to do, what to draw, where to draw it, what came next, what shape things should be, everything, even sometimes governing colors, as with making Virgil blue and Dante red according to past art. Without knowing it but in desperate need, I’d contrived a machine that allowed me to make things that I couldn’t predict; I still think of this as one of an artist’s first jobs.

“These are the gates of the citadel of Limbo, the First Circle of Hell, the Virtuous Pagans. Here Dante meets Homer, Aristotle, Plato, Horace, Ovid, Lucan, Hector, Aeneas, and many others whose only punishment is to live without hope. The gold, silver, and bronze spheres represent the souls of those who Dante meets there.”

The project was meant to take me 25 years, but I only made it to the fourth canto by the time I quit; nevertheless, in that time I had developed an unbelievably intricate language that would allow me, a technically poor draughtsman and even worse painter, to depict Dante’s complex narrative.

“A large diagrammatic drawing of the Opportunists being blown in all different directions in the tempest of hell.”

[Oscar Wilde] wrote that art that’s too obvious, that we “know too quickly,” that is “too intelligible,” fails. “The one thing not worth looking at is the obvious.” This sort of art tells you everything in an instant and can only tell you the same thing forever. My work had the opposite problem. It was vague, arcane, and therefore obsolete. Only I could decipher it.

I often judge young artists based on whether I think they have the character necessary to solve the inevitable problems in their work….Oscar Wilde said, “Without the critical faculty, there is no artistic creation at all.” Artists have to be self-critical enough not to just attack everything they do. I had self-doubt but not a real self-critical facility; instead I indiscriminately loved or hated everything I did. Instead of gearing up and fighting back, I gave in and got out.”

You can find more images from this project here.

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Saturday Studio Shot

Painting on the back of the mylar

Untitled, acrylic and ink on mylar

The back and front of an element that will be cut out and included on the 4’x2′ cathedral painting I’m working on.

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Saturday Studio Shot

WIP-Cathedral [working title]

Working on a 4’x2′ drawing constructed from layers of cut out paper, mylar, and plastic. At the moment nothing is glued down and everything is subject to change.

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Saturday Studio Shots

WIP, Pen, ink, and Acrylic on Mylar

WIP, Pen, ink, and Acrylic on Mylar

Mixing on glass over a sheet of white paper is the easiest to quickly clean

I’ve discovered I like applying paint by dabbing masked-off areas with a sponge. This creates a flat, slightly textured area of color with no brushstrokes. Once the paint dries I will flip the frosted mylar over and you will be able to see the color through the layers of drawing.

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Reality Fields

Reality Fields, 18"x12" Jacob Rowan

Reality Fields, 18″x12″ Jacob Rowan

Reality Fields, 18"x12" Jacob Rowan

Reality Fields, 18″x12″ Jacob Rowan

These minimal drawings made with white ink on black paper were inspired by Andrea Zittel’s Dynamic Essay About the Panel. In this short video she describes various conventions and notions connected to the plane and panel. She also outlines the differences between horizontal and vertical planes. A horizontal field is an energetic accumulator–it receives action. A vertical field is an ideological resonator–it communicates ideas. I wanted explore these functions by depicting traditionally horizontal planes in a vertical panel.

Reality Fields, 18"x12" Jacob Rowan

Reality Fields, 18″x12″ Jacob Rowan

Reality Fields, 18"x12" Jacob Rowan

Reality Fields, 18″x12″ Jacob Rowan

Limitations are what makes things relevant and useful. A plane or panel can constitute an individual field of reality which uses limitations to inspire creativity. I define creativity as the imposition of some kind of order within a system. A person most successfully plays a game when they restructure the limitations within the system more effectively than their opponent.

Reality Fields, 18"x12" Jacob Rowan

Reality Fields, 18″x12″ Jacob Rowan

Reality Fields, 18"x12" Jacob Rowan

Reality Fields, 18″x12″ Jacob Rowan

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Thursday Thoughts: Looking at Julie Mehretu’s “Mogamma II”

Mogamma II, Julie Mehretu, 2012, 180"x144"

Mogamma II, Julie Mehretu, 2012, 180″x144″ (Be sure to click on image and scroll through the amazing complexity of the marks)

The above image is the second of Julie Mehretu’s Mogamma, A Painting in Four Parts. These four paintings were created around the time of the Arab Spring and consist of a complex web of gestural marks and vector lines overlaying technical wireframe drawings of Al-Mogamma (a government building in Tahir Square, Cairo). Mogamma is also the Arab word for “collective.”

All four paintings hung together to give you an idea of scale.

All four paintings hung together to give you an idea of scale.

Like most art, Mehretu’s paintings diminish when not seen in person. Much of the meaning of her work lies in experiencing these complex images at their massive scale and being unable to take in their entirety at once. They read one way from a distance, but as the viewer approaches they must select a portion of the image to examine more closely. Because it is physically impossible to see everything at once, the viewer must slow down and allow their eye to explore and discover the painting. Each person will see something slightly different as no two people will examine it in quite the same way. As Mark Godfrey said, “viewers have to abandon the desire to fully master what they see.”

Mogamma II, detail

Mogamma II, detail

In writing about Mehretu’s work Richard Shiff said, “The culture is complex, contradictory, and commodious; for better or worse, it tolerates extremes of opposition, assimilating diverse impulses, nevertheless avoiding collapse. To navigate a hyperculture of this sort requires a hyperimage, a perspective far more complex than a map of eighteenth-century trade routes…” I think what I find so fascinating about Mehretu’s work is the way in which her paintings function as hyperimages that juxtapose our perspective of chaotic experience with the suggestion of an underlying order. Her paintings are models and metaphors for a way of thinking about culture and reality.

Mogamma II, detail.

Mogamma II, detail.

“I think architecture reflects the machinations of politics, and that’s why I am interested in it as a metaphor for those institutions. I don’t think of architectural language as just a metaphor about space, but about spaces of power, about ideas of power.” – Julie Mehretu

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Thursday Thoughts: Logical Pictures

I recently came across this quote in an essay by Robert Smithson, “A ‘logical picture’ differs from a natural or realistic picture in that it rarely looks like the thing it stands for. It is a two dimensional analogy or metaphor. A is to Z” 

I realized that in my practice my primary interest is in logical pictures rather than representational work. Within that idea I’ve been thinking a lot about 3 categories: maps, diagrams, and notations.  A map records an overview; a diagram distills the material of an indefinite field into a logical set of terms or relationships; a notation is a form of symbolic representation or record. I’m currently working on a series of drawings to explore and clarify these distinctions. 

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