Those Strange Anatomical Terrains: The Underlayers of Our Bodies
Lateral Head 2012, Brenda Clews, each page: 27.9cm x 21.6cm, 11" x 8.5"; graphite, charcoal, Waterman sepia ink on Fierro paper.
I did a Fine Arts degree at York University in the 1970s, during the height of Conceptual Art. My painting teacher for 3 years, who I liked very much but who had a very different aesthetic to my 'natural' one, painted very large shit brown canvases and made rooms out of white sheets. He was very 'in.' I was encouraged to make 'ugly' paintings that had no colour and no recognizable form. This era was a celebration of highly controlled abstract art (think of the critic Clement Greenberg and his group of artists, of Newman, Still, Frankenthaler, Bush [Pollock was passé already], of Colour Field (memory of how we were force fed this still makes me shudder) and of art in general in disintegration (a Modernism on the crux of Post-Modernism).
After finishing that degree, I did not paint for many years, only interrupting my hiatus when I was pregnant in 1987 (when I did the Birth Painting series knowing I was violating every single tenant taught by my teachers at York U in the 70s).
In 2004, I began to draw and paint again. It remains an uphill battle. Always looking over my shoulder are my old art teachers, who never taught us anything about the body itself. While we did have models to paint, we did not study anatomy, bone structure, muscles, anything of any use. It was about what you could say about your drawings or paintings that counted. The more indistinct and abstract your art, the better. So I learnt to be clever in the stories I wove about what I was doing. Dialoguing about my art was perhaps somewhat of a charade, though. I was never a Conceptual artist at heart.
Give me sensuality, rich colour, bodies that are embodied. When we painted with colour and with any sense of the body of the original model, be this a person or a landscape, we did it at home and never brought those paintings in to the university.
Of course, times have changed. It is not like this anymore.
Because of the era I studied in, though, there remain holes in my art education. Holes, like anatomy. But, hey, it's never too late, as they say. While I certainly know general anatomy, I was recently given some iPhone apps that are superlative guides to those strange anatomical terrains, the underlayers of our bodies.
Here are two of my 'muscle' drawings, which I am itching to paint. I deliberately did them in a throw-away sketch book so they would remain quick sketches - if they re-appear painted, ah well. The paper they are drawn on is good paper at least.