Sketchbook Excavations

I have kept sketchbooks ever since I can remember. I have never regarded sketching as a preliminary activity, a preparation for painting or a plan of any kind. For me, the activity has always been self-sufficient, not a means to some other end; a way to "qualify time," as Delacroix called all art making.

To sketch or draw is, for me, a practice of mindfulness, of being present with where I am and what's there. To draw is to honor the particularity of the moment, to oppose generality, to focus the looking and seeing. It has taken me too many years to understand that mundanity doesn't exist. Every moment is unique and pregnant with potential. Finding an interesting subject is more a matter of changing attitudes than it is changing places.

When I moved to Delaware, Ohio in the summer of 2007 to take up a teaching position at Ohio Wesleyan University, I left twenty years of sketchbooks in a store-room in Staunton, VA, that had been part of my studio for 17 years. It was easier to just keep paying rent than to make decisions about all the bits and pieces of failed paintings, lost or abandoned directions, and the mountains of drawings and sketchbooks that seemed to have fallen from me like dead skin over so much time.

Finally, last year, I did manage to move boxes of sketchbooks, drawings and old paintings to my new studio in Ohio. Going through them now is strangely like looking at someone else's work. The opinions and assessments I had at the time of their creation are forgotten. Frustration or elation have flat-lined. I can simply look at them now as a historical fact. This is where I was, what I saw, what I did.

As I continue to go through these visual records of the past, I still find things that seem fresh and portentous. Like finding signs of life in the rubble of an earthquake, I extricate them. These are some of my sketchbook excavations.


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