by Clara Lieu
The dramatic realization of why I’m making these drawings keeps pushing further every day. I feel a tremendous urgency about creating this work, that I have never experienced before. The emotions from the results of the US election still feel raw in this moment.
I’ve been far too busy with teaching my courses at RISD lately to actually start new drawings from scratch. This is actually perfect timing because right now, I just need space to think about what these drawings are really about.
I felt awful when I realized how shallow my initial approach was to these drawings of elderly figures. I let myself fall into the trap of the most cliche themes associated with the elderly: aging and my own fear of mortality. I let myself get seduced by the visual aesthetic of the elderly figure, I was so enthralled by the physical forms of aging skin that I didn’t think to really consider who these people really were. I was seeing the elderly figures just as captivating forms that were engaging to draw, but not much else.
I hadn’t taken the time to consider the unique personal histories which are so deeply embedded in each of the women who modeled for these drawings. Which now in retrospect seems so ridiculous: when I photographed the women to create reference photos for these drawings, I spent over an hour just listening to them speak to me about their lives. I was too busy shooting photographs to hold up my end of a conversation, so I just listened to them. All three women told me in their own way about their physical and emotional scars from their past.
So that’s what this project is about: #scarsthatspeak. In an elderly face, every wrinkle and piece of flesh has a story. I want to show the “scars”that the older generation of women walk with every day.
I was nervous about making artwork that is even remotely political. All of my previous projects, such as Falling, were entirely based on my personal experience. When your artwork is about an experience you know so intimately, there’s an inherent confidence in the subject matter because you know your subject inside out. For me to create artwork about a subject that I have no direct experience with is very intimidating. I worry that I might accidentally misrepresent my subject, or worse yet, present a shallow interpretation that misses the point. I was really hesitant, but then artist Michelle Friars wrote this on my Instagram feed:
“As an older woman artist, I am especially drawn to your latest series. When previously you talked about the work in terms of decay, I admit to being a bit dismayed. But this… this understanding is exciting. I started in art school as a young woman in the 70’s, but left because of the sexual harassment of a professor I had to work with. Took me until I was sixty to finally go back. These scarred, beautiful images of strength truly resonate. Thank you.”
These drawings will focus on the “scars” of the older generation of women, but simultaneously, these drawings are also a proud acknowledgement of their quiet strength and powerful resilience. One of my former students, Amelia Rozear, had this to say about the potential of these drawings to make an impact on the younger generations:
“I think these drawings will be very helpful to people, especially girls and women, who are very scared right now, and might help them feel better about the future knowing how women have been strong before.”
I didn’t want to feel that I was “leaving out” the younger generation of women, who most certainly have their own scars as well. So Amelia’s comment made me realize that these drawings are actually for every generation.
Keeping in mind this balance of scars/strength, I’ve been experimenting with making these drawings much more sculptural, almost to the point of becoming installations. Although the drawings are ripped and torn, they are also rising from the shreds of tissue paper.
I am well aware that I’m not even close to truly understanding what these scars really mean, or even to what extent their emotional depth is. However, I do know that I am excited about all of the research, digging, and investigation that lies ahead of me. I’m ready to hear from these women.
Generations of Women and the Scars They Walk With
A Burst of Artistic Inspiration for the First Time in 2 Years
Anticipating a New Drawing Project
Drawing Again After a Two Year Drought
Teaching Through My Artwork
Drawing Experiments: Layered Drawings
The Tug of Thumbnail Sketches
ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts which provides equal access to art education for people of all ages and means.
Be notified of our early 2017 site launch by subscribing to our email list.
Portfolio Video Critiques for Art Students & Artists
Prof Clara Lieu offers 30 minute video critiques on 8-20 artworks for students working on a portfolio for art school admission, and for artists of any age working on their artwork. Watch a sample below, and get more info here.
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories, and post select submissions on our Instagram and other sites throughout the month. Use #artprofwip and Prof Clara Lieu might just stop by and give you some feedback! We have a special prize for art teachers who assign the Art Dare to one of their classes. More info is here.
Ask the Art Prof Live was a weekly live video broadcast on our Facebook page where Prof Clara Lieu provided professional advice for art students and professional artists. Ask the Art Prof began as a written column in 2013 and was featured in the Huffington Post from 2013-2015. See the full archive of columns here. Prof Lieu discussed being an artist today, art technique & materials, work strategies for artists, career advice, teaching art, and more.