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Sunday, January 16, 2005
Sam: My mom always says that, when she can see I'm like working something out in my head, she's like, 'You're in it right now' and I'm looking at you telling this story, and you're definitely in it.
-Quote from the movie Garden State
This evening after dinner, I decided to sit down and catch the latest disney channel movie on TV. But to my luck, my mom yelled for me from her room, "M'ija!" (...meh...magic trick...spooky magic mansion...)..."M'ija, it's a sculptor!"....(..hmmm...ok, she has my attention...but spooky magic dungeon with disney channel stars still a bit more interesting...)..."And he's BLIND!"...(....whaaaat? Ok, this I have to see!) So I get up and there is a Native American man on TV, making a scultpure from a huge chunk of raw rock using only a flimsy piece of sandpaper...but he is completely into it, making this beautiful and polished human form out of the tiny scratches he is able to coax from the filmsy piece of sandpaper. The artist on TV I find out later is Michael Naranjo. But before I learned of this sculptor's name, I saw a part of this man's artistic process and journey and I was completely moved.
And it's not so much the blind part that got me..(albeit at first it was what hooked my attention)...but what moved me was seeing him connect to his artwork and subjects...getting to hear him talk about how the ideas for his work come to him in flashes and dreams...l guess the best way I could describe it is like like getting visual pieces of a puzzle. But what completely floored me was when they showed him on a trip to Rome, where he got to meet the Pope and was given an opportunity to feel two of Michelangelo's sculptures, the Moses and the David. And to hear him describe how it felt, how the smoothness of the marble felt like skin and how he could feel veins and muscles beneath the rock....as if it were a real body...to feel the bumps and curves..the dips and the rises...the parts of the lips and the tear ducts in David's eyes.... Michelangelo did not miss a thing! Oh God, what aesthetic bliss! To be able to feel a real Michelangelo! To be where the artist was, to follow his process not just by sight but by touch! I can't even imagine what it must of felt like for Michael Naranjo. Just watching him study those sculptures with his hands had tears rolling down my cheeks.
More than two years ago in Florence, I had the opportunity to see and stand very close to some of Michelangelo's work at The Medici Chapel. Michelangelo had carved out of marble these massive tomb pieces for the Medici family. Their presence was collosal and aesthetically over-whelming...how could one coax such a beautiful and seemingly delicate form out of jagged and rough rock? How can one not help but want to reach up and touch these pieces from end to end?...but of course I kept museum ettiquette and composure. But sometimes I'll push it too. Like when I go to a musuem and I see a painting I really like and I try to get my nose as close to the piece as possible without really touching the canvas. To see that one glob of oil paint in between your eyes and study it's brushstoke lines like it was a 3-D piece by itself, trying to capture that experience in time when the artist was in that one glob of paint as well. It's the closest way I can come to understanding the artistic process of the artist without actually touching the piece...and here I see Michael Naranjo touching these Michelangelos...and not just any Michelangelos...but the freaking David and Moses! The picks of the litter! Needless to say, I was filled with complete joy. I was so happy to see an artist do this and felt a little ashamed at the same time...because I have neglected my work for months and here I see this guy who has mastered mountains of rock with a chisel and piece of sand paper with no eyesight and my oil paint brushes are rusting away in a rubbermaid box in my garage.
But at the same time I like to think that right now my artwork is the artistic development of my students. This Saturday, I gave my students a crash course in still life and getsure drawing. When one is introduced to gesture drawing, it is completely draining. Gesture drawing really helps in breaking down mental barriers of perspective. It's good for the study of the human form and still life but it's not an easy task for perfectionists (which in some sense all artists are). So at some point towards the end of the class, when my students were wearing down a bit thin, I had my students do a ten-minute gesture drawing...and I kept demanding more speed and more energy...MORE SPEED! MORE ENERGY! Demands most of them were not used to. I walked away for a minute. When I came back I noticed that the room was filled with the noise of furious and rapid markings and sketching, unsteady easels and complete and total focused energy. It was so moving I had to call my boss to share in the experience of listening to the noise of art being made. It made me want to turn all John Cage, get a microphone and record the noise that was music to my ears. I was so joyful that I couldn't repress the emotion inside as it expressed itself through muffled and choked giggles out of my mouth. I had to hide behind my students' easels hoping they didn't hear me and think I was laughing at them. My students were not only making artwork, they we're in it.
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