Monday, 7 May 2012

The Hands of the Masters

Leonardo is in London again.  Earlier this year, it was his paintings at the National Gallery.  Back in 2010, there was an exhibit of Renaissance drawings at the British Museum but there was just one single Leonardo drawing, magnificent as it was.  This time there’s an entire exhibit at the Queen’s Gallery of the master’s anatomical drawings; I can’t wait.  Apparently da Vinci went to great lengths to study the human body, dissecting, analysing, really becoming intimate with flesh and bone.  This drawing of a woman’s hands by Leonardo are one of my favourite pieces in all the history of art.

My daughter, an artist, told me that hands are very difficult to get right; they’re highly individual and expressive, totally different to draw than say, hair or legs.  We use hands not just for instrumental purposes, but to express ourselves, especially love.  This is one of my favourite pictures by Picasso – so different from his cubist works; so delicate, so perfect.

A friend once told me that you can’t be an artist if you’re unwilling to get your hands dirty (in the sense of rolling up your shirt sleeves, not in the Lady Macbeth sense).  True words of wisdom.  Can you really get to the heart of any subject or any relationship without digging deeply, making commitments, taking risks?  Not in my experience.  

My daughter introduced me to this artist recently, Jim Dine, whom she studied as part of her AS level.  I was move by the haunting quality of that left hand; the delicate intimacy of the subject and the fading away of the painting to the left – as though this is about a life not yet complete.

We’ve seen this picture so many times, we barely even notice its complexity: the solidity and strength of the figures, the depth the expressions and the the grace and delicacy of the proximate touch.  

And though sculpture is perhaps the most palpable depiction of the human form, for me the drawing of the artist captures my imagination more.  I think there’s something quite remarkable and transcendent for me, that the love of the soul, expressed through the flesh of the hands can be captured on a surface of two dimensions that can be seen and experienced universally.  

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