ArtBreak Reflection: Angela Mele on representational drawing

Today’s blog post is a summary of a recent ArtBreak written by the artist who led the session, Angela Mele, a scientific illustrator for under-appreciated species.

Being a fan of Ann Hamilton’s work, and of post-Civil War promotional paintings of railroads and Western landscapes, I decided to try to work out a connection between the two at the ArtBreak session I led two Saturdays ago. Every time I visit the common S E N S E, I think about duality in ‘the sense of touch.’ Touch often implies a benign and loving gesture, yet can also result in taking, holding, owning—as with fur turned to coats, turned to museum objects, and as with the first drawing made of a useful plant turned to exhausted agricultural space.

The ArtBreak attendees were apparently inspired enough by the rather somber connection I drew between scientific illustration and Western expansion to obligingly draw seal intestines and fur coats: none too simple a task. The variation in approaches to drawing the objects in the bassinets was totally exciting (for me, anyway) and hopefully, the “assignment” spurred a unique way of looking at the objects, especially for first-time viewers.

Angela Mele. Lichens of North Florida [detail].
Angela Mele. Lichens of North Florida [detail].
During the exhibition’s opening night I was a reader/scribe, but I soon found myself drawing the luminous sealskin infant parka in front of me instead of reading to it. I figured Ann would be just as happy with that form of documentation, and through careful observation of the crinkled material, I found a sense of wonder and compassion for the object’s history and origins.

I hoped for the ArtBreak participants to find some enjoyable semblance of that experience. Representational drawing, like writing by hand, has become an obscure way of describing the world around us. These days, a drawing or painting of a place can hardly convince us to pack up and head across the country. Yet the deliberate sense of touch required for this kind of drawing–hand on pencil and paper, of eyes closely trained on the subject—makes it an enduringly powerful, intimate, and potentially genuine form of documentation.

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