fresh no ads
Drawing’s transforming power |

Arts and Culture

Drawing’s transforming power

ARTWEB - Ruben Defeo -
Drawing is a revelatory experience. It proceeds from an elemental and powerful inner life of the artist’s thought, nay feeling, and finds catharsis through the making of images.

Bernard Chaet, in his sui generis work The Art of Drawing, said, "Forms from our imagination or the physical environment, which we can call life forms, are transmitted by the artist’s vision and skill to create something new, a form life. This cycle from life form to form life begins in drawing when the artist, haunted by an image or an idea, puts pencil to paper."

Drawing is generally defined in schools of fine arts as a composition of line and shade, usually on paper executed in pencil, pen, charcoal, chalk or a similar graphic medium. The working drawings of Renaissance artists installed the medium on its own, valued for the insights they offered into an artist’s powers of invention. In the succeeding 17th century, Paul Duro documents, academic theory drawing was valued over painting as the literal transposition of the idea as distinct from the "mechanical" work of grinding and applying color, which recalled the "artisanal" approach of the guilds. From this stemmed the belief of the superiority of line over color, an unjustified assumption that colorists neglected drawing, thereby igniting the discursive debate between the Poussinistes and the Rubenistes. The great Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres regarded drawing as the touchstone of art. Ingres, in fact, is well remembered for his famous aphorism: "Drawing is the probity of art (Le dessin est la probité de l’art)."

On a more formalist’s viewpoint, drawing fundamentalizes the awesome process of the creative act – from the myriad ways by which the artist’s imagination works to the actualization and transformation of a visual experience into new forms.

Drawing marks a vital point in art history, no matter that it is often downscaled vis-à-vis either painting or sculpture. At its most basic and acceptable, it allows a painter or a sculptor, to experiment, study detail, make preparatory sketches and draft out the main structure, before arriving at a definitive work.

Drawing, therefore, introduces the artist (and his audience as well) to the structural and dynamic problems attendant to both conceptual and compositional concerns of art making. It commits in black and white what Paul Klee once said: "[The artist is] a being who differs from you only in that he is able to master life by the use of his own specific gifts; a being perhaps happier than the man who has no means of creative expression and no chance of release through the creation of form."

Today, drawing, unlike the time when prehistoric men drew in cave walls, is no longer a matter of "seizing the power" in the hunt to survive. Yet, the magic of possession, however modified it may be, still constitutes an important motivation to draw. Drawing shapes consciousness in a certain way, and in so doing, affirms, clarifies and possesses life more fully by giving experience a tangible and permanent shape. Otherwise, as Graham Collier opines, significant events are lost in the flow of time. And it is through drawing that fleeting moments are captured and made permanent.

Innumerable paintings and sculptures start life as drawings. In like manner, architectural forms evolve from early freehand sketches. The initial spirit of discovery imbues drawing with a creative vitality that may not be present in a more complex work of art that oftentimes demands a lengthy process of execution, often stifling those first, fresh insights.

It is refreshing to the mind and to the eye that two art shows, one happening after the other, celebrate the joys of drawing at the Galeria Duemila.

Bobby Chabet’s Selected Drawings of Chabet: ’60s-’70s showcases selected pencil on paper works whose form challenges cognitive depth and whose execution gamely changes whatever concept a viewer attaches on them. Chabet simply wants to describe his drawings as "creatures of memory" and that he is merely their "custodian."

The Philippines has been awash with many icons, yet Chabet has been the ever reluctant. Since the 1960s, he has been considered as one of the noted founders of the avant-garde or experimental movement in the country. Yet, Chabet shuns to be confined within frames, forcing viewers to see beyond the concept of each piece and into the impulse of its creator and impetus of his creation. The weeklong drawing exhibit more than fleshes this attitude.

Chabet’s pure and simple drawings hold interest in their elemental way of impressing marks over a surface as an initial way to fashion a visual image. Thus, there is not only a directness, nor immediacy to such markings. More cogently, they carry an admirable conviction.

As conduits to endow meaning with being, Chabet’s drawings are instant connexions to the creative axis of imaginative thought, if not the fount of feeling. They convey the essential spirit or the very intent of the artistic endeavour.

Admittedly, a built-in function of drawing is to search out and lay bare the armature of the emerging image. In Chabet’s case, his drawings put in place the graphic signposts as to how material surfaces are disposed in space, where the very act of drawing unveils a visual lucidity to the image.

Chabet has held many roles in his career, notably that of being the first curator the Cultural Center of the Philippines museum. Moreover, he has dedicated his career in the academe as a full professor of painting for many years at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts. As a mentor to his students and curator to the
public’s heritage, he always challenges artists and viewers to go beyond knowing art and themselves, and encouraging both to quarry deeper for the meaning of the works lest they risk mediocrity.

Prior to the Chabet show, Duemila also presented an array of works on paper by noted printmaker, painter and art administrator Pandy Aviado. Simply titled Drawings, the exhibit showcased Aviado’s compositions on charcoal and pen and ink on paper depicting catalogues or archives of disparate objects. Enclosed in boxed compartments, the array of things spans a myriad of memories, conveyed meanings and fleeting experiences.

The contradictory meanings in Aviado’s Shelves series encourage the viewer to speculate. Artefacts of art historical significance – Buddha’s bust, ankhs, masks and Oriental sculptures – share space with fossils and remains of prehistoric flora and fauna, possibly conveying the insight that all are fragments of a past one struggles against forgetting. Such seemingly precious objects are also juxtaposed with mundane, commonplace things, such as keys, bottles, shells, bones – perhaps conveying the message that all these – whether valued or under-valued – are materials wrought and used by humans. Other peculiar objects populating the compartments enrich the works’ horizons of meaning, such as pistols, wooden maquettes and a fetus. A recurring image in his works is that of an eye, peeping out of crevices, stylized or naturalistic – which give the impression of the viewer peering at a mirror embedded in the depths of space, staring at one’s own reflection.

Aviado’s works are actually more than mimetic catalogues. Aviado wilfully changes the features of the natural object, either by defining certain parts of the object, changing its proportion, configuring its appearance, or resorting to chiaroscuro to bestow drama to the image. He appends other parts and images from other species or things, and adds random and imagined ideograms, sub and superscripts, marks and colophons to his images. Thus, many are actually composites of various plant and animal forms, either fragmented or conjoined to create a fanciful menagerie of imagery.

Such are the capabilities of drawing to transform – to create the embryonic form in a way unmatched by any other medium. An artist, as advanced by Etienne Gilson, "does not borrow his subject from reality; he does not even content himself with arranging the material provided by reality so as to make it acceptable to the eye. His starting point is fantasy, imagination, fiction; and all the elements of reality that do not agree with the creature imagined by the painter have to be ruthlessly eliminated."

Drawings can either be the genesis of a work of art (Chabet), or a fully evolved creative statement (Aviado). But it is the mark of artistic genius, which happily Chabet and Aviado both amply possess, that the simple sketch remains complete, conveying what Arthur Roessler said in reference to Gustav Klimt’s drawings, "the desired effect in the tersest possible fashion."
* * *
For comments, send e-mail to

vuukle comment











Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with