Sunday, April 12, 2015

At the NIH...drawing Cajal's drawings!

It is remarkably humbling to study, by drawing, another artist's work.  It is said that to understand a work of art, one must see that work of art in person.  I agree, and I would take that sentiment a step further and add that to truly understand some works, one must draw them.

In my current body of artwork, I have committed myself to studying and researching the life and scientific work of Santiago Ramón y Cajal.  Recently, I have had the opportunity to view some of his drawings that are currently on display at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD.  The exhibit, curated by NINDS Senior Investigator, Jeffery Diamond, Ph. D., features six samples of Cajal's original drawings, on loan from El Instituto Cajal.

I have had the opportunity to visit the works twice, and during each visit, I spent several hours drawing his drawings.  Seeing Cajal's original drawings in person is extraordinary.  The works are much, much more than anatomical recordings.  The line quality of his work is descriptively delicate:  refined, sensitive and elegant, like other great masters - Dürer, Rembrandt, Goya, etc.  Half of the works on display were created in a straight forward manner with ink.  By that I mean, it is evident he did not draw those particular works out in pencil prior to adding the ink.  His level of skill and mastery allowed him to draw and develop an entire concept or observation with ink.  This means, there was no erasing.  What careful, thoughtful and remarkable precision in his recordings of the contours and qualities of the neurons.

The exhibit at the NIH has taken my understanding of Cajal to a new level.  Below, I am posting some photos of the exhibition on display at the NIH and my studies of Cajal's drawings.

When viewing my studies of Cajal's work below, bear in mind, I approached them in the same manner as Cajal:  with ink and no erasing.  My work in comparison to Cajal's, however, is flawed with some proportion, linear and scale issues.  While they may not be a prefect mirror of the master's work, I have learned a great deal from the process of creating them.

I feel so fortunate and I am thankful to all of the efforts put forth by Dr. Diamond and the El Instituto of Cajal in bringing these highly important drawings to the United States.  I look forward to studying these works more in the future.

The display panel and exhibition of Cajal's work currently on view at the NIH.

My drawing study of Cajal's hippocampus drawing.

The display panel and exhibition of Cajal's work currently on view at the NIH.

My drawing study of Cajal's drawing of the cerebellum.

The display panel and exhibition of Cajal's work currently on view at the NIH.

My drawing study of Cajal's drawing illustrating and comparing his theory with Golgi's.  This study of mine is the least complete.  For his illustration comparing his theory to Golgi's, Cajal first drew it in pencil.  I decided to stop my study/drawing about midway.  Next time I draw this work, I am going to sketch it out first in pencil - like Cajal.

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I have posted the below writing by John Berger on this blog before, and I am posting it again today, as I feel it really relates to what Cajal did and what I am attempting to understand in his work.

Inspiration from “A Painter of Our Time,” By John Berger

June 26

It is the most profound activity of all, this one of drawing.  And the most demanding.  It is when I draw that I regret the weeks, the years perhaps, that I have wasted.  If, as in the fairy stories, I could grant a gift to a child who was to become a painter, it would be a long life, so that he might master this activity of drawing.  What so few people realize is that the painter, unlike the writer or the architect or the designer, is both creator and executant of his art.  He needs two lives.  And, above all, to master drawing.  Nearly every artist can draw when he has made a discovery.  But to draw in order to discover – that is the godlike process, that is to find effect and cause.  The power of colour is nothing compared to the power of the line; the line that does not exist in nature but which can expose and demonstrate the tangible more sharply than can sight itself when confronted with the actual object. To draw is to know by hand – to have the proof that Thomas demanded.  Out of the artist’s world is solid, material. But the proof is never familiar.  Every great drawing – even if it is of a hand or the back of a torso, forms perceived thousands of times before – is like the map of a newly discovered island.  Only it is far easier to read a drawing than a map; in front of a drawing it is the five senses that make a surveyor.

All great drawing is drawing by memory.  That is why it takes so long to learn.  If drawing were transcription, a kind of script writing, it could be taught in a few years.  Even before a model, you draw from memory.  The model is a reminder. Not of a stereotype that you know by heart.  Not even of anything you can consciously remember.  The model is a reminder of experiences you can only formulate and therefore only remember by drawing.  And those experiences add up to the sum total of your awareness of the tangible, three-dimensional, structural world.  A blank page of a sketch-book is a blank, white page.  Make one mark on it, and the edges of the pages are no longer simply where the paper was cut, they have become the borders of a microcosm.  Make two marks on it of uneven pressure and the whiteness ceases to be whiteness and becomes opaque three-dimensional space that must be made less opaque and more and more lucid by every succeeding mark.  That microcosm is filled with the potentiality of every proportion you have ever perceived or sensed.  That space is filled with the potentiality of every form, sliding plane, hollow, point of contact, passage of separation you have ever set eye or hand on.  And it does not stop there.  For, after a few more marks, there is air, there is pressure and therefore there is bulk and weight.  And this scale is then filled with the potentiality of every degree of hardness, yieldingness, force of movement, activeness and passiveness that you have ever buried your head in or knocked it against.  And from all this you must select in a few minutes, as nature did through millennia, in order to create a human ankle, a human arm-pit with the pectoral muscle burying itself like an underground stream, or the bough of a tree.  From all this you must select the one lock and one key.  I think I would grant three lives not two.