Monday, December 25, 2006

After Mary Cassatt (1982)

Today is Christmas Day. Coincidentally, this drawing relates in its own way to Christmas in that it was influenced by the artist, Mary Cassatt, who frequently chose to draw or paint a woman and child or a child alone. This drawing was another classroom assignment, that of taking a gesture from an image by another artist and making it one's own.

I had chosen Mary Cassatt's oil painting, "Girl Arranging Her Hair (1886)", for the assignment. The image came from a paperback art book titled MARY CASSATT: OILS AND PASTELS, by E. John Bullard (1976). E. John Bullard commented on Mary Cassatt's painting in this way:

". . . Cassatt's young girl has a definite personality. She is neither pretty nor refined. Her ungainly gesture is that of a person unobserved, absentmindedly coiling her hair." (p. 44)

When I read those words, I felt protective of that young girl, and I knew that Mary Cassatt would not have seen the young girl she painted as "neither pretty nor refined" or "ungainly." I see a young girl whose presence is marked by strength and gracefulness.

In my drawing, the girl has grown up. She is strong and independent.

Now I am remembering why I was so drawn to Mary Cassatt's work. It was Mary Cassatt who said:

"I am independent! I can live alone and I love to work."

"If painting is no longer needed, it seems a pity that some of us are born into the world with such a passion for line and color."

Mary Cassatt, after 1900
Frederick Arnold Sweet Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.

"I doubt if you know the effort it is to paint! The concentration it requires, to compose your picture, the difficulty of posing the models, of choosing the color scheme, of expressing the sentiment and telling your story! The trying and trying again and again and oh, the failures, when you have to begin all over again! The long months spent in effort upon effort, making sketch after sketch. Oh, my dear! No one but those who have painted a picture know what it costs in time and strength!" "After a time, you get keyed up and it 'goes', you paint quickly and do more in a few weeks than in the preceding weary months. When I am en train, nothing can stop me and it seems easy to paint, but I know very well it is the result of my previous efforts."

Reprinted from Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector by Louisine W. Havemeyer.

And then there are these words from one of my favorite poets:

Praise wet snow
falling early
Praise the shadow
my neighbor's chimney casts on the tile roof
even this gray October day that should, they say,
have been golden.
the invisible sun burning beyond
the white cold sky, giving us
light and the chimney's shadow.
god or the gods, the unknown,
that which imagined us, which stays
our hand,
our murderous hand,
and gives us
in the shadow of death,
our daily life,
and the dream still
of goodwill, of peace on earth.
flow and change, night and
the pulse of day.

Denise Levertov

1 comment:

Lori Witzel said...

Well. This whole post gave me chill-bumps.

Lovely in so many ways -- your deep-dive homage, and affinity for, Cassatt; your thoughtful choice of poem (by a darn good poet, too.)

I found you via Google's blog-search of life drawing, and hope you'll stop by my lil' blog and comment if you get the chance.