Acrylic and pencil on paper 50 x 36 inches (framed)
What first attracted you to the idea of bodies in motion?
For many years my work has focused on an exploration of the body - body as landscape, body as geometry, light, texture. Because I've used live models in long poses, my images have generally been static. About a year ago, I noticed a photograph of a dancer in a newspaper and was struck by the interplay of light, color and movement in the image and the extraordinary position of the dancer's body, captured in a moment in time. Out of that newspaper clipping an idea began to take form for a series exploring the body in motion.
What challenges do you find in portraying moving or airborne forms?
The basic challenge in this series has been to convey the sensation and emotion of a body in motion in a static, two-dimensional medium. Because this work is so different from what I have done in the past, each piece has been an experiment. So probably the biggest challenge for me has been letting go of the notion that I need to know where I want to end up when I start. I've had to embrace the uncertainty in this process and stay open to discovering new things every step of the way. The technical challenges have actually been secondary to developing a more adventurous frame of mind when I paint.
How is working with/from photographs different than working with models?
Moving away from live models has been tremendously freeing. I really like working alone, and it's been wonderful not having another person in the room who I feel responsible for while I draw and paint. I can work when I want, how I want, for as long as I want. And because I'm working from a representation of a human body with limited information about that body, not the actual body itself, I move more quickly from what I see toward what I envision. The image in the photograph is my point of departure.
Acrylic and pencil on paper 36 x 50 inches (framed)
Have you had to make any changes in how you go about making the work, in the way you structure your compositions?
In previous work, I've very often depicted figures without heads. I've been more interested in bodies than faces, and wanted to lead the viewer to focus on the body's abstract qualities rather than the image as a representation of a particular person. I've kept the framing of the image tight, moving the figure to the foreground. As I begin now to explore bodies in motion, I find that I need to include the entire figure to make sense of the image and the movement I aim to convey. As I become more comfortable with bodies in motion, I suspect that this will change. The composition of the images may move again toward a narrower focus - but I'm not there yet.
Where do your reference photographs come from, and how does that affect the work?
To start, my reference material came from newspapers and magazines. I tore out photographs of dancers, athletes, fashion models, any moving figures that struck me as interesting and unusual in some way. When I began painting the series, I realized that I needed to limit my exploration to just one genre at first or risk being completely overwhelmed by the amount of new information I was working with. Because I have some dance background, I am more familiar with the physical vocabulary of dance, so I am starting there for this current series. I plan to explore other genres of movement in the future. I suspect that at some point I will work with live models again, where I can orchestrate the movement - but that is for another series.
How do you feel about this change in the direction of your work? Do you like where it has led you, the results?
This new work has brought me a tremendous sense of freedom. Working on the series has been exciting, exhilarating and very satisfying, and has given me many ideas for future work. This is just a beginning.
Cynthia Alexander's exhibition opens October 30, 2012.