Coffee pot, fruit, and bowl of almonds on a Druze chest. Pencil on paper, 2002.
Another version of the same subject. I love how free this drawing is.
This week I've been taking breaks from designing, carving, and printing illustrations for my Annunciation project by doing some studio cleaning and organizing. I started with my eleven-drawer flat file, where I keep most of my finished paintings, drawings, and prints, as well as supplies like acid-free tissue and glassine paper. All the big paper sheets go into a larger five-drawer flat file beneath this one. Anyway, I went through two drawers of old drawings and threw out a lot of uninteresting work that had no reason to be kept -- and that felt really good.
Coffee pot, fruit, almonds, and tambourine on a Druze chest. Pen and ink on paper, 2002.
But in the process, I found many things I certainly wanted to keep, including some sheets from large, old sketchbooks, such as the drawings in this post.
I was interested to see that even though they date from 2002, they're in a style quite similar to what I've been using lately. In some ways they're looser than the current ones - which doesn't please me so much, though it may be partly a result of the much-larger paper size here - but they're also more derivative of the Matisse and Picasso drawings I was poring over at the time. I'm curious to see that even back then, I was using some of the same favorite objects that have appeared in my work in recent years: the family coffee pot, the hourglass-shaped brass vase, the carved Druze chest.
Hydrangeas and blown glass rooster. Pencil on paper, 2002.
A still life, as I think I've written before, can be just as much a self-portrait as a picture of one's own face. In 2002, in the aftermath of 9/11, I was working with interfaith peace groups and thinking hard about our own family's Middle Eastern heritage, trying to put that into some sort of context with my own family background. The flowers in the vase above were certainly from my own garden, and represented me; the blown glass orb in front of them was part of a trade I had made with a Vermont artist, Paedra Branhall. My mother-in-law had died not long before; this glass rooster was hers, from a collection made by her Armenian uncle. The silver bowl with pinched corners was a family heirloom from my father-in-law's family in Damascus; those were also his leather-bound books. He was well into his mid-90s, and I was beginning to try to collect some of his stories, which eventually became the "Fig and the Orchid" series here. And my husband and I were starting to think about the possibility of moving to Canada. Looking back, these choices form a much clearer portrait than I ever consciously realized at the time.
Here's a final drawing, this one in red Conte crayon on newsprint - which reminds me how much I love drawing in that particular medium.
Here, the blending of family histories is even more deliberate: the aloe plant is from my father-in-law, the lemons a Middle Eastern symbol; the tile at right was from Rhodes and belonged to my mother-in-law; the brass hourglass vase had been on my own grandmother's desk; the little covered ceramic pot at left was made by my mother, and the flowered cloth was one I had bought myself. Thirteen years later, I still use these objects (minus the aloe plant and lemons, of course!) in my daily life and in my drawings, as a natural matter of course, not deliberate exploration or statement: there's something reassuring about that.