Representing animals

Our understanding of animals is largely shaped by representations of animals, rather than by direct experience. Representations mediate our understanding of things and are never transparent or unequivocal. Representations of animals often embody ideas of “nature” and express our troubling and complicated relationship to the natural world.

Wildlife artists usually focus on extreme detail and verisimilitude within their work. As an artist (and teacher) I’ve discovered that virtuosity may interfere with the viewer’s discursive interaction with the image. While a beautifully rendered image may elicit admiration, it doesn’t invite the viewer’s participation in the same way an ambiguous or incomplete image does.

Within my emerging project I intend to forgo realism to explore intrapsychic considerations of animal forms and identities.

Simplicity vs. mastery

Sometimes I need to remember that drawing doesn’t have to be hard. The recent struggles I’ve been having with mastery remind me that a simpler approach may be what’s needed.

I returned to Frankenstein’s creature for this series of drawings in which I used a thick, coarse brush that was sitting on my desk waiting to be washed. These simple, gestural marks were instantly more satisfying than my recent (more masterful) drawings of animals.

(Un)becoming-animal

In his essay, “What Does Becoming-Animal Look Like?” art historian Steve Baker describes Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of “becoming-animal” as “a creative, social process in which there is a chance of liberating oneself from being bound by identities.” Becoming-animal is not so much about animal metamorphosis (e.g. turning into animals), as recognizing a condition of freedom in which the subject evades a stable definition.

My interest in drawing animals represents a heavy-handed attempt to explore the concept of becoming-animal, particularly as the term is used by Rosi Braidotti to consider human and non-human relations. Braidotti proposes that, “We need to devise…a system of representation that matches the complexity of contemporary non-human animals and their proximity to humans.” (The Posthuman).

As I began my first set of animal drawings an impulse towards mastery and aestheticization quickly emerged. The tendency to represent animals in a particular way obviously reflects (and shapes) our human-animal interactions. How can I use drawing to explore an unsentimental, post-anthropocentric view of animals?

I’ve erased most of my recent wall drawing of a bear and plan to use this faint image as an framework to begin again. I’ll let the inclination of my hand and the materials themselves undermine the propensity towards proficiency and control.

Rough beast

IMG_5126I often start a project before understanding exactly why I’m interested in pursuing it. I’ve been drawing bears, apes and monkeys over the last couple of weeks and know that these drawings relate, in some way, to my interest in critical posthumanism.

A consideration of the term “beast” emerged within my Frankenstein project. “Beast” depends upon and functions in opposition to what it means to be human. A beast is savage, uncivilized and dangerous—of a lower order than humans.

I am aware of the risk of producing sentimental and/or anthropomorphic representations of animals. My goal is to produce drawings that interrogate this tendency and discourage anthropomorphic identification.