July 19, 2013

A Sage's Empty Shoes

Three cats. Three chairs. Three sitters. A sage with empty shoes. My recently completed pencil drawing is an amalgam of images from studies of a cat from life ( made to look like three different cats here), a seventeenth century doll I adapted from the internet, and a reproduction from a museum catalogue of a Japanese painting of a Zen master. The chair that the cat is sitting on is from a museum catalogue of the King’s Apartments at Hampton Court Palace. The chair belonged to William III, 1689-1702, as did the Blanc de Chine statue included in the background of the drawing.

When drawing objects, whether rendering a reproduction of another art work, or a study from life, the slow process of drawing intensifies the observation of details. Even looking at an object or picture for a long time does not require the same close observation of details as painstakingly attempting to reproduce it. You think you see but you don’t until you draw. I became aware of this when reading the caption for the illustration of the painting of the Zen master. The curator described the figure as being in the classic pose of the sage, with his feet resting on a cushion. While drawing the figure, however, I noticed only empty shoes on a cushion - the sage’s feet ostensibly tucked underneath his clothing, obscured unfortunately by the doll’s head and chair in my drawing. The author of this section also describes the chair as being draped with fabric so that only the legs are visible when in fact there is no fabric on the chair and the arms and back of the chair are quite clearly visible. I find discrepancies like this amusing. To check this out look at the Portrait of Zen Master Kiko Zenshi on page 377 of the museum catalogue Circa 1492, Art in the Age of Exploration, published by the National Gallery of Art and Yale University Press in 1992. I suppose there is a small lesson to be learned here about trusting one’s own observations and not taking the word of authority too literally. My guess is that the author who wrote the description for the painting in the catalogue was relying on the memory of, or other scholar’s descriptions of similar images rather than first hand study of the object. And the catalogue for the exhibition that his description was published in was simply too large and grand, as was the exhibition itself, for anyone to notice the error at the time.

Like the pencil drawings that preceded it, this drawing was a labor of love for details, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential.

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