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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Drawing in the Dark



Drawings done in the dark at Big Apple Circus, ink on paper,  8-1/2 x 11"

ANDRE MASSON  (1896-1987), the French surrealist painter, developed "automatic writing," which is spontaneous linear expression -- in his case of his personal mythology. Some believe that automatic writing is communication with the Other Side. But Masson reported that the figures which appeared in his automatic drawings were not the result of spiritual influence but rather came from his tapping into his own subconscious. The artists who followed his automatic drawing influence would draw with their non-dominant hand, or blindfolded, in order to create from a place deep within the inner self. To enhance this phenomenon, the artists would draw a swirling line with a pen rather than a pencil because ink flows more easily than graphite. They also used a pad rather than a single piece of paper so that they could keep going, thereby plumbing further their inner depths.

I am inspired by Masson's work and wanted to try automatic writing myself. Armed with a pad with slick paper and a very flowing, leaky fountain pen, I went to the Big Apple Circus. Although the circus ring was lit with spotlights, the seating area was pitch black - I could not see what I was drawing-- just had to feel the pad and pen (mimicking the blindfold requirement). Although I drew with my dominant hand, I was extremely uncomfortable in the crowded bleachers, with coats piled around and on top of me and with various parts of others' anatomies poking me. This crowding impaired my drawing ability (mimicking drawing with my non-dominant hand).

The circus acts came and went in the ring with lightning speed and often overlapped. This obscured my vision of my subjects. In trying to keep up with my subjects, I had to draw at a speed at which I was not competent. Most of the time, I could not see my subjects in their entirety. Sometimes, I could not even tell what they were and simply drew their motion, which was neither tangible nor visible. The flashes of strobe lights further compromised my vision.
Every time I draw, even in my studio in optimal conditions with well-lit, stationary signifiers, I believe the drawings come from deep within me. Considering the poor drawing conditions at the circus, compounded by the obstructed visibility of my subject matter, I believe that my drawings were in a strict sense automatic and thus comparable to Masson's automatic drawings. I definitely did not have time to think about content, and most of the time I was drawing only motion.

When the performance ended and the house lights came on, I cleaned up our popcorn, cotton candy, soda and coffee cup detritus. I was enchanted by what I found on the floor. All the time I was engaging in automatic writing, my coffee cup had been practicing it also. The cup managed to produce quite a nice work, which I call "Rings on Napkin."

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