Faces. I feel like I’ve been drawing them all of my life… I wonder how many more I’ll be drawing. I discovered tonight that the sense of feeling in my fingers has significantly decreased in the last month. They still work–the motor nerves function; but they work by sight now, more than by feeling.
I watched an amazing video tonight, from a CBS broadcast of Simon & Garfunkel’s “American Songs” program in 1969; aired only once because it was so controversial at the time. This particular video is a series of scenes from the presidency of John F. Kennedy, the last years of Dr. King’s life and some campaigning by Robert Kennedy, as he strove to follow his brother’s footsteps. And the thousands of people who lined the railroad tracks across the country as the body of JFK was taken to Washington from Texas. The soundtrack is “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”:
The country was different back then. Not necessarily better or worse…it was better and worse. And it was very different than today… I was in high school in 1969, and fairly oblivious. I knew about the political unrest in our country, watched a classmate devastated by the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Dr. King’s assassination was of little interest to me because I’d only met a handful of African Americans; in high school, and I’d never had a conversation with any of them. Portland was pretty white in those days. I was beginning to get concerned about the political situation in the country, because THE DRAFT was looming on the horizon…
I started drawing faces in the 6th[?] grade; a way to keep myself occupied during long summer weekends in a tiny Eastern Oregon town, which seemed to me the most boring place on earth [my grandmother only had one or two television channels, and her house was strange and uncomfortable]. On her front porch she had a refrigerator carton full of old magazines; so I started drawing the faces I found in the Saturday Evening Post and Life Magazine.
By the time I was leaving high school, I figured I’d become a technical illustrator– I’d become fascinated by the renderings of ‘things’ we made in my last two years of drafting. The summer between my Senior and Freshman years I debated long and hard over the purchase of a “stereo system”–to the younger readers, a turntable, amp and speakers– a prerequisite for every college student in 1970. We did not have televisions or computers in college when dinosaurs ruled the earth. The TV was in the basement of the dorm, and got packed on Thursday evenings so we could watch Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery”.
If I was drafted, I’d have no need for the stereo; if I wasn’t drafted, I needed the stereo for my dorm room. On July 11 I bought the stereo. Had I been born 6 hours earlier, I would have been on my way to Vietnam or Canada. The difference between a draft number in the 20′s and one ten times larger.
Faces have always fascinated me. Norman Rockwell, my illustration hero, once said that the most interesting faces were among the elderly, and I now understand. Infants have few interesting characteristics. Rockwell enjoyed drawing children and teens, many of them probably somewhat of a caricature of themselves. He found young adults through middle age were generally boring, but they were needed for casting.
I always start with the eyes; we are told that they are the ‘windows of the soul,’ and if I get them wrong, the rest of the face probably won’t turn out well. My best drawings have a soul… not an eternal one, but a soul nonetheless; part of that soul is steeped in the music I listen to while I draw, or by the movies I have on as background. I’ve always wanted to play an instrument; I bought a piano once that is beautiful to look at, but I stopped practicing. In order to get as good as I wanted to be as a pianist, I’d have to take time away from drawing. So our piano is a beautiful piece of art in our living room. My drawing is the music my soul plays.
Our world today needs the protest singers of the 60′s and 70′s. New versions of them, that is. The world is easily as messed up as it was then; I know the USA is as messed up. The battle for Civil Rights has become a battle between the rich and the poor; and the soundtrack is missing. “Hell” and “damn” were the strongest language allowed in public performances back then; and yet, the lyrics gave us hope, and courage to stand up against injustice. As “interesting” as it may be, using “F***in’” as an adjective or an adverb, a dozen times in a paragraph, doesn’t really improve the language at all. I guess I’m getting old.
Give yourself a gift: listen to “The Sounds of Silence” tonight.
You can also view my blog at Chronicles in Ordinary Time: http://mjarts.wordpress.com/