Two Childhood Drawings
The little shed where the skaters sit to lace up their skates seems precariously balanced on the edge of the pond, as if I couldn’t quite figure out how to orient it accurately. That is probably because, while the skating rink is seen head-on, the hill is depicted as if the viewer is looking down on it. In naïve art and in children’s art, disparate points of view aren’t necessarily contradictory. As far as I was concerned at the age of five, everything was in its place and exactly where it should be.
This drawing of child’s play in winter offers a tremendous amount of information. I probably began with the oval for the skating rink and moved on, adding elements as I thought of them. All of these activities would have been extremely familiar to me at that age. I skated, went sledding, and used the fiberglass “flying saucers” that appear in the drawing as well. I was making decisions about what was important, putting in elements as I went along, and happily covering the whole scene with snowflakes.
In the hallway picture, I was trying to demonstrate an understanding of the laws of perspective. In it, lines converge and things get smaller as they recede into the distance. Both drawings are filled with details that I considered important to include. I suspect that that museum hallway was an imaginary scene and not a real place. Even so, I’ve shown a water fountain, an EXIT sign, and artifacts in the display cases. As a child, I walked plowed fields with my father looking for flint arrowheads and pieces of broken pottery that tended to surface in the spring. I had a fascination with prehistoric life that continues today.
The child’s winter scene is lively and expressive, and depicts a spacious world of freedom and play. The empty hallway has a more ominous, empty feeling. The trajectory in the hallway is inescapable. I can either turn off to the left or walk toward that pair of closed gray doors. The choices have become much more limited. I could say that my life had become more institutionalized, but I’m not sure that’s the case.
Both drawings represent a legitimate approach to some understanding of the world and of pictorial space and possibly of the self. In the winter scene, there is freedom. The hallway represents constriction, but also the potential to be part of some larger world. It’s about the effort to articulate and to communicate accurately. Always in my work, I have swung between these two poles—that of infinite freedom of expression and then the hard task of saying what is really meant, what is really there. The hallway drawing represents a path of learning and words. The winter scene is about intuition and movement without being fettered. I believe a great artist needs both of these qualities.
I only have to look at a winter scene by the great Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel to find a kindred spirit here. In Hunters in the Snow or Return of the Hunters (1565), we have what seems to be an utterly realistic painting, but I’m sure that if I began a serious study of the work by drawing it, I would discover many disconnects. The pictorial space is credible, but if I deconstructed it, I would find that it doesn’t really make sense and that this could not possibly be a “realistic” depiction of a single scene. Just as I did in my much more primitive winter scene, Bruegel has included many details and vignettes to make the picture interesting. And in doing so, he’s united the two points of view. He’s combined an appetite for life and the desire to show everything that is important with some semblance of a natural perspective that makes the viewer believe in his painting.