Drawing Basics: Looking at "A Stag at Sharkey's" by George Bellows

David Jon Kassan comments on George Bellows' A Stag at Sharkey's.

A Stag at Sharkeys by George Bellows
A Stag at Sharkey’s
by George Bellows, 1917, lithograph, 18½ x 23.

This lithograph drawing by George Bellows was based on an earlier painting of the same name done in 1909. The painting was considered to be controversial at the time because public boxing matches were illegal. This print was done after boxing was legalized in 1910 to capitalize on the sports new openness and popularity.

This drawing is more than a figure drawing. It is highly finished and focused on the action being portrayed. It is a great example of how to move the viewer’s eye around a work through the use of dynamic composition. The large shapes created by the contrasts of positive and negative, light and dark, draw us into the point of contact between the two boxers. The artist also developed the heads and gestures of the crowd to lead our eyes up into the point of the drawing’s greatest tension. Bellows creates a subtle depth and a hierarchy of importance in this work through shadows. Note how he handled the referee in the ring, as well as areas of the crowd that he wanted to sit back in space and not interfere with the action. Bellows also pays special attention to his subject’s gestures and anatomy, and he does a superb job of implying the fighters’ straining muscles and dynamic force.

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4 thoughts on “Drawing Basics: Looking at "A Stag at Sharkey's" by George Bellows

  1. The glorification of violence doesn’t make for attractive art no matter how skilled the artist is.
    However, I have to confess to not understanding the significance of the crowds in the foreground apparent indifference to the fight…

  2. It’s all about “awe.” Ever viewed a magnificent vista alone … and ached at wanting to share it with someone you loved? The trick is to get into the head of those viewers, not get your head into theirs. (I abhor violence.)

  3. The moment I read a critque of a painting that uses the words attractive and art in the same sentance I know that most people fall into this association even after the point is made that art by definition is not attractive. It can’t be. It has to annoy, make happy, make angry and or disgust the viewer because that is what real art does. That is the whole point whether it be dada or minimilism. Think and feel. Bellows is one of my top three painters of any generation and solely because of what he set out to do. I may not like the style or genre of a particular piece of art but I always appreciate it if it affects me.

  4. Not understanding a particular part of a painting or drawing reinforces the fact that art is mysterious, unfathomable even. When I look at a Magritte or Dali, the same question crosses my mind,’What does it mean?’,’What was in the artist’s mind when he was creating the piece?’.Perhaps we’ll never know, and that’s the beauty of it! Art is a mystery and that’s her beauty. “The greatest thing in Art is the thing you cannot explain.”- Georges Braque