Monday, June 24, 2013

Thinking in Black and White

There has been a special delivery in the Sanchez household recently, which might explain to you the protracted period of radio silence and the dearth of posts. Well, rather than apologizing for the inevitable given the sleepless nights and the weird world of baby-life into which yours truly has been thrust, I'll share with you a few of the drawings I have banged out at odd moments of night and day usually during baby-feedings.

As opposed to the kinds of drawings normally done, you'll observe that these sketches are both in pen and ink and drawn on a really crappy sketchbook I keep at the side of the bed to jot down dreams, weird images that come to me as I'm falling asleep and experiments in things like blind contour drawing.

I make the point as -- whatever their success as portraits -- these drawings have a kind of bravery that I think carries over from the expendability of their material support and the free-and-easy spirit that had governed my relation to this book long before there was a baby to be drawn with it. As opposed to the expensive and rare sketchbooks I usually haul back from London and use for quasi-precious, laboriously rendered pencil drawings, these have to be banged out in, say, half an hour. And the rule of the game with these -- at least practiced so far -- is that there is no room for correction of the ink as it stains into the cheap paper.

What makes the game fun is that the subtleties of shadowing on the baby's cheeks or, say, the weird proportions of their facial features need to be carved out on the white ground of the page with an almost uncorrectable black that demands exaggeration and that disfigures just as easily as it figures the small subject.

All of this drawing in black and white got me thinking as babies themselves are, so I have read, supposed to see black and white only. Apparently, newborns like our are able to see color for some six months or something. And this brings me around to a curious toy passed onto us by a friend.

It is a polychrome, plush dragonfly, approx-
imately six inches high and eight inches wide. Blue and yellow plastic rings hang from its tail and rattle when the toy is manipulated. If a yellow, orange, red, purple and green rainbow spans its abdomen, the real interest is, as it were, centrifugally distributed through the wings where layers textures of, say, corduroy, terry cloth and cotton (as at upper left) rub against one another, but where touch yields surprising sounds. That is, the wings are filled with some king of material the produces a crinkly sound when fondled. For some (to me, inexplicable) reason, a red, plastic ladybug can be removed like a pocket-watch from the wing at lower right.

And, as in the detail above, the user can find their distorted reflection in the mirror perceptible through apertures in the wings. Is it too strange that I hope our beautiful daughter's confrontation of her split subjectivity in the Lacanian mirror stage is mediated by the experience of identifying herself through a scrim of dragonfly wings?

That sounds absurd, but it is kind of the point. For, branded by Lamaze, this toy is clearly designed to instantiate and encourage some theory of childhood development -- one which I might well research were I not, in fact, currently assisting in the practice of childhood development. Following on from what I read in the latest issue of Art History under the banner of "the clever object," it strikes me that a very interesting story might be told about the conceptual aims of this pedagogical artifact and its embeddedness in art-historical tradition. Why? Well, consider the verso to this polychrome recto.

Not perfect black and white, I will admit. But, clearly the backs of the wings speak in the language of black and white that babies are supposed to understand. Now, what else has wings whose black and white backs conceal brilliant polychrome interiors of great diversity and visual interest?

Oh, only an entire tradition of early Netherlandish painting culminating in the Ghent Altarpiece where grisaille wings open to display the dazzling body of Christ in all his revelatory glory. Now, if the chrysalis of my drawings were to yield such an incredible, colorful show!