6. MY UNIVERSITY ART EXPERIENCE (PART 1) (my first instructors)


There were two groups of thought within the U.C.S.B. studio arts faculty: those who approached painting as abstract design and those who approached painting figuratively.  I appreciated both.

Neither group treated painting superficially…in a realist, photographic, surface appearance way.  Both were looking for something deeper.

Two professors who best expressed these divergent directions were William Rohrbach (abstract) and Howard Warshaw (figurative)...and each had a profound influence on my future work and ideas.   Both were serious and committed to their schools of thought, and each taught in a no-nonsense way.  When the class started, the doors were locked.  Too bad if you arrived late.

TWO VERY DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO THE VISUAL ARTS

BILL ROHRBACH
William Rohrbach was my basic drawing instructor for the first semester.

As composition and design were my strengths, I excelled in his abstract assignments...using various types of charcoal media, chalk, graphite, and conte crayon. 

He added a new element for me...an aesthetic approach to drawing.  He emphasized the sensuality of the media and materials...and urged us to bring out their unique qualities to the utmost. 

Vine charcoal was delicate...light and flaky...while compressed charcoal was dense and created very dark velvety black lines and shapes.  Graphite was greasy and shiny, gliding along a surface.  Different colored and textured papers created different visual and tactile sensations.  I made the most of it.


Rohrbach often assigned compositional problems that involved 2-dimensional geometric shapes, lines, textures and values that, when imaginatively combined, became 3-dimensional in space and appearance.

It was amazing how challenging and yet how expansive such exercises could be...  

ABSTRACT DRAWING EXERCISES

As I worked on these problems, it became obvious to me that less was more.


THE WORLD OF HOWARD WARSHAW:
'The invisible made visible'
"We do not draw in order to record what we have already seen---but rather to teach us to see what we otherwise would not see.  Drawing is revelation."            ---Howard Warshaw 
HOWARD WARSHAW
Howard Warshaw was my instructor for the second semester of basic drawing.  His course could have been called 'The Language of Drawing.'  

Many students avoided his class because he was considered a hard taskmaster and difficult to comprehend.  That he was.  Students would leave his classes in tears.

Warshaw grew up in New York City and the toughness of his having been a prizefighter stayed with him.   

He was an extraordinary draftsman and set high standards for his students.  He didn't tolerate mediocrity...or lack of passion.  When Howard Warshaw walked into the classroom, the room immediately brimmed with gravitas.

The ideas and concepts he presented were not easy to grasp...they were challenging, but that made them all the more appealing.  His seriousness matched my own earnestness. 

He combined great facility in drawing with depth of thought and a probing intelligence.

MY NOTEBOOK
Warshaw approached the visual arts as a science.  Like Leonardo da Vinci, he didn't make a distinction between the two disciplines: they both aimed at truth.

We were required to keep a notebook of the lectures and assignments.  It helped make his dense presentations more digestible.  

Our first assignment was to draw our hand...using two colors of opaque tape to reveal the hand's three-dimensional structure.  

We 'constructed' form; we didn't 'render' it.  This appealed to my delight in building things.  I learned that a drawing, or a painting, can itself have a tangible physicality.

1. MY HAND  /  2. TAPE STUDY  /  3. LINE STUDY  /  4. OVERLAPPING A LINE DRAWING

When I overlayed a line study over that tape 'drawing', the drawing became three-dimensional and solid.  I was thrilled.

As the semester progressed, directing light using conte crayon was added to the line drawing---what Warshaw referred to as 'cage volume'---to further reveal form...


FROM MY NOTEBOOK: STUDY OF ERODED SEA ROCK WITH SWEEPING LIGHT

He presented basic drawing as if it were physics or some other scientific discipline, and showed that drawing makes the invisible visible...analogous to the way an X-ray reveals density and interior structure of an object...

CONCH SHELL PHOTO & X-RAY
In his paintings and drawings, and in what he taught, Warshaw penetrated the surface of things and probed deeper...revealing the structure underneath, and making visible what had been invisible.

Warshaw enlivened the world for me...through drawing and painting...and the physical world became more graspable, more real.  And I came to see that both drawing and painting can have a palpable presence of their own.


Copyright (c) Donald Archer 2020  All rights reserved.

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