Don’t you need a few basic rules? Shouldn’t you first learn how to draw properly?
Ron. As soon as you start using words like ‘should’ or ‘properly’, you immediately set yourself up in a classic trap because you assume there is a position or a particular way in which to see the world. The whole history of art has been all about traditions being constantly challenged and swept aside by new and more relevant voices and structures by radical new intimacies and brilliant adventures. Great art is deeply informed and all about the practitioner’s ability to sign off on their experience in a way that is compelling and unquestionable in its dimension and vision. Van Gogh did not go out into the cornfields with a ‘how to draw dogs’ book under his arm. He was consumed by passion and inspiration and simply did what he had to do. In fact, at least 50% of the major artists in the last 100 years were not ‘institutional’ products but driven individuals with vision. The other 50% found it necessary to depart the tradition to be able to go to the place where their vision was calling them. They were ‘flag bearers’ – in fact the very history of art is all about cultural shift and people getting in proportion with new realities. The academic notion of drawing can be compared to a hairdressing salon where, in the end, everyone tends to walk out the door with the same haircut. This is the very last thing I want to happen in my classes. Originality is the only way. Ultimately, art is not a fashion parade or a trade fair. Art should not be mistaken for boutique – its currency is risk, inspiration and vision. It’s an odyssey and an exploration into what operates us as individuals into our core realities. It is a search for voice. Structures are the things we build from inside out to house our experience and to explain the often very fractured nature of that experience. It is different for everyone. There is no fixed tradition - only the evolution and total emergency of translation. The best art is uncompromisingly intimate and self-governing. The best art does not work from the outside in but inside out. The best art does not hide its own debates but makes glorious our uncertainties.
But what of all the traditions and skills and the hallowed and established techniques that one needs to learn in order to draw and paint?
Ron. Techniques and skills are vehicles that are used to transport ideas and images. There are thousands of ways that this can be engaged, that is to move ideas to ‘house’ one’s experience. One needs only to flick through any reputable art history book to see this. There are as many visual languages as there are dialects and structures on earth. These exist both inside and outside of our selves. The major artists have had to make a claim on and rebuild from the ground up their own realities. To engage in comparisons is ultimately meaningless, as it is to talk in ‘shoulds' and ‘shouldn’ts’. What is important is, is the work any good? Does it communicate? Does it have a continuity, tuning or power? No matter how ambiguous, visceral, contradictory, raw or unsettling it may be, good work in the end is good work. Techniques are decided upon/chosen only when one has finally met oneself in language and knows to some extent where one is coming from and possibly going to. It’s a traveller’s decision.
How do you mean ‘meet yourself’?
Ron. Through a ruthless process of self-appraisal, through a process of abandonment and inside-out drawing, through a kind of radical meditation and witness, through a process of deliberate fracture, mark-making and challenge so we are able to bust our own preciousness barriers. For example, if you create a kind of no-man’s land between yourself and the subject/your experience, then you’re simply not engaged, you’re just a bystander. That is, if you just balance images on the end of your nose all day and externalise yourself from your feelings, then you’re only ever a fence sitter and your work will increasingly be derivative and ultimately you will be short-changed of your own best and most total possibilities. And you will never make the big break or do the mighty quantum leap needed to get back home to your signature experience where creatively all the really important stuff sits - in the factory of the sensibility/in the language depot. In the end it’s a kind of hunch, a stab in the dark, an act of blind faith. But if you’re serious about all this you’ve got to let go of the academic apron strings. Otherwise you’re only ever going to be a Sunday painter. Great art doesn’t happen on the edge of your eyeballs or at the end of your thumb, it happens where the machinery is, the machinery of the blood, the intuition and the instinct. As practitioners, we need to establish our territory through a sense of real responsibility and set up mark-making invitations from which our structures can visit and emerge.
What is your role as a teacher/facilitator?
Ron. Again, it’s the same thing. I do not have any fixed or nameable role in relation to what I do. Each day’s a new day with a different and unexpected mix. I take it as it comes. I pick up on the people and the signals in the room and ask the questions that need to be asked. I can offer strategies, either from the floor or one on one, depending on the mix. Each person, each day, new scenario. Art is all about the nature of the unexpected; about both inspiration and destruction. It is elemental, bouncy and fluid and never behaves in the way we think it should. But it’s within these very contradictory panoramas that some of the best work emerges. I offer base line strategies as a kind of meditation and witness process into simply letting go, into busting assumptions and developing trust with one’s sensibility.
Why do you only do short poses? There doesn’t seem to be time for people to finish their drawings ...
Ron. Again we get into the land of assumptions. In this case, what is a drawing? And more particularly, what is a finished drawing? The fact is good drawing is not at all about quantifying stuff, whether you’ve got all the ‘bits’ in … it is about the quality of translation, the potency and personality of the mark-making and the kind of panoramas that are being set up within the work. That is, the sort of magic you are practising. It is not at all, necessarily, about the outside, visually identifiable world. It is about the kind of language you are talking and where that takes you … and there is no end to that process. It is alchemical and transformative, it’s about invocation and tuning. About the song you sing. So really a drawing is never actually finished, it’s dimensional and ever-expanding in its metaphors ... it’s about finding your starting points and letting those expand and invite, in whatever way necessary, the things that are needed to explain what it is you are experiencing. Good drawings are, in fact, clock smashers … in a sense, time’s got nothing to do with it. We find our timepiece, our real calibration, within the work itself.
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