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Student Perspective – Virtual Marathons: Ella Leidy
“Are you an image maker or an image seeker?” The question, posed by Dean Graham Nickson, caught me off guard. I didn’t know how to respond, not least because it dovetailed so neatly with the questions I had lately been asking myself, that had led me to the New York Studio School in the first place: What does it mean to create? What is it that, as an artist, I’m trying to find? Feeling increasingly directionless and stuck during the isolation of quarantine, I was looking for an opportunity to recommit myself to the practice of making art. I was thrilled to discover that New York Studio School had migrated their Marathon program, which I had long wanted to attend, to a virtual format. Six weeks of focused drawing and painting alongside other dedicated artists would, I hoped, be a perfect way to jumpstart my practice and clarify my way forward.
My summer began with the Drawing Marathon, led by Graham Nickson. In an ordinary life drawing class, we would start by finding our places around the model stand, each drawing from our chosen positions. Instead, we set up our drawing boards hundreds of miles away from each other, with a model standing at six inches instead of six feet, compressed to the size of our computer screens. Despite the fact that we were dispersed across the globe, from Australia to Mississippi, a sense of community developed. Each day offered unique challenges, as we drew variously (and sometimes simultaneously) from the figure and master work from Goya and Rembrandt to the moving pictures of Edward Muybridge. Working virtually facilitated sharing images, and I was continuously amazed to see how differently each of us turned the same source material into drawings of vitality and richness. This speaks to the conceptual strength of the course and the sagacity and insight of its instructors.
While drawing from the figure felt familiar to me despite the unusual conditions, the Caves, Mysteries and Friezes Marathon, again led by Graham Nickson, took me far outside my comfort zone. We relied less on the model, and instead focused on source material from history: ancient cave paintings, Etruscan and Roman wall paintings, and the frescos of the Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii. There was a tonal shift as well, as we delved into the psychic power of the image, and the artist as creator. What makes an image powerful? What makes an image mysterious? I found myself working more spontaneously and intuitively, using shape, texture and size as conceptual and visual elements.
As I entered my final two weeks, I already felt more confident as an artist. Elisa Jensen’s Why Paint the Figure Marathon marked a return to the virtual model, this time, through the medium of oil paint. Again, I discovered that constraints can kindle new possibilities, as we worked playfully from a variety of sources, using observation as a point of departure rather than the ultimate goal.
Overall, my experience as a student in the Virtual Marathons has far exceeded my expectations. Working long hours in such a focused and intense way in my own studio space (my semi-finished attic) has energized and enlivened my stagnant home practice. The questions that had previously felt like an impasse now seem to open into endless corridors of discovery.