"Drawing was his way of making something his own..." - Robertson Davies in What's Bred in the Bone

I sketch from the model with no particular purpose in mind, an idea I got reading that Rodin used to have models constantly around the studio just to observe them. Except for the heads, back and profile, I never pose them. They mostly do what they like, whatever comes naturally to them. I never use a timer. They time themselves and brake or stretch when they want to. I will sometimes distract them with idle talk and when I catch them in some truly spontaneous gesture I freeze them and sketch. The variety in poses then becomes endless. So is their source.

I generally stay away from the so-called "professional" models. I prefer dancers who have a clear sense of their bodies, balance and movement.
Sergei Eisenstein once said: "Drawing and dancing are branches of the same tree...,they are just two varieties of the same impulse." Movement is very important to my work. It's one of three essentials I look for in a model: presence, attitude and movement.

I hold an indefinite number of sketch sessions with a new model, however many I may need to "learn" that model. Then I "scan" the sketches, either mentally or with little viewers I make out of hollowed slide frames in the approximate shapes of my panels.


Study of Hsin-Hsin #1
1999, Oil on panel
22" X 14' / 55,9 cm X 35,6 cm
Private collection, New York



When I find an interesting "fragment" I ask the model to strike that pose and start painting. I never invent a pose (they always look unnatural and, well, "posed") and never ask one model to take another’s pose (which looks just as plastic). It becomes a collaboration of sorts.

Sometimes nothing happens and I go on to someone else. Sometimes I hit gold and, as Francis Bacon used to say:"one image suggests another and then another and another."

Most of the work turns out in series; the most extensive of which has been with "Jen Chin", a total of fifteen completed images in several different sets. One I've kept for myself, one I destroyed.

I also work on more than one piece at a time because most of the panels are small and there’s just so much paint you can pack on them in one session before they start "gooping" on you. The pairing of images is generally an offshoot of this and purely accidental. They just seem to come together.

Another thing I learned from Bacon is to work with "accidents", to let them be. The heads and the bold backgrounds are also Bacon derived as is the treatment of flesh, with a high-keyed palette of Gauguin color and a large dose of Caravaggio chiaroscuro added for good measure. Something I find very effective is to allow the color of the ground to come through the image causing a dynamic back-and-forth spatial tension.

One last lesson well heeded: Know when to stop!



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