Brooklyn War Memorial Female Figure, oil pastel, oil stick, chalk pastel and pencil on paper, 14” x 17”, 2014
For the past five years, I have been drawing figurative public monuments dotting the dynamic physical landscape of NYC. Public monuments assert themselves as the antithesis of the liminal, declaring the idee fix of culturally accepted and fully realized archetypes, whose immutability is guaranteed in materials used in monuments’ creation, stone and metal. The monuments exist to declare, in the public sphere, the triumph of heroic personages and essential verities immune to transformations of perceptions and designed to endure. The artifacts themselves, separate from the intention of their creation, exist in the perpetual present, in a world of constant flux transforming the physical spaces the monuments occupy and reflecting the shifting identities and evolving experiences of those passing through those public spaces. This tension of the liminal eroding the purportedly static is the central focus of the Anna Pierrepont Series.
Columbus from Cadman Plaza, Brooklyn, oil pastel, oil stick, chalk pastel and pencil on paper, 14” x 17”, 2014
If Catch and Release is dedicated to the manifestation of artworks weaved from the fabric of the liminal, the Anna Pierrepont Series focuses on translating into drawings existing public representations that confront the liminal as a force to be resisted, denied and contended. The objects are buffeted by the forces of flux despite the intentions of their creators. There is a melancholic poignancy in things created to resist the liminal succumbing despite the intentions of their originators. A monument with its surface worn by wind, precipitation and airborne acids is succumbing. Monuments that articulate worldviews that have fallen into disrepute are modified by evolving public perceptions. Perceptions typically do not effect the object physically, but on rare occasions, when sufficient critical mass is reached, statues are subject to mutilation, destruction or exile. The happenstance of my wanderings are direct interjections of flux into the domain of the fixed.
America and Europe from the Customs House, the Battery, Manhattan, oil pastel, oil stick, chalk pastel and pencil on paper, 14” x 17”, 2015
Flux is also integral to my very act of creation. Monuments enter into my field of vision and I stop and pull my folded chair out of the Whole Foods cart. I unfold the chair and lay my materials on the ground beside me. Sitting down and positioning a large drawing pad on my lap, I dump dust covered chalk pastels, fragments of oil sticks and pastels and colored and graphite pencils encrusted with oil residue onto the ground. Observing the mass of my subject as it emerges and disappears in relationship to shadows, daylight and physical surroundings, I begin my drawing. Since I draw in public, passersby may glance at my pad as I begin making marks in the sea of white in front of me. The idly curious would behold this vast undifferentiated field and wander quickly away, uninterested. The recognizable contours of a representation defined enough to be subject to the liminality have not yet been achieved. My initial marks are usually created using light colored pencils: grays, yellows, pale oranges that must be distinguished from each other by my sharpening the pencils to see the color of the leads. I proceed to weave darker and lighter marks on top of these original marks. After using light marks to define the contours of objects, I often rub my fingers along the surface to create a light field of gray that defines the centers of objects. Some have commented that I finger paint like a kindergartner. My materials are filthy from repeated use and my hands become quickly coated with the pigment smeared on the exterior surfaces of my pencils. I rub this excess on the picture surface and quickly cover large areas of formally white paper with pigment.
Spectral female and Doughboy from World War I Memorial, Prospect Park Brooklyn, oil pastel, oil stick, chalk pastel and pencil on paper, 14” x 17”, 2015
Africa from the Customs House, the Battery, Manhattan, oil pastel, oil stick, chalk pastel and pencil on paper, 14” x 17”, 2015
Eventually an image emerges from within the sea of marks and smudges. The picture at this point is the essence of the liminal in that the potential for future transformations is woven within earlier choices of line, color, space and composition. Passersby will often nod with approval as they enjoy the dynamism of an act of passage crystallizing into something recognizable. Occasionally, a magical state of ‘done’ just appears before my eyes at an early point in the process and I pack up my materials and roll off, removing traces of my presence, reabsorbing into the crowd and finding a restroom to remove an oily slick from my hands that remains as the evidence of creation’s progress. Often I need to continue drawing, risking the disappearance what I had previously achieved. The work can easily unravel in this middling state or transform into something entirely different from the work in its initial stages. One mark or two is never sufficient to achieve the elusive state of finish. If the excited viewer from an earlier point in the process encounters the work at this later stage, he or she may well sag from disappointment as the later choices have obliterated the success of earlier efforts.
Jefferson in front of Columbia University Journalism School, oil pastel, oil stick, chalk pastel and pencil on paper, 14” x 17”, 2015
Washington Hatless from the Washington Square Park Arch, Manhattan, oil pastel, oil stick, chalk pastel and pencil on paper, 14” x 17”, 2014
I roll a blue, paint splattered Whole Food cart jammed with a folded chair, pencils, pastels, oil sticks and paper throughout NYC for the Anna Pierrepont Series [howardskrill.blogspot.com].
I have just described the catch part of Catch and Release. The release part is in the hands of the editors of Catch and Release that will forward these efforts to an audience where through the work’s reception, both regarding the original subjects of my exploration, and my efforts at reinterpretation, will be a catalyst for further transformations.
— Howard Skrill is an artist/educator living with my wife and two sons in Brooklyn, New York.