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Roger Burnett Art Blog

Confronting the real thing...

by rogerburnett , April 16, 2013—12:00 AM

Topics: Working, from, life

A few weeks ago, I visited an exhibition that featured the work of regional students who had over the years, won top marks in the Caribbean Examination Council Visual Arts Examination. Many of the works were portraits in meticulous detail. A representative of the Council confirmed my suspicion that they had copied from photographs. Furthermore, it seems that students are encouraged to work from photographic references, whether it is a portrait, landscape or market scene.

As a staunch advocate for working from life, this approach to teaching the next generation of artists, beggars belief. There have been occasions when I have sourced technical detail from photographs to ensure accuracy. The Caribbean postage stamps that I designed in the 1980's are a case in point. But when it comes to the landscape, portrait or figure, I need to confront the real thing.

I cannot walk around a photograph of my subject, neither can I touch, feel, sense or talk to it. It can be troublesome working outdoors; you get burnt by the sun, drenched by the rain, bitten by ants and easels get bowled over in the wind. In the studio, models cannot be expected to retain the freshness of a pose for longer than a couple of minutes.

Nevertheless, the rewards of working from life are worth the effort. Between the torn up false starts, the exploratory lines and the dashed down runs of colour, there, on paper, is a trace of the breath of life!

The above watercolour, which I painted from life this afternoon, illustrates my point. A photograph would have defined five fingers: my wash dribbled down to make three or four. I leave the difference to your imagination.



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