David Kassan comments on Katherine Sammons' My Mother.
by Katherine Sammons, 2007, charcoal drawing, 14 x 18.
This piece is both a portrait of the artist's mother and a metaphor for the balance of opposites–light and dark, and strength and fragility. The intricate drawing was done with compressed charcoal on toned paper. Initially inspired by the Renaissance portrait of Ludovico Portinari in which the subject was posed between two windows, Sammons' interpretation places the subject in a surrealistic environment where the viewer isn't sure if the subject is inside or outside. Light as form is a drawing essential and a key player in this drawing, and it's worth noting that she reveals the character of her subject strategically, using the presence and the shape of light to help tell the story.
Sammons' process for creating drawings like this one is very involved. She begins with an idea and then takes reference photographs, using her camera as a compositional tool for both lighting and pose. From the photos, the artist selects only one to serve as a basis for her line drawing, and uses it as a road map for the rest of the project. Once her basic drawing and measurements are established, Sammons works in value patterns, using a middle value of charcoal. To create this, the artist mixes both black and white charcoal to completely fill the tooth of the entire paper and allow for a wide value range. Once this is accomplished, she is free to work in great detail because the surface is now extremely sensitive to pressure and nuance. After the initial block-in the artist can focus on the subjective aspects of her drawing–how much light she wants to express, the aesthetic details that determine the amount of contrast and texture, the selective focus of the piece, and of course the overall impression or mood of the drawing.
The result of the artist's technical and conceptual mastery is a drawing that portrays her mother with dignity and compassion. This piece transcends the artist's reference photograph by not only rendering the subject but also expressing the memories, experiences, and personal impressions of her mother.