Category Archives: Image of the Week

Sweet potatoes, marriage, divorce, Rodin

Reclining sweet potatoes, watercolor, after Rodin (erotic drawings), by William EatonIn an essay on marriage and divorce, the nineteenth-century English philosopher John Stuart Mill observed:

Most persons have but a very moderate capacity of happiness; but no person ever finds this out without experience, very few even with experience: and most persons are constantly wreaking that discontent which has its source internally, upon outward things.[1]

With this in mind, an American, for example—rather than pursuing more happiness than s/he has reason to expect—might get on with the task of coping with a life in which happiness is not a notable feature. And thus my current habit of drawing and painting sweet potatoes while the New York Mets’ television announcers and baseball players chatter and play in the background (on my TV)?

It was not Mill who led me to this habit, but a duck breast I bought at a farmer’s market, which in turn led me to a recipe for Pan Seared Duck Breast with Sweet Potatoes, Spinach and Onions. So I went to my local Whole Foods, and I found such an architecturally intriguing potato, I couldn’t help but try to draw it. As I have never studied architectural drawing, however, . . . Or could it be because I refuse to sign up for Amazon Prime . . . ? Failure.

Rodin, Avant la création, circa 1900, Musée RodinInstead of such things, you might say, I have attentively studied and done versions of Rodin’s more or less erotic drawings (example at right).[2] And did this lead me to find a more appropriate potato at my local Associated supermarket? Après Auguste, I used pencil, watercolor and gouache (plus two pens).  I have read that he had his models walk and lie around naked in the rooms of his house or studio, and he would sketch them on the fly, as it were. Although my potatoes only moved when I bumped the worktable in my bedroom, they were certainly lying around naked, and one of the “adventitious shoots” (or sprouting buds) did remind me, a little, of the nipples of a pregnant model who I had recently sketched.

 

Endnotes

[1] The full text of Mill’s essay may be found, along with others, at Early Essays on Marriage and Divorce by John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill.

[2] Rodin example shown above (woman on her back) is titled « Avant la création ». This image and others from this series may be found on the website of le Musée Rodin in Paris.

 

Trouble in mind (Nina Simone; Richard M. Jones; portrait of a veteran artists’ model)

"Trouble in mind" portrait (not of Nina Simone), by William Eaton, May 2019Trouble in mind I’m slow
My cold heart is beating so slow
Ain’t never had so much
Trouble in my mind before

Last August I did some “life drawing” in the apartment-studio of a generous San Francisco artist, Robert Windle. In addition to offering interesting models, good food, and spare art supplies, Robert would always have music playing in the background. A good deal of it that August was Nina Simone, a more-than-pop artist, whose music has, not all that surprisingly, proved to endure.

Inspired by Robert’s example, when I returned to New York I, with good friends/fellow artists, slowly but surely began to develop an ever-evolving something, which includes life drawing, good food and music in my apartment-studio. And the singing of the late Nina Simone (1933-2003) continues to be heard.

Background music can get into both the model’s and the artists’ heads during life-drawing sessions. For an artist, the music may combine with the emanations from the model and his or her pose, and with what one may know about (or project onto) the model, and with the artist’s own feelings. Like many artists’ models, the model pictured above spends a lot of time in her own head (while modeling), and she has been modeling full-time, and nude, and underpaid, for three decades. There is a lot in her head, as there is in mine, and as there was in Nina Simone’s.

The verse quoted above is from the song Trouble in Mind, which was written by Richard M. Jones (1892–1945), who was also known as one of Louis Armstrong’s leading producers and as a supervisor in the production of “race” (African-American) records in Chicago. As for troubles in Simone’s mind, the Wikipedia biography provides a quick review of some of the obstacles she faced and some of her attitudes toward them.

Nina Simone, photograph by Jack Robinson; owned by GettyI am intrigued, let’s call it, by a comment Simone made toward the end of her life, after she had moved to southern France. She was performing, presumably to a largely African-American audience, in Newark, New Jersey, and she told the crowd: “If you’re going to come see me again, you’ve got to come to France, because I am not coming back.” We may be coming to yet another moment in American history when serious artists—think James Abbott McNeill Whistler, T.S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, James Baldwin—feel that exile is the best option.

Woman Hat Café Portrait (+ Thomas Eakins and Alice Kurtz)

Woman outside café, portrait (almost French nineteenth century)by William Eaton

I have thought of myself as a portrait artist who often does portraits of women who happen to be naked. (See Nudes portfolio, and elsewhere.) In some next life (and I am not young!), I look forward to doing nude portraits of women of my acquaintance who are not professional models. This—naturalism, we might call it—is an advantage of using people in cafés (such as the woman at left) as “models.”

I am also here reminded of how Thomas Eakins used to ask most every woman who sat for a portrait if she would pose nude for him. (Most refused, I believe.) This from Sidney D. Kirkpatrick, The Revenge of Thomas Eakins (Yale University Press, 2006) concerning the subject of one of Eakins’s greatest paintings: Miss Alice Kurtz.

Alice Kurtz, a prominent banker’s daughter whom Eakins painted clothed in 1903, was one of the female subjects he asked to pose nude. Many years after their modeling session, after Kurtz had become a grandmother, she recalled the “amusing incident,” as she termed it. In the midst of her posing, her collar button slid down inside the back of her dress. “I wore high starched collars over shirtwaists in those days,” she wrote. “I sat as long as possible with the wretched button pressing into my spinal column & then during a rest I screwed up my courage to ask Mr. Eakins if he could reach down my back & get it out. After doing so, he remarked, ‘You have a nice back—much like a boy. I would like to paint you nude.’ His manner was so simple, so honest, I said, ‘Well, I will ask my Mother and see.’ My Mother did not forbid it, but said perhaps it would be better not on the whole. . . . My personal reaction would have been that I’d have quite liked to do it, for I felt he was quite pure-minded in the matter. I was rather a simple-minded young thing of twenty or there about when he painted me and the idea of being a nude model quite appealed to me.”

All drawings and paintings on this website are by William Eaton. Those interested in acquiring the original works can contact William at eaton0824 AT gmail.

Woodstock Drumming Circle (non-figurative – black tubes)

Woodstock Drumming Circle, non-figurative drawing by William Eaton

Now, my second year drawing the Woodstock Drumming Circle, I have begun to try non-figurative approaches, responding to the music. For some of the figurative drawings from 2018, see the Woodstock Drumming Circle portfolio.

Here at the very beginning of this series of “Image of the Week” posts, I am still (& happily!) finding my way. It has occurred to me to each time quote from writings by artists or on art. The drumming-circle drawing has brought to mind John Cage, and so here I quote from one of his stories: “transcript of story 40,” from the website Indeterminacy, which currently includes 190 Cage stories. I despair of being able to force WordPress to accurately reflect Cage’s or Indeterminacy‘s spacing, so . . . I am letting catch as catch can.

 

There            was            an            international

conference            of            philosophers            in

Hawaii                                      on            the

subject            of            Reality.

For

three            days            Daisetz            Teitaro

Suzuki            said            nothing.

 

Finally            the            chairman            turned

to            him            and            asked,

“Dr.            Suzuki,

would

you             say             this             table

around             which             we             are

sitting                                      is            real?”

Suzuki             raised             his

head             and             said             Yes.

 

The             chairman             asked             in

what             sense             Suzuki             thought

the             table             was             real.

 

Suzuki             said,

“In             every             sense.”

All drawings and paintings on this site are by William Eaton. Those interested in acquiring the original works can contact William at eaton0824 AT gmail.