Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Florence Academy of Art- Bargue Drawings

Very rarely do we allow ourselves to practice and maintain the act of "getting to know"; we quickly slip into subsuming the Other, swallowing them whole and spitting out the remains of that which we cannot define by our own standards. We assume the whole from the parts we glimpse at, painting out the peripheries with a broke stroke of the unkempt brush; a repetition of past gestures. We let others tell us about the object of our attention, easily. Or, we think we know, and stop observing. 

If you happened to chance at my current musings, and decided to stay for a while, I would like to invite you to take a look at Bargue drawings, and what I have learnt from these lithographs. 

Charles Bargue, born 1826, died 1883. He developed the Cours de dessin with Jean-Leon Gerome, 197 lithographs to guide art students into the depth of drawing, and eventually emerge into the practice of painting in oils. Copying these drawings were the main passage into what it meant to draw in the 19th Century sense- exact copies in pencil and charcoal, focusing on shadow-shapes, values, keying, atmosphere, and most importantly, the flow of light. It reduces the craft to a levelled ground, one where a teacher and a student can compare, with the necessary "right" and "wrong", and a goal which one proceeds towards. What is known as an academic tradition gave room to painters such as John Singer Sargent, to bloom as a high figure in the technique of oil painting in the 19th Century, as well as the violent reactions of the Realist against the definition of elite artwork offered by the academic institutions. Surprisingly, if one searched the list on wikipedia, Charles Bargue's name does not appear, as if history wished not to remember him. It is as if they wished to forget the boredom of academia. Who could blame them. The scandals, the rebels, the vagabonds would please the demanding public more so than the dry surface of "copying nature"- that was the world of the art critique, a world pivoting on credibility. Like paintings stacked to the ceilings in the Salon, art critiques were slaves to attention- that which stood out was the best. The most observed. The most contemplated. The most important. 

Indeed, academic drawing isn't the most interesting subject to talk over cocktail. Few would find joy in discussing the brands of pencils, the softness, and techniques of sharpening them. Or which drawing of the knee was more convincing. Or if a shoulder blade was placed right. Or if the trapezius was attaching correctly. Or how delicious a light shape was. Yet, approaching drawing was, for me, an act of "getting to know", where this enigmatic "life" was found on a flat 2 dimensional surface. I came into school with the question: what makes some art more alive than another? I maintain in this act of searching. It seemed I had to get to know Bargue, and head back into the past. 

What Bargue requires from us is our attention: an awareness to every change of value, half-tone, shape. Which edges get lost, and found; when does a change in plane melt into the other; how does a form turn. It seems to me that drawing is a constant questioning, and a constant maintenance of a levelled state to which we can question whether what we had put on paper will allow us to continue questioning, simply and easily, our drawing to Bargue's own. Questions, lead to questions, lead to questions, und so weiter...

A maintenance of the ground for questioning. 

As students of Bargue's legacy, we cannot assume to know, to have understood, to stop looking, to fake-it - we are not allowed that luxury of blindness. We are not allowed to measure to our own standards, for Bargue is the ultimate, he is the measure. We are placed next to Bargue, to remind ourselves how far we are from him. We are not even given the room to overlook the invisible. Nothing is ignored; we battle against ignorance. At the end, even our guides can't lead us all the way to Bargue, for like us, they were his students. Our subjectivity limits us to Bargue, and yet we struggle on. Every mark made is contingent, is necessary, is urgent. Our eyes must be open to every passage of light. 

What I am blind to, is where Bargue leads me.

I can only discover as I walk forward. 


Foot. 3 Week Study. 
First Bargue Drawing, Pencil on Canson Paper.

Hand. 4 Week Study.
Second Bargue Drawing, Pencil on Canson paper. 

Death Mask of the Lady of the Seine.
4 Week Study.
Third Bargue Drawing, Pencil on Canson paper. 

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