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Monday, February 21, 2005

Modern American Portrait Drawings

"The art of portraiture, after thriving for generations at the forefront of the visual arts, rode a roller coaster of reputation in the twentieth century. First it was re-empowered as experimental, then discredited in an age of abstraction, and gradually rediscovered. But although portrait traditions were buffeted by new ways of thinking about art and the individual, artists never completely abandoned the figure; they continued to experiment. These drawings from the National Portrait Gallery's collections, dating from the 1880s to the 1980s, are adventurous, assertive, witty, or monumental. They all reflect modern themes and aesthetic concerns, confirming the vitality of twentieth-century portraiture. ..."
"The Five Spot in New York was a raffish neighborhood bar that began promoting of avant-garde jazz bands in the late 1950s. It was probably where Elaine de Kooning drew this image of Ornette Coleman playing the alto saxophone. Coleman's sensational debut at the Five Spot in 1959 was the culmination of a long war with jazz conventions. Largely self-trained, he refused to follow swing or bebop conventions of improvisation and chord progressions. Coleman's unorthodox playing was at first controversial, but eventually his "free jazz" developed a following among serious musicians, and he became a regular at various New York jazz spots.
In this portrait, de Kooning, a skilled draftsman who had drawn obsessively ever since childhood, manipulated the graphite with stump and erasure to subvert form and outline. Jagged, repeated pencil lines substitute for hands, suggesting the motion of the fingers shaping a quick succession of notes. Other diagonals envelope the head and body, evoking the sensation of rhythm and sound. ..."

Eye Contact: Modern American Portrait Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery (via PLEP)