About the First Rope Drawings
I chose imagery of knotted or twisted rope to help me describe the felt but unexpressed visceral world of the mind/body. These surrogate “bodies” seemed fitting metaphors for the tension, frayed nerves and entanglements that we inevitably experience as human beings. Use of distortion and exaggerated scale help evoke less pedestrian associations with my subject while enticing viewers to linger with the sensual qualities of surface and medium.
About the Hawser Series
This series began with the chance discovery of an abandoned ship’s hawser (a rope used in mooring or towing a ship) during one of my early trips to New Bedford, Massachusetts. The rope’s heft and tattered state immediately suggested an exciting series of drawing investigations. Each drawing in the Hawser Series derives from that single piece of Korean War era rope.
In the drawing I encountered abundant physicality: “muscle” “hairy-ness” and “sinew” which lead to meditating on the many evocative rope-derived idioms and aphorisms embedded in the English language. These often referred colorfully and metaphorically to the human condition: “end of one’s tether”, “at loose ends” and “all strung out” being but a few examples. Beyond its former utility at sea, this industrial-strength tether has served anew as an elegant model for my graphical musings on the strands of our human strengths and frailties. For a list of rope aphorisms and sayings, please go here.
About Drawing in Charcoal
In this everything digital era why would I persist in working in the ancient medium of charcoal on paper?
Well, for one, there is the material pleasure of dragging soft smoky sticks of charcoal over gently textured white paper. Drawing with charcoal is a tactile experience - one that can't be duplicated via computer pen and tablet. Drawing fully in the moment with the most elemental of materials is a day to day, get my hands dirty quality-of-life decision.
In terms of technical possibilities, vine charcoal* has the most beguiling property; its tones can be "pushed and pulled" on the page almost as fluidly as soft clay can be formed in the hands of a sculptor. My approach to drawing is based in classical academic or atelier style training. A fundamental of classical art education is the study and understanding of how light and shadow together create form. Drawing with charcoal allows the most direct “sculpting” of three-dimensional illusion on the page. Having worked in a broad range of creative media, I have come to the realization that I am at heart a tonal artist; I find the greatest reward in building imagery through the careful placement of areas of light and dark in relation to each other. Though I enjoy looking at color as much as the next person, it has somehow become unimportant in my work. Tone combined with line are the essential ingredients for bringing a drawing to life; Maybe that makes me a kind of purist. In any case, it all comes back to the simple carbonized willow vine. The characteristic "smudgy" tonality of charcoal gives it exceptional expressive potential and is one of the things I love so much about working in this medium.
Huguette Despault May
*Vine charcoal is created by superheating sticks of willow or linden inside a vacuum until they are thoroughly carbonized - (oxygen during ordinary burning would reduce the vines to ash.) The soft, medium and hard consistencies are dependent upon the type of vine or wood used.