Sunday, September 20, 2015


Old Masters can't have all the attention and who says I won't be up there with the great old mistresses (single or double entendre) when I'm no longer here?
But let's go back to youth. I know I was sixteen when I did the drawing below because it's of my baby brother in the first year of his life.

 NdA  Sleeping baby brother. Ink. 45cm x 61cm (18" x 24")

I was in Rio de Janeiro, under protest, when I drew the next self-portrait. I had wanted to stay in Paris and continue lessons with my adored Professeur but my father said no, I must go with the family to Brazil, I was too young to be alone in Paris. There was a big argument. I lost.

NdA  Young self in mirror. Charcoal. 15cm x 22cm (6" x 8.5")

 After Brazil there was New York and I enrolled in the legendary Art Students' League, the most unorthodox art school in town. A roster of well-known artists were part-time tutors and there was a whole menu of other classes which you could attend if you wanted to. It was a free-wheeling, stimulating, heady atmosphere and my first experience of belonging in a community of people who took art very seriously and wanted to make it their life's work. I was thrilled, fired up, not least because of the competitive challenge. I wanted to show off, prove I was better, bolder than the other, mostly male students, some much older than I was. They gave me a nickname (Nippy) and I got lots of attention.There was no formal teaching as such - nothing like my Paris teacher's admonitions, vigilance and discussions. The tutor would come in once in a while, say a few words, suggest an exercise, but mostly we were left to our own devices. The art-mood of the period was towards expressionism, stylisation, abstraction and I was certainly influenced by this trend but what I'd absorbed in Paris about intense observation of the model never left me. Below are a few of the many life-drawings I did at the time.

NdA  Fierce female.  Charcoal. 35cm x 42cm (14" x 16.5")

NdA  Intense head. Charcoal. 48cm x 59cm (19" x 23")

NdA  Three-quarter profile. Charcoal. 47cm x 60cm (18.5" x 24")

NdA  Big nude.Charcoal. 47cm x 60cm (18.5" x 24")

NdA  Nude with stool. Charcoal. 43cm x 58cm (17" x 23")


NdA  Thin nude. Charcoal. 48cm x 60cm (19" x 23.5")

 NdA  Small nude on black. Ink & pencil. 13cm x 21cm (5" x 8")

 Much more to come.


Roderick Robinson said...

These seem OK but then I assume you threw away the ones that you didn't care to show to a wider world. We all edit our past lives: not just the material evidence but our passing thoughts as well.

Incidentally I love the pernickety obligation artists have to include the dimensions. Yes, I'm sure there is good reason but I'm equally sure it is uninteresting to those who lack "the gift". No doubt you would stamp on my suggestion that adding those pedantic half-inches is actually an indirect way of saying: "Look, I'm a pro." I'd insist that you didn't explain this obligation if I wasn't convinced no power of mine would ever deflect you on this.

I could if I wished dig out my scrap-book, made up of cuttings from pieces I wrote for the newspapers more than sixty years ago. My scrap-books accompanied me to job interviews as proof I could write; at some point I cannot now identify interviewers assumed I could write and the questions changed.

The problem is that not everyone thinks they can draw and thus a casual viewer may be impressed by work you now regard as mere stepping stones. Alas, everyone thinks they can write (I mean, it's like breathing ain't it?) and someone now fiftyish might look at an article I wrote when I was, say, seventeen and sneer inwardly. Thus the scrap-book will remain up in the attic.

Letters are different. Unless the writer was supremely self-conscious (I'm not saying I wasn't) letters aren't usually judged for style, more for what they say. I wrote regularly to my mother when I worked in the USA (1966 - 1972) and she saved the letters. I've already posted extracts from one and may post more. But there is a snag. As I've said many times before anyone who takes writing at all seriously knows that revision absorbs as much time as the original draft. As I look at something I wrote when I was 35-ish (eg, these letters) I find my corrective fingers itching. Would this be a fraudulent act? I ask. But then when did I ever claim what I wrote was the truth?

I take it the idea of tinkering with these drawings is utter poison to you. Well, that's both a good thing and a bad thing.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Robbie, your knack for provoking a detailed reply is working very well indeed. Here goes:
1. "These seem OK...." In a wider context,compared to some drawings by universally famous artists (at least those I consider worthy of acclaim) of course I would choose those of mine that I judge to be more than OK.

2. "I assume you threw away.." I've done thousands of drawings in my life - of course I've thrown many away!

3. "No doubt you would stamp on my suggestion that adding those pedantic half-inches.." I'm not stamping at all. You're right, it is pedantic.

4. " indirect way of saying: "Look, I'm a pro." That IS actually what I'm saying. The pedantic centimeters/inches are there partly because the original size of an image matters and is normally included in catalogues of an artist's work. I'm at the age/stage where such a catalogue may be relevant. And why not on a blog in the age of blogs?

5. "The problem is that not everyone thinks they can draw and thus a casual viewer may be impressed by work you now regard as mere stepping stones." Not sure if you're (indirectly) saying that any old rubbish posted by a vain so-called artist will be praised by those who 'can't draw a straight line'?

6. "I take it the idea of tinkering with these drawings is utter poison to you. Well, that's both a good thing and a bad thing." No, it's not utter poison to me at all. Re-working past work can be illuminating and useful. I'm not tinkering with these or any of my old drawings because I've got new work on my mind.

There,I think I've replied to all points concerning me.The rest is about you and I did read the letter you wrote to your mother. Would it be a fraudulent act to correct any letters you've written? Depends on the purpose of correcting them: if someone was writing your biography, it would damage authenticity. If you want to use them in a novel, then why not use them and correct them all you want.

Ellena said...

Evolution from student to Master Rebel - I like.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Ellena, your comments: I always like.

Roderick Robinson said...

Only No. 5 needs a little elaboration. What I said wasn't a euphemism for "any old rubbish". To put it slightly differently: all of us, every day, use and therefore judge written material and some sort of instinctive critical ability inevitably develops. Unless one is in the trade the same cannot be said for graphic work and, in any case, formulating a judgment requires that tricky vault from one medium (The picture) to another (Words, be they oral or written). Thus, either through sheer laziness, lack of articulacy, lack of understanding of the modes of graphic creation, or whatever, pictures are likely to get an easier ride from self-imagined critics than prose is. Of course, even if pictures could be compared directly with prose, this phenomenon says nothing about the respective value of either.

I knew, of course, that I would be told about dimensions whether I liked it or not and I hadn't even raised the subject of how typographically ugly dimensions look when included in a caption, either in a catalogue or attached to the wall close to a displayed picture. A subtle point arises. Yes you may imply "Look, I'm a pro." if you're addressing other pros; it's another way of saying you're one of them. But when you're addressing amateurs, unaware of the arcane reasons for including dimensions, it simply looks mysteriously unnecessary and - therefore - that you're showing off. Unfair, of course. You're a flower of modesty.

As to provoking detailed replies you have missed an open goal. I am not trying to push you; I try to write comments that others are not likely to write and am thus guilty of smugness as well as showing off.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Robbie, I'm not at all averse to showing off, as has always been obvious in this blog and on my website.

I do take your points about No.5 and also about including dimensions. But I have no reason to assume that the audience for this blog, tiny as it is now and always may be, is composed of people who are not "qualified" (minefield!) to judge visual art or who are not familiar with art conventions (such as including a picture's dimensions. Apart from the few valued and welcome commenters, such as yourself, I have no idea who passes by over here and in any case, I put things up here for myself as well as to show off.