Drawing Basics: David Jon Kassan on "Demonstrator" by Burton Silverman

Silverman Demonstrator charcoal drawingBurton Silverman Demonstrator charcoal drawingDavid Jon Kassan comments on Burton Silverman's drawing, Demonstrator.

Burton Silverman Demonstrator charcoal drawing
by Burton Silverman, 1968, charcoal drawing.

by David Jon Kassan

This charcoal drawing by Burton Silverman represents one of the many conceptual approaches the artist uses when creating a narrative figure drawing. This approach is based on quick on-site sketches he uses to document political events in an effort to capture the zeitgeist of the moment. The method offers many challenges to the artist that generally do not arise when working directly from the model in the studio—and it also offers its share of rewards. The main contrasts between on-site and studio work lie in the control that the artist has on the circumstances under which each drawing is created. Other contrasts include the drawing's degree of resolution, its emotional content, and its line quality and composition. However, with Silverman, these two approaches converge in an overall humanistic philosophy.

Silverman's reportage drawings are strong and immediate. He does a brilliant job of capturing moments at the height of events—moments that undoubtedly enveloped him. This remarkable level of focus can be seen in his drawing of a demonstrator at the student protest movement against the Vietnam War at Columbia University in 1968. Published in New York magazine, Burton says it was his "attempt to resolve the issue of art versus reportage." The drawing started as an on-site shorthand sketch, which the artist took back to the studio to develop further from memory. The pose is dynamic, with the protestor's arm in an upward swing of his flag and his mouth open in mid chant. The strong use of the charcoal's high-contrast darks adds to this movement with an easygoing line quality and weight. The eye is led around the composition by the artist's use of strong diagonals. His use of a pyramidal design for the body balances an upside-down pyramidal space created by the diagonal lines of the flags that lead into the body and the protestor's raised arm. The meeting point of these two pyramidal designs is the facial expression of the protestor. Its hard to believe that the artist had much time to plan this out in advance, which makes it even more impressive–and shows that in some situations an artist's compositional intuition can take over.

For more on Silverman, see his new book The Intimate Eye: The Drawings of Burton Silverman, or visit www.burtonsilverman.com.

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