Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Domenico Gnoli

Domenico Gnoli's grave
Inspiration can come from anywhere. A few days ago I was attempting to learn how to fly a radio-controlled drone quadcopter so we could spot routes from the air on our expedition to the Upper Fraser. At first I tried flying it indoors but it would crash into something within a few seconds of taking off. I decided to take it outside. That seemed to work: with all of that extra space it took twice as many seconds to crash into something like a tree, the fence or the house. When it comes to anything mechanical, I'm all thumbs. I soon realized that my flying a drone was going to be just as successful as when (in my younger years) I tried to learn how to rehair violin bows. It did not last a day: I made something of a mess of cutting the impossibly small piece of wood that holds the hair in place; then the hot hide glue stuck to my fingers, the piece of wood and about $20 worth of horse hair (not just any horse hair, but the most expensive kind). I decided that Monte should be the pilot on this trip. Not being very good with my hands seems a strange claim for someone who used to make something of a living from being an artist, especially when it came to pen and ink drawings which were excruciatingly detailed. I thought about this again after the qaudcopter fiasco: it's not so much about being bad with my hands, I'm bad with my fingers. I could do very consistent cross-hatching with a pen, but the motion is created by the wrist, not the fingers. In painting large pictures, it was gesture that got the paint on the canvas: often a sweep of the whole arm, sometimes just the forearm. My fingers had nothing to do with my art past unscrewing the pain tube, and even I can handle that. I had no problems with gesture and had success with dancing and acting. Painting, to me, belonged with those two. I gave up painting when I realized I would never become another Cézanne, and I gave up pen and ink when I realized I would never become another Domenico Gnoli.

Domenici Gnoli bridged surrealism and pop-art: some of his paintings suggest someone who had become fascinated by a detail of a bowler hat in a René Magritte painting, but it was his pen and ink that really got to me. That was what I had been trying to do with the medium all along. I just did not realize it at the time. His pen and ink was surrealism and the paintings were mainly pop art. It was shortly after I discovered Gnoli when he died a far too early death like another great artist draftsman; Thomas Girtin. Joseph Turner had said that he might not have become so great had Girtin lived. In their younger years, they shared the same work with Turner's watercolour over Girtin's drawing.

Take a close look at some of Domenico Gnoli's drawings (tip: click on each image). Then watch the following video for more of his work:

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