In about 480BCE, a man was entombed at Paestrum in Greece. Inside the lid of his stone tomb is a drawing of a young man diving into the water below. As the museum at Paestrum comments, this image is usually considered to be a symbolic representation of death. Whether or not it was intended at the time as a metaphor for death, it does seem particularly apt. Not only does it represent a leap into the unknown, with no possibility of reversing direction, but the diver is about to penetrate the surface dividing one place from another.
The interface between air and water has always been significant. In prehistoric times, archaeologists think that people placed special meaning on the boundary between land and water, and, in particular, above the water and below (Pryor, 2006). Numerous ‘bog’ bodies have been found, committed to the water after ritual sacrifice (Lange, 2007). In the reclaimed marshes of eastern and southern England, for instance at Flag Fen near Peterborough, many metal objects have been excavated which appear to be offerings that were deliberately put beyond use, ritualistically killed, before being cast into the bog. Even now, coins are cast into fountains.
The metaphor of diving is an attractive one; it signifies transition, hope, passing from one place or state to another. It also has a visual attraction of the figure and movement. After sketchbook experimentation, I decided that my drawing should show someone diving into a space which was misty or diffuse, without a flat, clear edge. The figure should be diving, with intent, but not an athlete performing. There should be no cliff or edge from which they have fallen. The image was to be pared down to its essentials, a falling man and a destination without form or edge.
Playing about with materials in my sketchbook, I liked the fractal nature of merging areas of ink or gouache. This offers an approach for representing a boundary between two states which has movement and permeability.
My figure was drawn in wax crayon as a resist on A1 heavy cartridge, primed with gesso to withstand wet media. The figure was taken from photos of cliff divers on the internet. These are very low resolution, so I have also had to call upon my life drawing experience. I tried to give the figure a sculptural volume and emphasise the dynamic twist.
The background was then developed with water, ink and gouache, wet in wet. Even after preparation with gesso, the paper cockled so much that my mediums pooled rather than spread and interacted.
I let it dry completely and then carried on trying to develop the background.
This was moving more towards the kind of surface I wanted, although I could not achieve the fractal edges at this scale. The figure was reworked in white to stand out against the grey and black washes but was still getting rather lost and it looks as though he has only one foot. The splashes and runs of paint top left and bottom right were now giving the impression of a highly dynamic surface, maybe boiling, maybe stormy. As a final reworking, I painted the figure with white gouache and added another foot. The tone behind the figure was darkened with graphite and more texture was added at the bottom with white gouache.
This is a simple A1 drawing of two components; a falling man and a textured, structured background.
The figure falling into a dynamic roil of fluid or vapour makes for an intriguing image. His arms are outstretched and his head is looking forward to his destination. He is not tumbling, he is falling with intent. The figure is not very well drawn and reflects the lack of a model. The arm on the left is coming forward when it should be beyond the body.
The wet media have created movement and depth, but the final outcome is rather more chaotic than I had intended. Less would have been more.
Considering how I might create a more powerful image, I continued to look for a better photographic reference. I found the work of abstract expressionist photographer Aaron Siskind (1903-1991). In 1956, he took a series of photographs, which he called ‘The Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation’, of teenagers playing around at the Chicago waterfront (Wender, 2014). The figures have a combination of joy and grace, without being a polished athletic performance. I used one of these as a reference for my next work, which coincided with the project ‘Extended Arm Drawing’. I decided to work very large and with minimal detail, because I wanted to distance drawing from the photograph. Two large pieces of lining paper were joined using masking tape and then roughly painted with a mid tone grey. The paper was place on the floor on the floor and painted using black and white gouache and a brush taped to the end of a metre long bamboo pole.
My intention was to completely fill the support with the figure. The photograph selected shows the figure from above and I decided to avoid my earlier mistake of a busy, distracting background. Working at a remove, my drawing isn’t accurate and I used layers of black and white paint (and inevitably, grey) to restate and refine my marks. The figure has become surrounded in white as I obliterated and redraw. This had given an sense of movement which is added to by the strong but necessarily inexact brush strokes.
This is much more successful than the previous drawing although it addresses the intended narrative less directly. The roughness of the background wash gives some depth but where the figure is falling from, or to, is left completely ambiguous. The edges of the figure do not have areas of ‘lost and found’ as I intended but the broad brush strokes have given mass and volume.
The concept of falling as transition is a powerful one and I hope to continue to develop this idea.
I am not comfortable that I have based this entirely on another’s fine art photograph and would have much preferred to generate my own reference, but that is not possible for the subject. The upside is that I have discovered the work of this acclaimed photographer. His work will have direct relevance to later parts of the course when we look at found images in the observed environment.