Part 5 Human Movement: Research

The problem in Capturing Movement

Research

Having decided to consider human movement I realised that I needed to define my area of interest in movement further. As jointed beings we are capable of all sorts of combinations of movements some fast, some slow. I am particularly interested in fast or explosive movements. Whilst walking along a street or drinking a cup of tea both require movements they are not necessarily fast and in many case the actual of the drawing may be enough to show that movement. However if you have a jumping figure, for instance, I think there is an interesting problem in how do you capture fast, powerful and maybe unpredictable movements when the image you draw on paper immediately becomes static?  My first thoughts went to Edgar Degas and his ballet dancers. I have seen and much admired some of Degas’ beautiful statues of ballet dancers, with their vitality shining through, but I was not so familiar with his famous pastels. I have to say I was a little disappointed when I sort them out! I feel a fraud in the face of such a famous artist but the fact is I don’t particularly like his ballet dancer pastels. I can appreciate the beauty and the grace of his dancers as well as his balanced use of colour and tone but I find the actual poses quite static and devoid of movement. The power and musculature seen in his sculptures doesn’t come across.

Research into Degas Ballet Dancers
Research into Degas Ballet Dancers

His Russian dancers to me have more movement about them. The fabric of their dresses flows more and his more sketchy marks suggest a more frenetic energy. His studies use more gestural marks which also add movement and energy to the pose.

Degas' Russian dancers
Degas’ Russian dancers

Interestingly whilst perusing the huge collection of Degas’ Ballet dancer drawings available on http://www.edgar-degas.org/ I am struck by the fact that many are in-fact executing slow, delicate movements, or stretching or are in fact at rest. I only found 1 pastel that depicted a fast jumping movement ‘Le Pas Battu‘ (bottom right top image). which I don’t particularly like. I don’t find the dance particularly believable and I do not get a sense of energy from the pose. Of course Degas didn’t have the benefit of seeing fast dancing movements through a camera or videocamera lens and certainly couldn’t slow movements down to analyse them in a way that we take for granted today.

I next took a look at the only well-known contemporary artist that I knew of who (in this case paints) dancers and that is Fabian Perez. This artist paints very powerful images of flamenco dancers.

Works by Fabian Perez
Works by Fabian Perez

They are quite ‘romantic’ and ‘beautiful’ which isn’t what draws me to them, rather it is his portrayal of muscle tension and power that in my view is phenomenal. The energy that radiates out of his images is captivating and provides the viewer with the sense of movement. Angular poses and strong contrasts of light and dark add to the atmosphere and in the Dancer in Red (bottom) the material of the dancer’s dress is full of  movement.

 So Degas and Perez were the extent of my knowledge of artists portraying strong movements. I obviously needed to do some more research!! I decided to use dancers as a reference point. Typing contemporary dance drawing into google produced a plethora of drawings in all kinds of styles from all kinds of artists. Mostly they were quite stylised and overly ‘arty’ something I am very keen to avoid (but don’t always manage). Here is a selection of artists that stood out.

Judith Kunzle works with modern ballet companies to produce so great drawings of fast ballet movements. Her work is gestural which adds to the sense of movement, often using background gestural marks to the same effect.

The work of Judith Kunzle
The work of Judith Kunzle

Zarah Abraham does life-size ‘time-lapse’ drawings (below left) where each pose follows on from the next. Whilst she is not drawing fast movements the multiple images superimposed does provide a sense of movement in the static drawing. Her videos of the sequence https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctRxfCpWeYU run as a film shows the entire drawing evolving and the dance movement is apparent in its entirety.

Works by Judith Kunzle, Zarah Abraham and Heather Hansen
Works by Judith Kunzle, Zarah Abraham and Heather Hansen

Heather Hansen is also producing large works based on movement. In her case she is doing the movements whilst holding charcoal and so the resulting image is a product of the movement (see above right). Without the artist ‘performing’ the image is quite abstract. The repetitiveness of the lines provides movement but I am reminded more of a dye dispersing in water rather than of human locomotion. Her technique reminded me of the work ‘Loctotionotation’ by Julie Brixey-Williams that we were directed to by the course notes back in part 1. Loctotionotation was produced by dancers all pirouetting simultaneously. I am not sure how the series was made beyond that but the resulting images are of marks rather than the dancers themselves. Looking Julie Brixey-Williams up I discovered lots of other dance and movement based drawings. Her Cloud dance series (below left) are drawings of dancers performing on a beach. They are beautiful in their simplicity and the multiple overlay of poses gives a sense of movement. I am not sure I get power or energy from them but definitely movement.

The work of Julie Brixey-Williams
The work of Julie Brixey-Williams

Her No(t) here series (above right) is beautiful and (I think) contains a person moving within a static background (provided by a simple photograph). The quick gestural drawing contains vibrancy, movement and energy; all in around 3 pen strokes. She uses quick simple lines to convey movement in her one second ballet series (below right) too, in which again the lines inspired by the movements are the drawing themselves rather than the dancers.

More by Julie Brixey-Williams
More by Julie Brixey-Williams

In an attempt to find more artists drawing movement I looked through the back catalogues for the Jerwood Drawing Prize for the last 7 years and was very surprised to find very little. Aideen Cusack has one entry entitled ‘Dance Wallpaper’ but the reproduction of it in the online catalogue is very poor and you can not see the images of dances. The best i could do was to find some sketches of the dancers that someone had posted on their blog! (below left top).

Drawings found in Jerwood Drawing Catalogues and 'The Primacy of Drawing'
Drawings found in Jerwood Drawing Catalogues and ‘The Primacy of Drawing’

I was very taken by James Allen‘s ‘Old Broad Street, Liverpool Street Station (above, left bottom)’. Whilst it isn’t depicting fast movements, the whole drawing is bustling with life. The technique of drawing fleeting images of people over a more solid background gives a sense of time and movement to the drawing. I also leafed through ‘The Primacy of Drawing’ by Petherbridge and found some much earlier images that depicted movement by the strokes made by the artist. In particular Goya (above top right) has used directional strokes in the shadows to convey a sense of fast movement.

In Vitamin D, New Perspectives in Drawing (published by Phaidon) I found 2 interesting techniques amongst several strong drawings containing movement depicted in different ways. Kauro Arima and Anna Barriball have both produced drawings full of movement in different ways. Arima’s work (below top left) isn’t actually a drawing of movement at all, rather he has done it on a newspaper report of the Olympics with lots of photographs of fast moving athletes suspended in air. Barriball has taken a different approach. She too has not drawn people moving. Rather she has taken some rather static photographs and blown ink-splats across their surface (below bottom left) adding a dimension of movement to the photos.

Work from Vitamin D, new perspectives in drawing.
Work from Vitamin D, new perspectives in drawing.

This post has been a summary of main observational points during my research. I have made other comments and included other images in my research book that will be available to my tutor for assessment. I also have not finished reporting my research in this area, but will leave that post for another day!

Part 5 Human Movement: Research

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