Returning home to Amsterdam, I printed a number of photos and together with the drawings I’d made in Sri Lanka, I set myself up in my back studio to begin working on composition in preparation for my first painting. As I studied and drew I became aware of a remarkable ambience in the groupings of the girls. There was a presence, a connection between them that I couldn’t quite put my finger on…
Then I understood it. They had no cell phones. They were ‘in relationship with each other’. Talking, laughing, gesticulating, lost in thought, bored or simply observing what was going on around them.
In my travels in Morocco and Tunisia I was always intrigued by the rhythmic beauty of Arabic text. Perhaps it was this appreciation that helped me to instantly perceive the girls heads and limbs as undulating text moving across the white ‘page’ of their uniforms and the wall behind.
My goal was clear: remain in touch with the visual reality that so moved me AND find a means to incorporate that into the larger compositional idea it aroused in me.
Edgar Degas has always fascinated me. When I studied at the National Academy of Design at 5th Avenue and 89th Street in New York (across from the Guggenheim Museum) I would often walk a few minutes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, donate my 5 cents (you had to donate something for admission, and the employees there got to know my face and knew I was a poor art student. They would just smile and pass me through) and head towards my favorite galleries. Often those were the rooms containing the drawings and pastels of Degas. Together with Eduard Manet, he served as a bridge connecting the classic, academic style to the ‘impressionism’ of his younger colleagues. He once remarked : “No art was ever less spontaneous than mine.” He was a fantastic draughtsman who knew his anatomy inside and out but was always looking for new compositional ideas. For instance, how he found ways to redesign the bodies of his dancers to form a flowing, lyrical whole.
His drawings helped me a lot to think in certain compositional terms and to not just simply copy the group in a specific photo onto the canvas.
To be continued….